LOSC Lille came into this fixture in good form, earning 11 points from a possible 15 in their last five Ligue 1 matches. After an exciting start, Lille are beginning to look like real title challengers. Exciting, attacking football sees Lille in second place, behind Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference respectively. However, against teams with quality players, such as OGC Nice, Lille might struggle to create chances in future matches. The tactics used by Lille are effective against most teams, but they did struggle against Nice this week.
Nice are now in fifth place in the league. After analysis, we will see that Nice showed Lille too much respect in the first half of the match. Former Arsenal and Manchester City player, now Nice coach, Patrick Vieira will be wondering if they could have earned more than just a point after a half time tactics change.
This tactical analysis will focus on Lille’s exciting first half, how Nice responded in the second half, and where both teams could have done better.
Lille started the game in their tried and tested 4-4-2. It has proven to give them defensive stability and flexibility. Going forward, It allows creative players Jonathan Bamba, Burak Yilmaz, Luiz Araujo to play their natural game. Former Bayern Munich man Renato Sanches commands the midfield as a deep-lying playmaker. He was often targeted by Nice as we will see.
Nice deployed a very narrow and compact 5-3-2. In the first half they rarely looked to create many chances. Former Manchester City player Rony Lopes often switched between a striker role and attacking midfielder role. Former Manchester United man Morgan Schneiderlin put in an excellent second half by showing his versatility, after Vieira’s men looked to create more chances.
Below we see a pass map for Lille. Sanches, number 18, was the creative engine for his team. He was often the link between defense and attack. He ensured each transition was smooth, even under pressure from the Nice players by completing 56/61 passes (92%).
A game of attack vs defence
For the majority of the first half Nice chose to sit deep and absorb the Lille press. There were very few attempts to build up an attack from defence, as Lille were more than comfortable pressing high up the field. There were many times where Lille would have up to seven players in the opponents half, fighting to win the ball back. Below we can see that Lille use both a man-marking system and a pressing system to ensure they win the ball back cleanly. Forward players will press the player on the ball and nearby passing options. Midfield players will join the press when applicable, or, opt to man-mark options in the middle of the pitch (circled in orange).
Lille have become comfortable with playing at the back this season. Passes between goalkeeper Mike Maignan and defenders Sven Botman and José Fonte are common. Botman completed 70/74 (90%) of his passes, and Fonte 49/54 (91%). Below we see that by beginning to play from deep, this encourages Nice to press them. This would leave space behind them. However, Nice simply refused to commit numbers forward and allowed Lille to play with the ball at the back.
Below is an example of the shape Nice deployed for most of the game. By playing a narrow 5-3-2 this prevented Lille from playing in the middle, and effectively cut off service to Sanches. However, by doing this, the space in the wide areas is left open to attack from the Lille wide players. Nice were confident that they could defend attacks from the wide area. Their confidence was rewarded, when Lille only managed to complete one cross from eight attempted (13%)
As the game went on, and Nice remained disciplined, Lille learned to commit numbers forward. Instead of choosing to play through Nice and taking control of the midfield, Lille asked forwards Yilmaz and Jonathan Ikoné to attack the channels between the Nice defence. These channels became wider when Bamba and Araujo pushed up to create width. Full-backs Mehmet Zeki Celik and Domagoj Bradaric would attempt to pass the ball behind the high defensive line.
Below we see exactly why Sanches is Lille’s most important player. His best moments are those spent in the middle of the field surrounded by options. With a confident goalkeeper, fullbacks and forward players, there is rarely an opportunity Sanches is without a passing option. This is why Nice worked so hard as a unit to contain him.
How did Nice contain Lille?
It’s no secret Sanches is Lille’s most creative player. As the game went on and Nice got more comfortable, they would only commit numbers to the area of play Sanches was featured in as seen below. The theory is that if Sanches can’t get the ball, then Lille would be forced to play long balls forward or on the wings. Nice believed they were capable of defending this way. It worked for the first half, but was changed in the second half when Nice decided to play more attacking.
When Nice won the ball, they looked to play quick long passes over Lille’s high defensive line. A target of interest was the right flank. Right midfielder Araujo was often caught out of position. This encouraged left wing-back Hassane Kamara and Lopes to attack the same space at the same time, creating an overload for the Lille full-back.
Nice quickly abandoned the plan to build up play from defence. After winning the ball back, we can see below that the players in advanced positions (once-five) are not following their defensive duties. Players labelled six and seven are looking to play the ball back into their own half. With this defensive miscommunication, a central overload is created. This is the most dangerous place to lose the ball, especially with four Lille midfielders pressing the man on the ball.
Below is another example of Nice trying to play out from defence. The Lille press is so strong, that the Nice game plan is tossed completely out the window. Passing options are marked or far away, and Nice could not win the midfield battle.
At half-time, Vieira returned to the drawing board. He instructed midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin to drop into a central defending role, creating a back four, instead of a back five. This allowed the wing-backs to push up high and wide. Forwards Kasper Dolberg and Lopes were encouraged to play more narrow. Midfielder Alexis Claude would also join the attack, overwhelming the Lille defence. Schneiderlin is an accomplished passer of the ball and by moving him deeper adds another form of attack.
After being instructed to play in defence, Schneiderlin was also given creative freedom to move back into midfield and distribute from there. With the wing-backs involved, and the forward players trusted to do their jobs, it was inevitable that Nice would score.
By allowing the defensive line to play more fluid and creatively, it meant that Lille would lose their strong presence in midfield. Lille players that once played high up, would now need to adopt defensive duties that were previously not needed. Below we can see right wing-back Joran Lotomba far and wide, playing in the space left behind left full-back Bradaric. Lille struggled to defend against these new overloads, and would not win because of this.
Lille were able to adapt to the Nice changes, and attacked the spaces previously occupied by the Nice defensive line. With late runs from Bamba and forward Yilmaz leading the charge, a two-versus-one situation was always going to result in a goal with that kind of quality. Nice committed numbers forward to get a goal, but exposed themselves in the process and conceded shortly after.
Other than a bit of defensive naivety, Lille are still strong contenders for a UEFA Champions League spot, as well as the Ligue 1 title. Nice are by no means an easy team. Lille will learn from this experience and become better for it. Still unbeaten after eight matches in the league means that the sky is the limit for this group.
Nice will be wondering if they showed too much respect to Lille in the first half. While they struggled to build play from the back early on, there was an easy solution is Morgan Schneiderlin and his versatility. Sitting fifth respectively, Nice will look to build on this draw and push on. Tactically astute and coached by a legend of the game, Nice could qualify for the UEFA Europa League, and potentially the UEFA Champions League.