Lille OSC – Olympique Lyonnais: Both Teams Epitomize Ligue 1 As Young Attacking Talent Shines amidst a lack of structure (2-2)
Lyon dominated possession against Lille in a very interesting formation. Lille were the more efficient finishers though. The fact that Lyon fought themselves back into this exciting game on the back of their talented young guns, made this a true advert for all that Ligue 1 stands for.
Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.
So far this season, Ligue 1 has looked a bit like you would expect the Bundesliga to shape up. One very dominant team easily leading the league, while a host of competitive teams fight for the places that grant qualification for European football.
Ligue 1 is a league that features an incredible variety of young talent from France’s excellent youth academies and other countries. Every transfer window, clubs from Germany, Spain and England make their way to France to pick up new diamonds in the rough, or even better: future super stars. The tactical organization and discipline is not always at the level of Europe’s top competitions, though, which makes watching a Ligue 1 match a fun experience most of the times.
Both Lille and Lyon pretty much characterize the league, as they both are not too organized tactically – Lille a bit more than Lyon – but boy, can it be fun too watch those young talents ply their trade on the pitch.
Lille always play in a 4-2-3-1 shape, 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’. Xeka and Thiago Mendes balancing things out to accommodate the attacking trio behind veteran striker Loïc Rémy. Their attacking trio consists of Jonathan Bamba (left winger, 22), Jonathan Ikoné (number ten, 20) and Nicolas Pépé (right winger, 23). Going into this match, Lille were fourth in the league table.
Bruno Génésio, Lyon’s manager, has fielded a formation with three defenders in the past few weeks. In the 2-2 draw against Manchester City, it looked like a 5-2-3 shape. Against Lille, a 3-4-1-2 formation was put into place, with Memphis Depay playing closely behind the two forwards Bertrand Traoré and Maxwell Cornet. Rafael de Silva – Lyon’s regular starter at right back – was suspended following a horror tackle against Saint-Étienne, which meant a start for Kenny Tete. Captain Nabil Fekir was on the bench, only able to play the last ten minutes due to a light injury.
Lyon’s flexible 3-4-1-2 formation, against Lille’s 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 shape when defending.
Lyon dominate possession
Lyon immediately took the initiative in this match, racking up nearly 73 percent ball possession in the first half hour. When attacking, the fullbacks acted as wingers, creating a 3-2-1-4 shape. As Depay sometimes positioned himself between strikers Cornet and Traoré, at times a five-versus-four situation arose in Lille’s defensive line.
A common pattern that occurred was that either Cornet or Traoré would drift wide, one of Lille’s central defenders would follow and there would be space in the middle of the pitch. Depay could have done more with the space in behind, really, especially in situations when Lyon’s fullbacks had the ball. Too often, the Dutch maverick asked for the ball in his feet instead of going in space behind.
In the opening phase, two nice crosses by Tete were the first signs of danger in the match, as Traoré and Depay got on the end of them but could not convert. Lyon should have definitely scored the first goal of the match in the 13th minute, though. Cornet nicked the ball away from Lille’s center-back José Fonte and went through on goalkeeper Mike Maignan. The striker did not score, instead placing his shot on Maignan’s body.
In the opening fifteen minutes, Lille had been sitting back in their 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 shape, keeping the spaces as closed up as they could, conceding some chances in the process. Because Lyon did not play with true wingers, in transitional moments, Lille’s fullbacks would be in a lot of space to be the first outlet for a counterattack.
A few minutes after Cornet’s big chance, one of these moments happened, as Lyon lost the ball and Lille’s right back Zeki Çelik was launched into space. A thirty-odd yard run later, he was able to play a quick combination. It was not an easy chance, but good old Loïc Rémy got on the end of it and put Lille up with their first shot on target.
Lyon’s biggest problem in possession is a lack of structure in their attack. There is so much freedom to fill in the positions that at times it feels chaotic and unstructured. They rely mostly on the individual talent of midfielders Houssem Aouar and Tanguy Ndombélé to progress the ball and look at their attackers to interchange positions and follow their intuition.
After going down a goal, these problems became more apparent than they had been. In the 29th minute, Lyon lost the ball on Lille’s half to Rémy. The striker drove up the field – Ndombélé and Aouar were too far away to interfere – played a simple square ball to Pépé, who cut inside and scored 2-0 with his gifted left foot.
Lyon’s passmap forms a perfect illustration of their 3-4-1-2 setup.
Depay penalty miss hinders
After half-time, Génésio replaced the injured Cornet for former Lille player Martin Terrier. As mentioned earlier, one of Lyon’s problems in the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. is their lack of patterns and structure. The flipside of that are moments when Lyon’s players find each other with a nice combination or when one of the attackers dribbles past two or three defenders. It is a free-flowing football style that feels like watching football at a square in a Parisian suburb at times.
The way Traoré won a penalty five minutes after half-time was an example of that, as he wriggled free from Lille’s defender Fodé Ballo-Touré, got down, and was awarded a penalty. Depay stood up to take it and well… He did not score. By some distance. Like, a lot of distance. Go look it up on YouTube or Twitter.
Depay partially made up for his missed penalty by beautifully setting free Traoré with a heel pass in the penalty area a little over ten minutes later. The Burkinabe international – who played outstanding – made no mistake and coolly slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Asymmetric Lyon go all out for equalizer
Ten minutes after his team scored the 2-1, Génesio took off central defender Marcelo for striker Moussa Dembélé. Terrier was now fielded as a right winger, while Lyon played with two strikers, as Mendy pushed up even higher up the pitch, playing as a de facto left winger. Lille had replaced their left winger with Edgar Ié, who is a defender. Ballo-Touré was pushed up a line, which meant Lille’s left side now consisted of two defenders.
Lyon’s asymmetric formation is a bit hard to caption with numbers. Let’s call it a 4-2-1-3?
It led to more of the same, as the ball now seldomly left Lille’s half, but Lyon were still unable to break the deadlock. When Nabil Fekir was introduced for Aouar in the 82nd minute, the structure became even less apparent, as Ndombélé was the only remaining holding midfielder. Lyon’s formation changed to a… Well, a 4-1-2-3 maybe? But because Depay and Fekir could go anywhere they wanted, it makes limited sense to label this formation with numbers.
Fekir immediately showed why he is captaining this team, asking for the ball in his feet and making things happen off the dribble. In the end, Lyon got their probably well-deserved equalizer. Terrier – who had earlier produced a great low cross from the right side that was put on the bar by Depay – went by his man and drilled in another low cross. Traoré flicked it on with his heel, Dembélé placed it in goal. The game was tied with five minutes to play, but Lyon surprisingly did not push through. It was Lille that had the last chance to score, as Fonte headed wide a good opportunity after a corner kick. After all the dust had settled, 2-2 seemed like a fair end result as Lyon’s second half performance deserved this come-back.
Before Génésio threw on a whole slew of attackers, and his interesting 3-4-1-2 formation was doing fine. Efficient conversion by Lille tilted the match the other way, but it is quite unfair to point to the manager when that is the case, as from the dug-out, he has very little influence in chance conversion by either side.
There is something in this Lyon team, however, that keeps them from performing consistently at a high level for a longer series of games. Whether that is the manager’s fault, a mentality problem inside the squad or an external factor is very hard to judge from the outside, though.
Lille are a great addition to this year’s Ligue 1 and epitomize everything this competition is about. It is one of the modern game’s biggest tragedies that players like Mendes, Pépé and Ikoné will be playing elsewhere soon. Lille can probably start over again next season, so it is best to enjoy the players while they still are around and watch this talented team as often as possible.
Use the arrows to scroll through all match plots.