In game week six of the Ligue 1, we saw an in form LOSC Lille side dismantle relegation candidates Strasbourg. After analysis, we see that Lille should be in the conversation for UEFA Champions League qualification, and potentially competing with league favorites, Paris Saint-Germain. Exciting, attacking, possession and tactics rich football will see that Lille deserve to play amongst some of the better teams in Europe, where they can showcase their biggest performers such as Renato Sanches, Jonathan David, Mehmit Zeki Celik and Jose Fonte.
Strasbourg will be wondering if they can salvage their rough start to the season. Les Coureurs have started their Ligue 1 campaign poorly, with just one win and five losses in their first six games. In this tactical analysis, we will see why Lille look almost unbeatable at times, and what is going wrong for Strasbourg at the moment.
Both teams lined up in a 4-4-2 formation at the start of the game, but it was rarely seen in any phase of the game.
Strasbourg often moved to a back five, with midfielder Alexander Djiku dropping back between Stefan Mitrovic and Mohamed Simakan. This meant that Lienard, Bellegrade and Chahiri needed to tuck in and play more centrally, giving up valuable midfield space.
Lille took advantage of Celik’s pace and creativity by encouraging him to push up into the midfield, as the remaining three defenders played more centrally in build up. Former Bayern Munich man Sanches dropped deep during build up play, acting as a deep lying playmaker. He was integral in linking the possession between defense and attack.
Lille in possession
Lille began the game knowing they could build out from the back, as Strasbourg are not a team encouraged to press the opposition. David strives in the space left behind opposition, and a press would only make his day easier.
Sven Botman is capable of bringing possession out of defence. When he does this, Strasbourg remain disciplined in their defensive structure. Celik can be found high and wide up the pitch, acting as a right-winger while his striker teammate Jonathan David has the ability to drop deeper into midfield, acting as another passing option.
Lille’s game plan was to use Celik to create wide space for midfield teammates to move into and act as passing options, while also taking advantage of Renato Sanches’s passing range, and Jonathan David’s off the ball movement.
Very early into the game, Strasbourg began to play a much more strict 5-3-2 structure and defended much more narrowly. This allowed Lille space on the right flank for Celik to run into and act as a right sided playmaker. For most of the first half of the game, Celik dominated the half spaces and earned himself a wonder goal.
Starred below is Renato Sanches as he looks to bring the ball forward. Jonathan David makes a run to come deeper into midfield as the Strasbourg defensive line is stretched. Also pictured is right full-back Celik, pulling his marker, left back Kenny Lala, out wide and further stretching the defensive line. This is when Lille were at their best. They can get away with a more vacant midfield because David drops deep, leaving space in behind him for his strike partner Yilmaz to run into, or getting the ball himself.
Pictured below is David, Celik and Sanches all working together to create space for their team. Sanches draws pressure from Strasbourg, David moves into the space behind midfield and Celik acts as a lateral passing option for Sanches, or has the freedom to roam forward. Yilmaz can also be seen on the shoulder of the last defender. This is because David is drawing his own marker out of position.
Strasbourg’s defensive issues
In defense Strasbourg started to defend as a block and stick to their 5-3-2, but gave up quickly once they learned how much space they were giving up was becoming problematic.
As the first half continued, the Strasbourg forwards and alternating midfielders can be seen marking Sanches at the same time, forcing medium to long ranged passes. For most teams this could be hard to work around, but Lille often bypassed this when David dropped into midfield. Jonathan David has played as central attacking midfielder before with his national team Canada, and former club Gent, as he is a natural creative player.
Once again we see the effects of David dropping deep into midfield. He may not have scored at all this season, or earned an assist, but he is absolutely critical to how Lille play and break down teams who defend all game. Strasbourg failed to pay attention to David’s influence in midfield and instead chose to sit back. A more efficient approach would have been to instruct midfielder Alexander Djiku to man mark David specifically, seeing as he was already asked to pick up more defensive duties by acting as a third central defender.
Strasbourg often got their defensive lines pulled apart and gave Lille too much space to play in. The forward and midfield defensive lines are too far apart and give Lille plenty of space to play in. Very little pressure is ineffective when the defensive structure is not being executed properly. Pictured below we see Jose Fonte commanding his midfield to occupy the midfield space that Strasbourg had given up. Lille have plenty of time to pick a pass and begin an attack. Celik is making a run in behind, and Jonathan David waits to see if he needs to drop deep or begin a run in behind as well.
Lille in defence and in their press
When out of possession, Lille aim to press aggressively and have their midfielder Benjamin Andre man mark the opposition midfielder Jean-Ricner Bellegrade as he aims to become a passing option. David is expected to come into midfield to help win the ball back. The Lille press was most often executed when Strasbourg move the ball into the wide areas, where the edge of the pitch acted as an additional defender when causing turnovers.
Lille defend from the front, often encouraging eight or more outfield players to press in the opposition half and win the ball fast. Lille forced Forward players David and Yilmaz lead the press, but are often followed by Sanches or Bamba, all of which are efficient and effective pressers of the ball.
When out of possession for long, Lille could be found defending in a much more narrow 4-3-3 or a wider 4-4-2. Strasbourg rarely had a midfield player drop deep to grab the ball, forcing the defenders to play long passes over the top through the middle or out wide. A narrow 4-3-3 defensive formation is growing in popularity, as seen by Monaco against Strasbourg in match week five. It forces less creative teams to force the ball long, creating more turnovers and an increased chance of losing the ball.
As the game went on and Lille grew tired, they saw the game out in a more traditional 4-4-2 defensive structure and played deeper. Strasbourg applied considerable pressure, and began to move the game out wide with more pace and conviction compared to the rest of the game. Lille were very comfortable to sit back and defend crosses until the game finished, because Strasbourg could not penetrate them centrally.
This analysis concludes that Lille played aggressive attacking football right from the start, and showed us that they can defend comfortably in a multitude of systems. With creative players from back to front in Celik, Sanches and David, Lille have shown us that they have the ability to do more than just compete in the Ligue 1, and will be setting their expectations higher as momentum grows.
Strasbourg played poorly and didn’t have any creative players to take the game to Lille. They opted to use defensive tactics from the start of the game, and only changed their mindset after conceding three goals. There’s plenty of work to be done for Les Coureurs, and with six games already played, questions will certainly be asked of manager Thierry Laurey.