In the completion of the first round, Olympique Marseille faced Saint-Etienne at the Stade Vélodrome. Both teams went into the game in good form. Home side Marseille had won both previous Ligue 1 matches despite playing away in both cases. One of those victories was even in the Parc des Princes. On the other hand, Saint-Etienne played both games at home, in which they won 2-0 in both matches. So even before the match, it was clear that it would be an interesting game.
Saint-Etienne won 0-2 despite having an expected goals (xG) of only 0.86 compared to 2.12 of Marseille. In this tactical analysis, we will look at the tactics used by both teams in this match.
Marseille started with their usual 4-3-3 formation. Compared to the last match, the ex-Chelsea manager André Villas-Boas made two changes. Leonardo Balerdi took the place of Jordan Amavi, who received a red card in the match against Paris Saint-Germain, and Morgan Sanson has begun in the starting lineup over Pape Gueye. So the lineup looked like this:
Steve Mandanda started between the sticks. In front of him, Alvaro Gonzalez and Duje Caleta-Car took over the centre-backs positions. Balerdi and Hiroki Sakai played as a full-backs. Boubacar Kamada held the position of the defensive midfielder, Sanson and Valentin Rongier played in front of him. The offensive trio consisted of Dimitri Payet, Maxime Lopez and Florian Thauvin. On the bench was Marley Aké, Valerde Germain, Christoper Rocchia, Bouna Sarr and former AS Roma player Kevin Strootman.
The visitors started in the 4-2-3-1 formation, with only one personnel change. Jessy Moulin started in goal, while Timothee Kolodziejczak and Wesley Fofana were in the heart of defence. The full-backs were Mathieu Debuchy and Yvann Macon. Youngster Adil Aouchiche and Denis Bouanga were wingers and Charles Abi took over the centre-forward position. Lucas Douath, Aimen Moueffek, Arnaud Nordin, Alpha Sissoko and Zaydou Youssouf started the game from the bench.
Defensive phase of Sain-Etienne
Les Verts pressed very well in the first half, as shown by their low number of passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA), which was 6.8 in the first half. For comparison, Marseille had a PPDA of 15.6. The formation they took during the defensive phase was 4-4-2 which we can see in the picture below.
When the opponent tried to use a deep full-back during their build-up, the winger of Saint-Etienne began to press the full-back with a curved run so they couldn’t pass out wide. In this image Hamouma pressed Kamara and prevent him from receiving. The nearest forward attacked the nearest centre-back and the second-striker marked Kamara.
Marseille offensive phase (part one)
From the beginning of the match, Les Phocées tried to play through the wings, especially from the right. There they then tried to create a diamond, which often consisted of a centre-back, full-back, winger and forward. This pattern is also confirmed by the fact that Sarr passed to Thauvin 11 times. In fact, no other Marseille player passed to the same player more than Sarr to Thauvin. In the example below, we can see that the diamond is formed by centre-back Gonzalez, on the sides were Sakai and Thauvin and on the top of the diamond was Lopez.
In the first half, the most common combination was what we see in the picture below. The forward and winger jumped for the ball, pulling the centre-back and full-back of Saint-Etienne out of position. The centre-back then sent a vertical pass to the forward, who played a first-time pass to the winger and then ran into the free space.
Here we can see another type of combination. Full-back Sarr passes to Rongier, who passes the ball to the winger Thauvin. He played a lay-off pass to Ake, who gave the ball to the approaching Sarr. He then had a lot of time and space to make a cross.
In some cases, five players were involved in this combination, as we can see below. Payet received a pass from centre-back and then made a lay-off pass to one of his teammates. He then progressed further up the pitch.
Marseille offensive phase (part two)
Marseille tried to occupy the opponents’ back-four with four or five players. In the example below, we see that last line of Saint-Etienne is occupied by the full-back Sakai, who pulls away from the winger and thus creating space in half-space for the midfielder. The forward pinned the centre-back, creating space for Payet, the former West Ham player. In the end, the ball went in behind to Sakai, who was unfortunately in an offside position.
The most important thing for Marseille was that wingers kept the maximum width. In the picture below we can see that both wide players are on the side lines, which creates a gap between centre-back and full-back.
Below we can see that Lopez is pulling the full-back out of his position, creating space for Sakai. He then could try to cross. But that didn’t work well, as Sakai had only 33% accurate crosses.
Saint-Etienne playing between the lines
In this part of the analysis, we will look at how Saint-Etienne tried to overplay the Marseille block. Yvan Neyou was a very important player for Saint-Etienne in the build-up phase. He kept trying to jump between the centre-backs, to create an overload help circulate the ball. He also managed to have two shot assists and an expected assists (xA) tally of 0.05. Marseille pressed in block 4-1-4-1, which meant that it wasn’t a problem to create time and space for centre-backs. At the same time Marseille had only one player between the lines, in which Saint-Etienne tried to take advantage of.
In the example below, we can see that offensive midfielder Hamouma and striker Abi are trying to create a overload against defensive midfielder of Marseille. So Marseille players tried to close the passing line between the lines to Hamouma. This meant that centre-back can pass to Macon, because he cannot be pressed by opposition full-back, who is pinned by Aouchiche.
When the centre-back of Saint-Etienne held the ball for too long, the midfielder began to press him, which created a temporary 4-4-2 formation. That meant the space between the midfield and defence of Marseille increased even more. Below we can see that the centre-back Fofana held the ball for a long time, and thus he was attacked by the midfielder. So he passed back to goalkeeper Moulin, who switched the play to the other side to former Europa League winner Kolodziejczak. Forward Abi jumped for the ball, pulling out the only Marseille player who was between the lines to Aouchiche. At the same time, Hamouma making the run in depth so no one from backline could press Aouchiche.
Here is an example of creating overload. Payet pressed the centre-back with a curved run, so he cut off the passing line to the full-back. Forward Abi is between the lines, so he attracted the defensive midfielder of Marseille. Winger Bouanga (who is out the picture) pinned the full-back of Marseille. This means that Hamouma is completely free and creating a two-versus-one overload.
As mentioned above in this analysis, Saint-Etienne won even though they only had 0.86 xG. They become the only team who won three matches in the first three rounds. Saint-Etienne has a lot of young players in the team, so it will be very interesting to watch them this season. Marseille, on the other hand, did not succeed in this match, but it must be said that they were very unlucky in the finishing.