It’s a very important match between Rennes and Nantes in the opening match of the 22nd round of Ligue 1. It’s an important match for several reasons. First of all, it’s the Breton derby between Rennes and Nantes and it’s a game that generates a lot of expectation from both players and fans. We’ll see that in the analysis of the match, but there’s always a certain amount of tension between the players because it’s not a match like any other. But it’s also an important match for the ranking. Before this match, Rennes is 3rd with 37 points while Nantes is 5th with 32 points. It’s a great opportunity for Nantes to get back in the rankings and for Rennes to consolidate its place on the podium. This tactical analysis will look at the tactics of both teams as well as analyse the tactical peculiarities of this match.
As you can see in the picture above, Julien Stéphan’s Rennes team plays in 4-4-2 tactics, with Eduardo Camavinga (very promising player of interest to Real Madrid) and James Lea Siliki in a double pivot. M’baye Niang and Adrien Hunou will both be at the front of the attack with the task of being the first line of pressure and destabilizing the opposing defence with their movement. Niang’s role will be to provide depth with physical commitment where Hunou will seek to position himself between the lines to ensure the mid-attack transition. The high and off-centre positioning of the full-backs Faitout Maouassa and Hamari Traoré is supposed to stretch Nantes’ defensive block. Wingers Raphinha and Flavient Tait will thus be able to take advantage of the positioning of the full-backs to move more freely in the last 30 metres and especially in the middle of the pitch.
For Nantes, Christian Gourcuff has opted for a 4-2-3-1 in the offensive phase, which turns into a 4-4-2 in the defensive phase. Ludovic Blas lined up with Renaud Emond to form three compact lines and thus hamper Rennes’ build-up play. The idea alongside Nantes was to propose a compact midfield block to leave little space for Rennes during their possession phase. By attracting Rennes to its half of the pitch, Nantes will try to take advantage of counter-attacking situations with the speed of its wingers Moses Simon and Kader Bamba. Blas is positioned to take advantage of the space provided by the 4-4-2 between the defensive and midfield lines.
Rennes build-up play
Rennes tries to control the tempo of the match and have possession of the ball from the very first minutes of the match (62% possession in the first half). Facing them, Nantes offered a compact midfield block to reduce the space between the lines, and in particular controlling Rennes’ wingers. Nantes will not press with much intensity during the match and displays a PPDA of 12 during the game (including 22.4 in the first period). The change from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 in the defensive phase also allowed Nantes to match Rennes’ system of play. With one less line, the block is thus more compact and it is easier for the visiting team to control Rennes’ dangerous players (especially Raphinha who is having an excellent season). To create numerical superiority during the build-up, Camavinga will regularly come between Damien Da Silva and Jérémy Gélin. This will notably allow the full-backs to push a little higher but above all to be in three against two against the first line of Nantes.
In the diagram above, we see Camavinga coming between his two central defenders. The problem is that he’s going to desert an area already little occupied by the Rennes midfielder. The game will then shift to the right with Da Silva, who will have few interesting passing options. The Rennes right-back and the right-winger are on the same line and are very sensitive to pressure from the opposition if they receive the ball. Raphinha is placed between the lines, but the compactness of the opposing lines makes it impossible for him to receive the ball. It should be noted that Raphinha has sometimes swapped with Hunou to try to destabilise the Nantes defence.
Interestingly enough, the full-backs Traore and Maouassa are used to being high up on the pitch, but they were rather cautious in the first half, with the speed of the two Nantes wingers forcing them to be a little lower than usual. The Nantes block was perfectly in place, the movement of the lines are coordinated, leaving little interesting space for the Rennes side to exploit. However, it was Rennes’ lack of creativity that was striking in the first half, both with and without the ball. The 4-4-2 is a very rigid system and the offensive animation is not always easy. It requires a lot of movement from each line to ensure transitions and create links between the lines. Rennes’ wingers will generally move too little from their positions to get into dangerous spaces and Hunou will not be able to exist in this false nine position.
The first half was therefore rather disappointing as Rennes had the ball but struggled to create chances, as shown by the 0.11 of xG. Though not brilliant in the build-up play, Rennes is very good at pressing, and Hunou hit the post in the 35th minute from a high recovery on the pitch. Rennes also had a PPDA of 5.9 on the match, which shows the intensity of the home team’s pressing. On top of that, Rennes played with a very high block and recovered 28 balls in the opponents’ half against 16 for Nantes.
In the picture above, the four Rennes defenders + Camavinga are on the same line. The full-backs remain abnormally low on the field, which does not allow them to take advantage of the numerical superiority brought by the positioning of the young Camavinga. The first line of Nantes pressing is ball oriented and Blas directs his body in order to cut the pass to Siliki. We see a Rennes team cut in half with a very low axial density. The positioning of the full-backs does not allow the Rennes wingers to come inwards.
Camavinga has no solutions forward and makes a pass to his left central defender. The latter passes the ball to Maouassa under pressure from Nantes. The Nantes lines are now perfectly in place and are directed towards the ball. Nantes then launches his pressure as the ball is in a zone favourable for recovery. Rennes was no longer in numerical advantage and was even in trouble as Nantes’ front line once again prevented a pass to Siliki. The only passing solution was Tait on the left side, but he was under pressure from a Nantes player as soon as he received the ball. The red triangle represents an area left empty by Rennes, where the presence of a player would have allowed a very interesting passing solution for Maouassa. Niang notably could position himself between the defensive line and the Nantes midfield line.
Nantes interesting attacking combination
Nantes’s objective was above all to have a good defensive organisation, with a block not too low so as not to have to go all the way up the pitch on counter-attacks. Offensively, the idea was to take advantage of Rennes’s disorganisation and the speed of Simon and Bamba to play the transitions quickly. Blas was very active offensively with a lot of freedom in his movements. He often placed himself between Rennes’ lines to receive the ball and thus launched the counter-attack. His availability without the ball and his technical quality with the ball did a lot of good for Nantes in the match. An offensive combination of Nantes was also very interesting and repeated several times during the match. The goal was to put the wingers in the best possible conditions. The offensive combination involves three players including the winger who will be launched in-depth at the end of the action (here Bamba).
In the above action, the three players who are part of the combination are practically on the same line. The idea is that the opposing team does not know which of Bamba (player in the middle of the line of three) or Blas (top of the line) will receive Emond’s pass. The latter makes the pass between the two Rennes players and Bamba pretends to receive the ball before running at full speed deep into the open space. Blas receives the ball and makes a one-touch pass directly in-depth to Bamba. Bamba’s false reception of the ball misleads the central defender (second picture), who is a few seconds behind him. The Nantes winger is also much quicker on the run and takes the lead over his opponent. Bamba’s first control is outward, which does not allow him to take advantage of Blas’ good pass and his good forward run.
Same situation here, with Bamba again at the conclusion of this move. Dennis Appiah passes the ball between the two Rennes players, towards Bamba and Imran Louza, on the same line. Bamba again fakes the reception of the ball and throws his run forward in the right half-space. There is a large gap between Maouassa, who goes to press on Blas, and Gélin (left central-back). It is Louza who finally receives the ball, moves forward a few meters, and passes the ball to Bamba in depth. Note the orientation of Gélin’s body on the second picture, which sees Bamba’s quick run and changes the direction of his run too late. Bamba easily takes speed on Gélin despite being a few meters behind at the beginning. He took too long to make his cross, allowing the Rennes defender to come back to counter it. But it’s a very interesting move that Nantes has proposed here, and it’s quite disturbing for the opponent.
Derby takes on another dimension at the end of the match
After an unattractive first half, the game is about to go crazy. Simon scored the 2-1 goal for Nantes in the 79th minute, giving his team every chance to win the match. As soon as this goal is scored, Nantes will put aside what has worked well since the beginning of the game, its middle block, and will be much lower on the field. This will allow Rennes to have an easier build-up in its half of the field and especially favoured the counter-pressure in the opponent’s part of the field.
The graph above shows the evolution of the PPDA during the match. We will focus on the last 15 minutes of the game where we can see that the PPDA of Rennes is extremely low at 3.3, while that of Nantes is at 14.6. The goal scored by Simon leads to a lower defensive block on the Nantes side and, above all, much less intensity in the pressing. The opposite effect for Rennes, which has a very intense pressing in the last minutes of the game, in order to equalize as quickly as possible and why not seek victory. There is also much less rigour in the defensive block of Nantes, with a lot of space between the lines and several inconsistencies, perhaps due to tiredness.
In the picture above, the Nantes block is strangely positioned. First of all, there is a lot of space between the first and the second line, symbolized by the green arrow. Moreover, the middle line is very low and very close to the defensive line, leaving a huge gap behind the Nantes front line. There is therefore much less pressure on the midfield to disrupt Rennes’s progress (much more freedom for the opposing midfielders to organise the game). This makes it much harder for the Nantes players to manage depth, especially on the right-wing, where Rennes are outnumbered. Similarly, the line-up is not perfect and the 4-4-2 is no longer in place as at the start of the match.
In the action above, Rennes is fighting for an equaliser at the end of the match, and it is on a nice combination in the left half-space that Rennes will make the difference. Camavinga passed the ball perfectly to Benjamin Bourigeaud not far from the penalty area, and the latter scored with a low shot. Once again, Nantes was cut in half with only seven players defending. All the Nantes defenders are on the same line and leave a huge space for Bourigeaud to strike. This lack of lucidity and concentration will be costly for Nantes who will concede the third goal in a row. It is Raphinha who scored the winning goal (97th minutes), following once again a movement in the right half-space.
The derby ended with Rennes scoring three goals to two with a game full of twists and turns. The match is considered by Ligue 1 fans to be one of the most beautiful matches in this season. Rennes finished the campaign in third place and will play in the UEFA Champions League next season. For Nantes, it is much less satisfying with a 13th place finish despite a very interesting team. This tactical analysis showed that it was not the most successful match of the season for Rennes, who struggled to create opportunities, especially in the first half. But Stephan’s players won this match with heart and a lot of desire, especially at the end of the game. Nantes had long been flawless in defence, but collapsed in the last minutes of the match, leaving Rennes much more space to exploit.
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