AS Saint-Étienne – Olympique Lyonnais: Splurge Of Offense Wins Derby In Last Minute (1-2)
Reverting back to a 4-2-3-1 formation did not seem the brightest of moves by Lyon’s manager Bruno Génésio at first. His team looked lifeless, uninspired and sullen for a large part of this match. Luckily for Génésio, there is always a plan B that can be executed when you are coaching Lyon – ‘Throw on all of your attacking talent and see what happens’. This time, that plan resulted in a last-minute winner from Moussa Dembélé.
Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.
There is no love lost between AS Saint-Étienne and Olympique Lyonnais. Their derby encounters are one of the most anticipated matches that Ligue 1 has to offer, as the two clubs are only separated by fifty kilometers or so. It pits France’s most decorated club, in Saint-Étienne, against the nouveaux riches from Olympique Lyon; the Rhône against the Alps; blue collar versus white collar. Since Saint-Étienne were third in the table and Lyon were fourth, there was also significance in the league, not just in the sentiments of the fans.
Last season, the ugly side of this derby was there to see for the whole world. After scoring his team’s fifth goal of the match, Lyon’s captain Nabil Fekir saw it fit to celebrate by displaying the back of his shirt to Saint-Étienne’s ultras. After that, the pitch was invaded and the remainder of the match had to be called off.
This was the first time Fekir and co. were back in this stadium after that little altercation. Olympique Lyon manager Génésio decided to field a 4-2-3-1 formation, moving away from the three center-back system he had been using over the last few months. Memphis Depay and Nabil Fekir played as the number nine and ten, respectively, while the flanks were manned by Maxwell Cornet and Bertrand Traoré. The double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. was as equally talented as the attack, as it consisted of Hossem Aouar and Tanguy Ndombélé.
The hosts, Saint-Étienne, played in their nominal 3-4-1-2 setup, with the lovely attacking midfielder Rémy Cabella fielded just behind the strike-duo of Romain Hamouma and Wahbi Khazri. Saint-Étienne’s trio of central defenders was able and experienced, as it featured – from right to left – Loïc Perrin, Neven Subotić and Timothée Kolodziejczak.
End-to-end game in the opening stages
Saint-Étienne’s defensive approach was quite unique. It began with them forming a 5-2-3 shape, with their front five players essentially trying to block off the center. The three most attacking players – Cabella, Hamouma and Khazri – fielded a Liverpool-esque front three that shifted over to either side when Lyon tried to play into the fullbacks.
All twenty-two players depicted in situations when Lyon’s defenders had the ball. Saint-Étienne would form a 5-2-3 shape against it.
It did not work very well however, as Lyon were quite able to play through their fullbacks, who would then play diagonal balls into either Auoar or Ndombélé. The duo then got in between Saint-Étienne’s two most forward lines. The pair were incidentally pressed by one of M’Vila or Selnæs, but, as they are both great ball-retainers, they did not lose possession, and found opportunities to play the ball forward.
Since Lyon tried to press Saint-Étienne high up the field, and the hosts were able to play underneath that press – they played in one of their strikers with vertical passes, who would then lay it off to Cabella – this was a very fun and open match in the first fifteen minutes or so.
The aforementioned openness was illustrated perfectly by a sequence of ninety seconds, which occurred around the twelfth minute. Saint-Étienne’s Khazri was on the end of a cross from the left, but headed it into the hands of Lyon’s goalie Anthony Lopes. He immediately threw it to Ferland Mendy, who launched the ball to Memphis Depay. Lyon’s star attacker found himself one-versus-one with Saint-Étienne’s goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier, as a result. But his lob from twenty yards out was not enough to beat the goalkeeper, who tapped the shot out for a corner kick.
Match stabilizes as Saint-Étienne digs in
After little over twenty minutes, Saint-Étienne managed to score the opener. Lyon’s right back, Kenny Tete, attempted to join the attack but lost the ball. Ndombélé was a tad slow to recover in the right back space, forcing Lyon’s right center-back, Marcelo, to step out to track the runner – Saint-Étienne’s left back Antunes. This meant Jason Denayer was isolated in the penalty area with Hamouma. A fine delivery by Antunes was met with precision by Hamouma, who headed in the goal to make it 1-0.
After this, the match became less open, as Saint-Étienne tried to control proceedings to a greater degree. In their own half, they now formed a 5-2-1-2 formation, with one of the attacking trio – most often Cabella– helping out in defense. When the ball was lost, the hosts would often seek to find the ‘number ten,’ who would then look to feed passes into the strikers’ feet or in-behind Lyon’s defense.
The last twenty-odd minutes of the first half served as one of those typical streaks in which Lyon seem unable to produce good football, despite their talent. The attackers had so much freedom, that Lyon sometimes seemed disorganized. It is quite common in Europe’s top leagues to see a certain set of patterns of play repeated throughout an attack. If the right winger makes move A, the fullback will make move B and the striker will perform move C. At Lyon, sometimes this structure seems to be missing, as it appears to be pure talent that seems to be creating the team’s breathtaking attacks. But if it is not flowing, there is nothing to rely on, which can produce spells of extremely predictable and ineffective football.
Lyon throw on another talented attacker
In the first eleven minutes of the second half, Lyon played even worse. Aside from their predictable football, they added a lot of technical failures to their arsenal, as several passes went over the byline uncontested. What became a pattern as well, were how well Saint-Étienne’s disciplined defenders stepped up to put Lyon’s attackers in offside positions. A defense that steps up in unity at the right moment is a clear sign of a well-coached team. With five defenders, it is even harder than with four, so chapeau to Saint-Étienne’s last line.
After 56 minutes, Génésio decided to shake things up a bit. Memphis Depay had been experiencing a terrible game, but was allowed to stay on. Bertrand Traoré was taken off the field, allowing Moussa Dembélé to make his entrance as the striker. This moved Depay was moved out left and Cornet to the right. The 4-2-3-1 shape was maintained, even though it failed to make a dent in Saint-Étienne’s defense, who had switched to a 5-4-1 structure after half-time.
Lyon’s ‘new’ 4-2-3-1 formation against Saint-Étienne’s defense, who had changed to a 5-4-1 shape.
Depay had been playing as a sort of false nine A striker that constantly drops deep and plays like a number ten. the entire match. As Dembélé is more of a pure number nine, Depay and Cornet used the available space to play inside more, as Tete and Mendy started to operate as de facto wingers.
But Lyon were still reliant on their number one strategy – their attackers producing stuff out of thin air. Which, Lyon’s attackers did from time to time, of course, because they are freakishly good. On most occasions, Nabil Fekir would collect the ball outside of Saint-Étienne’s defensive block A defensive block is the compact group of defenders that defends a particular zone, either their own half in a medium defensive block, or the zone around their own box in a deep defensive block. and try to work his magic from there.
He did so in the 65th minute, when he pulled some defenders toward, opening up space on the right for Tete, who was very lazily chased by Khazri. Tete is not a good crosser however, and put his cross very deep into the penalty area. It fell for Depay however, who tried to dribble the ball in a very crowded penalty area, because he is Memphis Depay. The ball fell on Perrin’s hand, and Lyon were awarded a penalty, which Fekir converted.
Lyon win it at the death
The play continued like it had before the goal, with Lyon chasing a winner and Saint-Étienne setting up shop and seeming to settle for a draw. Once again, Lyon were only able to create half-chances, as they were not able to penetrate Saint-Étienne’s deep 5-4-1 block.
Lyon especially struggled to get their players on the ball in the halfspaces If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace., which were a bit crowded by Saint-Étienne’s left and right central midfielders. Early crossing and Fekir’s and Ndombélé’s driving runs from deep were what drove their attack.
In the 89th minute, there was a perfect demonstration of how incredibly random the outcome of a football match can be. No less than four counters in a row – two for both teams – happened in a row, which culminated in a huge chance for Khazri to score the winner. He failed to take the chance.
A costly mistake, it would turn out, as thirty seconds before the final whistle, Lyon managed to get all three points. It was not a result of elaborate tactics, or even beautiful individual skill – just an early whipped cross by Léo Dubois – who had come on for Tete – which met the head of another substitute: Moussa Dembélé. He did what Khazri did not do on the other end – produce the winning goal.
As a member of Between the Posts, you may have read this story a lot of times on this website whenever we cover Olympique Lyon. Génésio’s squad did not have a very good plan, but won due to their sheer volume of talent. It is quite a good model to deploy as a club, as it is nearly impossible for them to beat PSG anyway. Lyon will probably end second, sell their talent for big money, get new exciting talent, and so the cycle continues.
What Saint-Étienne are doing deserves a lot more respect. They have the fifth highest wage bill in France and try to live up to that through good coaching, disciplined defending, and individual quality up top. Any finish in Ligue 1 that is fifth and higher is a good performance for manager Jean-Louis Gasset’s well-managed squad.
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