Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

LOSC Lille came into this fixture after just beating Serie A leaders AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League 0-3 at the San Siro. Off of a great result, expectations were high as Lille hoped to continue their amazing run of form this season in all competitions. However, after analysis, we see that tired legs and complacency cost Lille three points. 

Brest had not won their last three games in Ligue 1 before their matchup with Lille, with their last win coming against AS Monaco. Sitting in 13th place, just four points above the relegation places, Brest leave with what will be three very important points at the end of the season. In this tactical analysis, we will discuss Lille’s mistakes, and the tactics that Brest deployed to score three goals against one of the best defenses in the league. 

Lineups

As seen below, both teams deployed their usual 4-4-2 formation. The Brest 4-4-2 was narrow and compact so that Lille could not play between the defensive lines. This is what proved to be the most effective way of containing Lille’s attack.

The Lille 4-4-2 was often a 3-3-3-1, with full-backs Jérémy Pied and Domagoj Bradaric alternating as a third defender depending on the side of possession. Former Bayern Munich man Renato Sanches also dropped back as a third central defender when Lille were in possession, allowing the full-backs to offer width. 

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

However, Lille only made two changes from the team that beat Milan just three days prior, with forward Jonathan David and midfielder Xeka making way for Burak Yilmaz and Boubakary Soumaré respectively.

More of the same from Brest, who have not rotated much this season. Pierre-Gabriel is in for Julien Faussurier and Hiang’a Mbock is replaced by Paul Lasne. With just the league to focus on, Brest aim to rotate when needed. 

Lille in possession

Below we see Lille being forced wide as Brest keeps the midfield packed with players. Full-backs Domagoj and Pied can be seen providing width for their team. Brest are happy to give Lille space in the wide areas, as most of their creativity comes through the middle of the field through Sanches. Lille task four players with staying between the midfield line and last line of defense in an attempt to overload central defenders. Against a disciplined defense, this idea is not good enough, especially when Lille cannot play through the middle of the field. 

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

When building up, Sanches often drops deeper to bring the ball forward, as we have seen many times this season.  Below we see exactly this, however, Soumaré is greatly out of position. When trying to start an attack through the middle of the field, it is very simple for the defending team to outnumber the attacking side. Sanches has no passing option that goes forward once he receives the ball.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

Brest on the counter

When Brest got the ball into the Lille half, they would commit players to one part of the pitch, and then switch the ball over quickly to the opposite side. Below we see four Brest players against three Lille players, the first problem Lille must solve. The second problem is that left full-back Romain Perraud had moved forward to attack the space behind Pied. The Lille solution was to press the man on the ball. Their press was too slow, and it was through this attacking idea that Brest earned two of their goals. 

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

Below we see another example of Brest switching play quickly to players attacking space. Brest are not filled with technically gifted players. They know this and play to their strengths. Most of the Brest attacks came from players running into space behind Lille players caught ball watching or not tracking their runners. 

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

Lille’s defensive woes 

Below is the first example of Brest exploiting the large gaps between the Lille defensive lines. In order for a press to be effective it must: be performed by all the players, done at the same time, and with attention to the spaces an emergency ball clearance can arrive at. Lille failed to execute any press principles as seen below. Even though there are no Brest players occupying the vacant midfield, this shows that Lille have weaknesses and can be exploited. 

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

As the match went on, and Brest grew in confidence, they learned how to consistently exploit the space between the lines left by Lille. Below we see Brest transition from defense to attack, with winger Franck Honorat occupying the space between the Lille forward line and midfield line. Tired legs and complacency from their big win in midweek must be the only reason for Lille’s  defensive issues, as this type of defending is out of character.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

When Brest wins the ball back, they know that they can get away with passing into space because Lille will give them the space to do so. When transitioning from attack to defense, Lille struggle to get back into their positions and fulfill their defensive roles, making it easy for Brest to exploit the middle of the field. This could be avoided if the players were physically capable of continue their aggressive pressing style with well rested players. 

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

Second half resurgence 

At half time, Lille boss Christophe Galtier made three substitutions: Xeka for Soumaré, Renildo for Bradaric, and Isaac Hadji for Jonathan Ikoné. It is these changes that allowed Lille to press and attack like they have done so well this whole season. Below we see Lille with seven players in the opposition half looking to win the ball back as soon as possible. Every player is either marking or pressuring Brest passing options. This is a similar pressing style that we see Leeds demonstrating in the Premier League, under Marcelo Bielsa. 

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

Below we see, again, how important the half-time substitutions were. It is clear that Lille were tired from their match in midweek, and greatly underestimated Brest. However, once some fresh legs entered the game, Lille were back to their best. The Lille players all press the players who could be considered passing options as Brest attempt to begin play from the back.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Brest vs Lille - tactical analysis tactics

Conclusion

Lille can and will learn lots from this match. By underestimating Brest and failing to rotate players, they were caught not fulfilling their defensive duties. It was very obvious to see the impact that the substitutes made, as the only issue in Lille’s game was defensively. Before the game, Lille had an expected goals (xG) tally of 2.80 while Brest only had an xG of 0.86. Going forward will rarely be an issue for Lille, but they must rotate if they plan on defending in such a physically demanding style. 

Brest will be more than happy with the result. They outplayed one of the best teams in the league, exploited the midfield and wide areas, and even scored a wonderful goal in the process from left full-back Romain Perraud. While survival from relegation is never promised, Brest can be confident they can stay up if they keep up these performances.