Lyon hosted Lille this past Tuesday evening in Ligue 1 action. These two teams have been extremely evenly matched over the past year or so. Lille pipped Olympique Lyon to second place in last season’s Ligue 1 by just three points. The two teams had also drawn each of their last three meetings prior to Tuesday’s clash.
True to the two teams evenly matched nature, they went into matchday 16 level on 22 points. Furthermore, Their matchday 16 meeting proved to be as closely contested an affair as it was expected to be. There wasn’t much to separate the two sides, both of whom will be hoping to secure a Champions League place this season.
Lille walked out of Tuesday’s game with all three points thanks to a 68’ Nanitamo Ikoné goal. In this tactical analysis, we will break down how Christophe Galtier’s tactics helped his team to gain the edge over Rudi Garcia’s Lyon, in a hard-fought fixture.
Lineups and Formations
Both teams started out Tuesday’s fixture in a similar shape to one another. The home side, Lyon, started the game in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Thiago Mendes and Lucas Tousart formed the base of the Lyon midfield. These two players generally positioned themselves just in front of Lyon’s back four.
Ahead of them, Jeff Reine-Adélaïde, Maxwel Cornet, and Martin Terrier formed a creative attacking trio, who played off of Tuesday’s centre-forward, Lyon captain Memphis Depay.
Throughout the game, one of Lyon’s two holding midfielders generally enjoyed the freedom to roam forward. One of Tousart or Mendes enjoyed the freedom to dribble forward with the ball or press higher. Meanwhile, the other midfielder would sit in front of the defence.
Lyon’s tactics would become more and more offensive as this game wore on. As time passed in this game, we saw them increasingly commit men forward. We will discuss this in greater detail later on in this tactical analysis.
The visitors, Lille, also lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in this game. Lille’s back four formed a solid defensive base for the visiting side. Similarly to Mendes and Tousart of Lyon, Benjamin André and Boubakary Soumaré sat in front of Lille’s backline.
However, Lille’s holding midfield pairing held less offensive responsibility than Lyon’s. The primary role for Lille’s holding midfield pair was to win the ball back and congest the midfield.
Ahead of the holding midfielders, Renato Sanches and Jonathan Bamba gave Lille two different options on the wings. Meanwhile, Ikoné played in the ‘10’ role, with Victor Osimhen occupying the centre-forward position. Unlike their opponents, Lille essentially retained this shape throughout the entirety of the game.
Lyon try to build out from the back, while Lille opt for a more direct approach.
Both of these teams entered this game using similar formations. However, both of these teams also had very different tactical plans for this fixture. The winning side, Lille ended this game with just 38% of the ball possession. Consequently, this leaves the losing side, Lyon, having accumulated a total of 62% of the ball possession in this game.
The big difference in the possession percentage between these two teams in this game can largely be attributed to their contrasting tactics in build-up play. Lyon typically attempted to play out from the back throughout this game, while Lille played with a more direct approach.
The passing stats for both teams’ respective sets of centre-backs illustrate these tactics very clearly. Lille’s José Fonte and Gabriel made a total of just 48 accurate passes between them in this game. Meanwhile, Lyon’s Jason Denayer played 74 accurate passes, while his partner Marcelo played a total of 59.
This shows us that Lyon attempted to play out of the back to get past Lille’s press, while Lille attempted to get the ball into the final third much quicker in the build-up by playing long-balls from the back and bypassing the midfield.
We can see an example of Lyon attempting to play out from the back in the image above. Lyon’s back four frequently played the ball back and forth amongst each other attempting to play into the midfield.
Lille provided a tough challenge for Lyon’s attempts to play out from the back with their defensive 4-4-2 shape. Firstly, Lille’s front two pressed Lyon’s centre-backs in possession. This was effective in preventing them from playing easy passes into the midfield, as well as rushing their passes.
Secondly, we can see that Lille’s midfield four sat very horizontally compact. Lille’s wingers sat narrow which helped them to gain a numerical superiority in midfield.
Lille’s defensive shape made the midfield very congested. This was effective in preventing Lyon from playing through the midfield in this game. One of the ways Lyon attempted to get around this problem in their build-up, was playing the ball from the full-back to a winger.
Lyon attempted this multiple times throughout the game. However, one of Lyon’s wingers dropping deeper to receive the ball to feet was a big pressing trigger for Lille. As we can see above, Lille left-back Domagoj Bradarić sticks close to Reine-Adelaide as he receives the ball.
On top of that, Lille’s near holding midfielder, André in this case, begins to press Reine-Adelaide. The near winger, in this case, Bamba, also comes deep to press Reine-Adelaide. This creates a 3v1 situation in favour of Lille and is effective at winning the ball back. This tactic was effective for Lille throughout this game.
Lyon were often forced to play the ball long from the back in order to get around Lille’s defensive shape. However, they lacked a real strong physical presence in attack who could compete with Lille’s centre-back’s for the ball. On occasion, Depay and Cornet did beat Lille’s defence for pace. However, Lille were generally solid enough defensively to prevent this from becoming a major issue.
Meanwhile, Lille preferred to utilise long-balls from the back throughout this game. In the image above, we can see a typical example of Lille’s shape when building out from the back.
One full-back, in this case, right-back Mehmet Zeki Çelik would stay back. Meanwhile, left-centre-back Gabriel moves to the left-hand side of a back three. Meanwhile, the other full-back, in this case, Bradarić, enjoyed more freedom to roam forward.
This essentially created a 3-2-5 formation for the visitors during the build-up. Bradarić and Renato Sanches provided the width during this phase of play. Meanwhile, Ikone and Bamba provided a pacey threat, while Osimhen provided a constant aerial threat for Lille’s long-balls.
Lille threatened to overload Lyon’s defence when they managed to successfully get onto the end of their long-balls. However, Lyon were often successful in thwarting Lille’s long-ball attempts due to the aerial ability of both Marcelo and Denayer. Tousart also frequently dropped deep to contest aerial battles with Lille’s target man, Osimhen.
The importance and effectiveness of Lille’s target-man, Osimhen.
Osimhen played a very important role for Lille during the build-up for the entirety of this game. He was Lille’s primary target from long-balls. On occasion, Lille would attempt to switch things up by attempting to play a ball in behind the Lyon defence to Ikone or Bamba. However, Osimhen contested the majority of Lille’s offensive aerial battles.
Lille attempted a number of different creative ways to utilise Osimhen’s aerial threat during the build-up. In the image above, we can see an example from early in the game, where Lille earned a deep free-kick.
We can see that Osimhen vacated his central position in order to move out wide, in this image. This was a tactic that Lille attempted to utilise on multiple occasions throughout this game. Osimhen would frequently sit on the full-back instead of the central players, to gain an increased physical advantage.
Lille’s shape became very compact during these phases of play. This compact shape helped Lille to get more players close to Osimhen, as they attempted to win the second ball.
On this specific occasion, Rafael does well to successfully contest the aerial battle with Osimhen. However, Lille used Osimhen as a wide target-man frequently throughout the game, to varying degrees of success.
In the image above, we can see another example of Osimhen vacating his central position to move out wide. On this occasion, however, Tousart moves out wide from his central-midfield position to contest the aerial battle with him. This was a battle which we saw occur often throughout this game.
Osimhen won far more aerial battles than any other Lille player throughout this game. However, Lyon’s Tousart won one more than Osimhen. Tousart won nine aerial battles throughout this game, to Tousart’s eight. Lyon’s use of Tousart to contest aerial battles with Osimhen was an effective tactic to nullify the effectiveness of Lille’s long-balls.
Tousart also prevented a defender from being pulled out of position to contest the aerial. This helped Lyon keep their back four in line as Osimhen dropped deep.
Nonetheless, Osimhen’s eight successful aerial battles were still important to Lille’s attack. Osimhen provided Lille with their main attacking outlet throughout this game. His flick-ons helped to play in the pacy players around him, while his hold-up play frequently helped to bring Lille’s other three attacking players into the game. His role in this game was crucial in creating Lille’s opening goal, where he earned himself an assist.
Lille’s attacks down the right-wing
Lille focused the majority of their attacks in this game down the right-hand side of the pitch.
As we see in the image above, right-winger Sanches often dropped deep to combine with right-back Çelik on the overlap. Sanches’ hold-up play helped to create space behind him for Çelik to attack. Meanwhile, Ikone can be seen attacking the right half-space.
Ikone linked up with Sanches and Çelik to create a dangerous passing triangle on the right-wing. Çelik and Ikone would threaten Lyon’s backline higher up the pitch, while Sanches provided a dangerous crossing threat from deep.
Lille’s link-up play down the right-wing was effective in creating multiple dangerous shooting opportunities for Osimhen. Lille were unlucky on a couple of occasions not to score from opportunities created by this trio on the right-wing.
Lyon switch to a 4-1-4-1 shape.
At times during the first half, Lyon appeared to be playing in more of a 4-1-4-1 shape, than a 4-2-3-1. This can be attributed to one of Lyon’s holding midfielders roaming forwards, either in possession, or to press.
However, in the second half of the game, Lyon rested in this shape more frequently. Mendes was not heavily involved in Lyon’s build-up play in the first half. As we discussed, this was due to the compact and congested nature of the midfield. Lyon switched to a 4-1-4-1 shape in order to try and get him and the rest of the midfield more involved in the game.
Tousart became a sole holding midfielder in the second half. Meanwhile, Mendes pushed up a line higher, generally playing in line with Reine-Adelaide. This helped to free up Tousart to move across the pitch more freely to contest aerial battles with Osimhen between the lines.
However, as we can see in the image above, the real benefit to this switch in shape for Lyon was in possession. The switch to a 4-1-4-1 made Lille’s compact midfield line of four less effective. They could no longer effectively just ‘sandwich’ Lyon’s central midfield pair with their winger and central midfielder, as they now had a midfield three to worry about.
Lyon’s offensive shape also became more attacking as the game wore on, as we can see above. Lyon’s change in shape to a 4-1-4-1 allowed them to play a 2-3-2-3 shape in attack. They allowed both full-backs to push high to provide width.
Meanwhile, Tousart would sit deep with two central midfielders ahead of him, while Lyon’s wingers would attempt to attack the half-spaces. This was an extremely offensive shape which did help Lyon to threaten Lille’s deep block at times. However, Lille were extremely solid at the back in this game and they rarely allowed spaces to be opened up for Lyon to create any clear-cut chances.
Lille press aggressively after losing possession.
Lille didn’t often press very high up the pitch in this game. Apart from the two forwards, they generally sat in a deep, compact block throughout this game. However, they did press more aggressively immediately after losing possession.
Just after the 29th minute of the game, Lille lose possession of the ball high up the pitch. Denayer tackles Osimhen and wins the ball for Lyon. He subsequently plays the ball out wide to Reine-Adelaide.
Reine-Adelaide is in possession of the ball in the image above. As we can see, he is being pressed aggressively by Çelik, Sanches, and Soumaré. This press forces Adelaide to play the ball back to his defence.
As this sequence of play continues, Tousart receives possession of the ball. However, Lille’s press does not stop. As we can see above, both Osimhen and André continue to press Tousart.
Tousart is subsequently caught in possession by Lille’s high press. André wins the ball back high up the pitch for Lille with a tackle on Tousart. André plays Osimhen through on goal and he is unlucky not to finish the goalscoring opportunity, on this occasion.
Lille’s aggressive pressing after losing the ball was also key to creating their opening goal of the game. André’s alertness and aggressiveness was also key to the effectiveness of Lille’s press.
In the image above, we can see Osimhen pressing Marcelo. Marcelo had just intercepted a pass from Gabriel, who had carried the ball into Lyon’s half. Osimhen subsequently puts him under pressure, which forces Gabriel to play the ball long.
André emerges from deep in order to press and quickly intercept Gabriel’s long-ball. André’s interception subsequently leads to Lille’s goal.
André carries the ball further into Lyon’s half before he releases to find target-man Osimhen. As we can see above, Osimhen is signalling to André that he wants the ball played low, into his feet. Osimhen spots the dangerous run being made by Ikone and quickly decides how he can link up with him most effectively at that moment.
André obliges and plays an excellent ball into Osimhen, who subsequently plays a first-time pass through to Ikone. This sets Ikone up one-on-one with the goalkeeper, and he slots the ball away into the Lyon net.
To conclude this tactical analysis, it is clear that Lille managed to edge Lyon to the victory in this game due to, firstly, their effective use of Osimhen as a target man throughout this game, and secondly, due to the effectiveness of their aggressive pressing upon relinquishing possession.
Neither of these two sides created a plethora of chances throughout this game. However, Lille made sure that they received the better of the chances that did present themselves. They did this through the implementation of effective offensive tactics, as well as a compact and solid defence.
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