In matchweek 14 of the Ligue 1, Olympique de Marseille took on AS Monaco in a clash that saw fourth place versus sixth. Marseille had two games in hand and were only two points away from league leaders LOSC Lille.
In this tactical analysis, we will discuss the defensive and attacking tactics used by both sides. Monaco rarely attacked with any identity until late in the second half, and Marseille were able to deploy tactics that pulled apart the Monaco defensive structure. After analysis, we will see why this year’s Ligue 1 season is the most competitive it has ever been.
Marseille deployed a 4-3-1-2 formation with FC Bayern Munich man Michaël Cuisance given creative freedom to operate wherever he felt between the midfield and forward lines. When out of possession, however, Cuisance would drop deeper into midfield to help form a 4-4-2 defensive structure. With Dimitri Payet suspended, this was Cuisance’s chance to show he has what it takes to be the side’s main creator.
Monaco deployed a 4-4-2, with notable absentees being former Arsenal and Barcelona man Cesc Fàbregas and Djibril Sidibé. Out of possession though, Monaco aimed to play a 4-2-3-1 with a focus of isolating Cuisance from the Marseille double pivot of Valentin Rongier and Boubacar Kamara.
Monaco out of possession
When out of possession, Monaco dropped into a 4-2-3-1 shape, with an emphasis of keeping Gelson Martins, Kevin Volland, and Sofiane Diop close to Marseille’s double pivot of Valentin Rongier and Boubacar Kamara. This was done so that Marseille could not play passes into midfield, forcing play to the wings or provoking long passes over the players.
On the ball below is Álvaro González. The midfield space is overloaded with players, so González can pass to his right full-back, or carry the ball into midfield himself. Monaco only pressed when the ball moved to the wide areas, using the touchline to their advantage, almost like an additional player that the Marseille players had to avoid.
Below we now see Hiroki Sakai on the ball. Monaco have forced play to the wide areas by packing the midfield, so now they can press as a team and create an opportunity to win possession. Martins covers Rongier, Yedder covers González, Volland covers Kamara, and Youssouf Fofana covers Michaël Cuisance. Sakai has no passing options close by, so he must either attempt to dribble out of the oncoming trouble, or attempt to switch play to a side of the pitch where his teammates are not being pressed. Neither option is easy or likely to be successful.
It was using this pressing tactic that allowed Monaco to win the ball back efficiently. By not pressing up the field and committing numbers, there is now no chance of leaving potential space in behind to be exploited.
Marseille break Monaco down
Marseille relied on Cuisance to operate in a free-roaming playmaking role in order to create chances and space for his teammates to run into. On the ball below is González, pressed by Volland. When in possession, Cuisance would drop deep into midfield in an attempt to drag his man-marker, in this example it’s Caio Henrique, out of position. Cuisance would do this in many areas of the pitch, as he operated behind his teams’ two strikers with the freedom to play where he wanted.
When Monaco played the ball back to their defence or goalkeeper Vito Mannone, Marseille would press with four to six players, with the defensive line instructed to remain in their positions. This was done so that if Monaco cleared the ball long, Marseille would have sufficient numbers back to defend. Below is an example of the Marseille press. Darío Benedetto presses Mannone and covers Monaco defender Axel Disasi. Florian Thauvin presses Benoît Badiashile while Cuisance covers the deepest playing midfielder for Monaco.
Mannone only has one option, and that is to go long and wide as his short passing options are covered. Caio Henrique is the Monaco player with the most space, however, his presser Rongier is not far away at all. By using this tactic, Marseille prevented Monaco from building up effectively.
Monaco struggled to create chances
The bulk of Monaco’s attack came from overloading the central space between the Marseille midfield and defensive lines with their forwards, drawing in man markers, then playing long passes to the wide spaces for their full-backs to attack. Below, Fofana carries the ball up midfield before passing to his right full-back Ruben Aguilar.
This attacking tactic can be effective, however, Rongier and Nagatomo were more than capable of defending the wide spaces, as Marseille often had enough central midfielders and defenders to handle the Monaco forwards and wide players. Volland, Martins, Diop, and Wissam Ben Yedder all remain central, yet also stayed harmless. There is minimal off-the-ball movement and the midfield is already so congested that they aren’t ideal targets for the ball.
This attacking tactic had a few variations which we will analyse. Volland, Yedder, Diop, and Aguilar all overload the right side of the pitch, with Rongier dropping deeper to help his defenders Duje Ćaleta-Car and Nagatomo. This creates a four-versus-three overload that favours Monaco, yet Tchouameni doesn’t take advantage of this. In fairness, he is being pressed, but there are signs of hope for Monaco as they look to attack stronger in the second half.
Carrying the ball forward for Monaco is Guillermo Maripán, looking to play the ball to his left full-back Caio Henrique running into the vacant space. This was one of the few times that overloading one side of the field, then playing the ball to the opposite side once the defending team had committed numbers created sufficient space for Monaco to take advantage of. However, this idea was all Monaco could create when going forward.
Marseille defensive shape
When out of possession, Marseille dropped into a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-4-2 formation, with Cuisance given the freedom to stay between the midfield and forward lines. This was done in case his side win the ball back so that he could help transition from defence to attack smoothly. When the ball moved to the wide area, the widest midfielder would press the Monaco player. In the example below, we see Pape Gueye leading the press. Both Marseille and Monaco pressed almost exclusively when the ball went to the wide areas, with a few exceptions.
Marseille deployed a mid-block and defended with a horizontal compactness to force Monaco to play wide. Disasi receives the ball, so Benedetto leads the press as the ball moves to his side of the field. Thauvin covers Fofana so that there can be no central passing option for Monaco. Rongier and Nagatomo are shifting to their left so that if Disasi chooses to pass to his right full-back, Aguilar, he will have no space to run into or time to think.
In one of the closest Ligue 1 seasons in recent history, Marseille, who have two games in hand, put on an excellent performance and are keeping pace with league leaders Lille. Marseille have their eyes on more than just UEFA Champions League qualification, and they’re certainly playing like they deserve to be champions.
AS Monaco will be disappointed by their performance. With Fàbregas and Djibril Sidibé still out with injury, Monaco can just hope their still able to compete with the league’s best sides.