Tactical analysis Girondins Bordeaux Olympique Marseille 2-0 Ligue 1

Girondins de Bordeaux – Olympique Marseille: Bordeaux’s tactical versatility gets the edge over Marseille (2-0)

What, in all truths, felt like a smooth Bordeaux win was actually a much closer-fought contest. Bordeaux’s persistence with their direct and effective long-ball strategy paid dividends as the inside forwards were given a lot to work with. The same could not be said for Marseille, despite some moments of encouragement, particularly from Florian Thauvin.

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.

The recently appointed manager of Bordeaux, Paulo Sousa, is without defeat inside his first three games at the club. He is also without victory. Sousa made three changes to the last eleven he fielded, which drew 0-0 away at Amiens SC. Those saw Yann Karamoh, Zaydou Youssouf and Younousse Sankharé make way for François Kamano, Youssouf Sabaly and Jimmy Briand.

Sinking back into their previous poor form, Rudi Garcia opted to make six changes to the side that drew 2-2 away at Angers SCO last weekend. These swaps saw the return of Dimitri Payet, as well as Steve Mandanda and Kevin Strootman.

Bordeaux’s direct approach proves effective

Bordeaux assumed the natural role as the home outfit by establishing pretty firm control of possession in the opening period. In their 3-4-3 shape, they were not so precise with their short play but instead preferred to focus on using its structure to facilitate long balls. By virtue of their attacking structure, there was always a network of players setup to be available for second balls.

Bordeaux’s deep 3-4-3 structure used for playing long-balls into the wing-backs.

Bordeaux’s deep 3-4-3 structure used for playing long-balls into the wing-backs.

And so it began – a barrage of direct balls out from goalkeeper Benoît Costil to either of the wing-backs. Eleven of his thirty-one passes were directed into either of those two, particularly Maxime Poundjé, as well as Jimmy Briand in the center.

The early signs were positive, too. In the fourth minute, Costil floated one of these passes out towards Poundjé, who engaged in an aerial challenge from Hiroki Sakai and won the ball to knock it on for Nicolas de Préville. The attacker cut inside away from his tracker Boubacar Kamara and worked some space to fire a shot from range.

It was not just in those specific situations where direct balls came into play, either. Further up the pitch, the responsibility would be handed to the center-backs who would try to find the inside forwards. They made constant, sharp runs through the channels.

It showed itself to be particularly effective when Kamano’s diagonal movement across Briand to get in down the inside-left channel got his side further up the pitch. He laid it back for the better-placed Nicolas de Préville, who curled in a hopeful ball. Although it seemed like a wasted cross having flown well over the striker’s head, a miskick from acting-wing back, Nemanja Radonjić, at the back post led the ball back in the center-forward’s direction. However, Briand’s snap shot was well saved by the feet of Mandanda.

Marseille, despite having mirrored Bordeaux’s 3-4-3 formation for defensive purposes, were unable to assert their dominance in the many individual battles that took place as a result of this adjustment, which gave the hosts the upper-hand. Particularly in the duels between Jimmy Briand and either Marseille center-back (usually Kamara), the striker was very adept at pinning back his marker physically whilst being able to lay-off the long-ball for a nearby attacker.

This was evident in the buildup to the opening goal. Vukašin Jovanović, in a similarly deep position to Costil, hit the ball accurately towards Briand, whose aerial chest-down instigated a quick give-and-go with de Préville. Then came another supporting run across to the ball-side from Kamano through the nearest channel. Having turned Jordan Amavi with ease, he attempted the same in-swinging ball as de Préville had done a few minutes prior but his attempts fell short of Briand… but not short of the arm of Radonjić, who was completely thrown by Kamara’s dummied header in trying to leave it for Mandanda to claim. The referee awarded the penalty and Kamano sent the goalkeeper the wrong way.

A deserved lead for Sousa’s men inside the opening half-hour.

Marseille’s attacking struggles 

The visitors, as was to be expected, were much more precise in their possession passages. All too frequently playing it back and forth between the center-backs and defensive midfielders.

Maxime López’s movement into the right back slot, pushing Sakai higher up, formed a ‘W’ buildup shape that aimed to provide more angles but had little effect. If anything, against Bordeaux’s responsive 4-4-1-1 defensive setup, it made it easier for Briand to step out and press to one side instead of having to worry about a player directly behind him.

Bordeaux's 4-4-1-1 setup against Marseille's offensive shape

Bordeaux’s 4-4-1-1 setup against Marseille’s possession shape.

The striker’s hard work was admirable throughout and important in following the wide rotations the away side displayed. The majority of Marseille’s attacks were founded down the right side, with the aim of accessing Sakai in a position to deliver a cross.

Typically, it was a casing of playing out-to-in-to-out. The ball began with López, as he was often free to receive, and then would hope to play centrally, potentially into Payet if he had dropped between Bordeaux’s central-midfield pairing. This would naturally draw inwards the home side’s shape and open the space for Sakai. Even when the fullback did get a hold of the ball, the deliveries were subpar, at best.

Marseille found more success using the left-side, it seemed. Be it to attack down there or simply to switch it back to the right where there would now be more space.

Thauvin, on a couple of occasions, was a choice target on the right and could be recipient of switches from deeper positions down the left. On first try, this led to Thauvin driving inside and dragging a shot wide of the near post

Marseille’s intensity could have been questioned but the work rate of Bordeaux’s strikers had a hand to play. Their close positioning to the 4-4 block took the pressure off of the backline and allowed them to keep a tight zonal line.

Second half changes

At the beginning of the second half, that eased off and the whole thing flipped. It would not have taken much to motivate the side trailing but, whatever it was, they had their tails up now. Not only were they rotating more frequently, more quickly and more fluidly but they were also committing an extra body to the ball side, which benefitted them massively.  

As was evident when the recurring threat of the switch into Thauvin reappeared in the forty-ninth minute, López’s continued movement ahead of the ball dragged Otávio back and opened the space for Radonjić to cut into. He swept the ball wide, Thauvin cut in and, with so many Marseille runners committed to the last line, found Radonjić’s overloading run from deep. His challenging header, though, was guided wide.

The wide attacks kept flowing, with the forward positioning of the attackers being key in exploiting the increasingly open channels. First time Payet and Radonjić overloading Jules Koundé to create a decent chance from a cross for the aforementioned wide attacker. And then, when Thauvin’s sharp turn of pace to get in-between the center-backs was located by the un-pressured Sakai. Pablo’s glance away from the ball left him unalert to the danger and so the Frenchman was played through but his out-stretching leg for the volleyed effort never had any real control on it.

Having been in the ascendency for such a long, sustained period of pressure, Marseille had incidentally played themselves into a bit of trouble. The cost of committing their deeper midfielders further forward and positioning themselves around the ball finally came around. Perhaps attributable to the coach’s decision to take off the more energetic and supportive ball-figure of Payet, rather than Valère Germain, for Mario Balotelli, the defensive midfielders found themselves split well apart and completely wide. So, when Amavi had no options and was dispossessed, the center was wide open. There began a sharp counterattack: Kamano to Briand to De Préville, worked right across, as the attacker tucked it into the far corner to devastating effect.

Sousa’s persistence with the mirroring defensive shape had paid dividends thanks to how desperate Marseille were in an attacking sense. And now, having incurred so many problems prior to the second goal, the control was most certainly back in Bordeaux’s favor. It killed the game, at least in a footballing sense. Tempers soon flared as Balotelli caused some controversy, clashing with Pablo, whose retaliation later on earned him a straight red card – still at a time where the visitors could have gotten back into the match.

Marseille had a couple of consolatory chances very late in the day but none were enough to get them their first Ligue 1 win away at Bordeaux since 1977.


Sousa’s unbeaten start continues. Although their fate this season is well and truly sealed, they can still take huge enjoyment from victories like these.

Rudi Garcia, a man facing increasing pressure at the helm this season, is still looking for that revitalization that will put his side back into Europe again. A solid six-game run has quickly fizzled into a three-game bout of terrors again.

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Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


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