LOSC Lille – Olympique Lyonnais: Two Underperformers Lack the Imagination (0-0)

At the campaigns’ midpoint, not many had LOSC Lille and Olympique Lyonnais as eleventh and twelfth on their pre-season predictors. In a game deprived of offensive quality, both showcased how they got to this point, whilst a significant shift in momentum should have seen one of them take all three points at the end.

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker. 

December 2020 had Lille and Lyon level on points, at the top of Ligue 1. Twelve months later, both clubs will be one place from one another again, but this time in the bottom half of the table. Lille and Lyon had been the established European contenders for quite some time, now their domestic prospects have never been as bleak.

Lille’s conquest of the title felt like a victory for football, but its collapse came from a much different source than we expected. They kept a lot more of its assets than anticipated, but their leaky defense and instability in their high press led to bad results. Come winter, and although Jocelyn Gourvennec’s team remain twelfth, Lille has seemed to hit calmer waters. More consistent form has developed with Lille seeing less of the ball, capitulated by a Champions League run, which saw them top their group and through to the knockout stages for the first time since 2006.

Peter Bosz was the man relied upon to take Lyon further than they were under Rudi Garcia, but results have been less than impressive. Predictably possession-heavy, Lyon rank both sixth for Expected Goals created and eighteenth for conceded. Such inconsistencies have seen Bosz throw formations at the wall to see what sticks, without the solutions to strike a balance.   

Gourvennec made two changes to the team that beat VfL Wolfsburg 3-1 in midweek. Both of these changes came on the left side of their 4-4-2 formation, as Reinildo Isnard Mandava and Gabriel Gudmundsson were replaced by Tiago Djaló and Jonathan Bamba.

Bosz rotated the system again, moving out of their more usual 4-2-3-1 formation, that they used in the 1-1 draw to Rangers in the Europa League, and into a 3-4-3 formation. This involved Jérôme Boateng returning into the defense, with Malo Gusto, Bruno Guimarães and Thiago Mendes coming into the midfield line. Houssem Aouar started on the left of the attack, with Islam Slimani on the right and Moussa Dembélé in the center.

 Half-baked in the halfspace

Lille enjoyed the bulk of possession control throughout the start of the game, which was geared up to take command of the inside channel. The ball sided central midfielder dropped into wider areas, whilst Jonathan Ikoné and Jonathan Bamba provided horizontal switches with the striker, by dropping infield onto their stronger feet.

As a result, Gourvennec’s team created a lot of three-man situations, with either the fullback or central midfielder carrying the ball, being supported by the striker and winger. The roles between the forwards varied, from either pinning against the Lyon defensive line or one of the forwards coming to the ball to create more space.

Lyon’s change to a 5-2-3 defensive shape was suited to dealing with these sorts of combinations. With the wing-back and wide center-back naturally being drawn to this channel, supported by the center-midfielder ahead or one of the forwards following play deep. Consequently, Lyon was able to match Lille’s set-up in possession and close down such spaces without being drawn out.

When the ball was deeper, Lyon was able to disrupt Lille playing out from deep thanks to their counterpressure. Their forwards worked closer to one another as their shape shifted towards one of the channels that Lille was moving the ball in. Lyon was able to overload on the potential progressive receiver and in these phases, Lille were forced to move the ball over the top to get the ball towards the forwards.

15th minute: Lille’s mid circulation, out of their 4-4-2 formation, saw a huge amount of space open for Çelik, as André dropped to receive the ball (Grey ball, first pass, from Sven Botman) and play into the full-back (Black ball, second pass.) However, Lille did not make use of two forwards pinning the defensive line.

Nevertheless, Lille got into several situations where a three-man combination or pattern would be able to get the ball behind the defensive line, but these moments were not executed. Attacks consistently broke down in these areas due to a lack of penetrative movement or Lyon being able to overload these areas, thanks to their shape. Renato Sanches made a number of switches towards the opposite channel, in search of an opening, but they would not come.

Lille’s better opportunities arose when they played more direct passes over the top of the defense, aided by outward runs from Burak Yılmaz into the channels. Even in these scenarios, shots would only come off the second phase from a cross and a half-chance falling to a forward on the edge of the area.

 Reliance on the individual

Though having a fair share of the possession themselves, Lyon’s attack was even more unproductive than their opponents. Their 3-4-3 system had little circulation amongst the center-backs, but didn’t need to bypass Lille’s 4-4-2 pressing scheme, which has lost its cohesiveness throughout the season so far. That being said, Lyon distributed longer than one would expect from a Peter Bosz team to make and Lille was set more in their medium block, which made Lyon’s buildup a lot more reductive.

43rd minute: Lyon’s 3-4-3 passing shape was able to play through higher pressing phases from Lille, with the winger forced to engage with the wide center-back and lack of cohesion in midfield left Guimarães free to receive.

This was due to the suboptimal positioning in central areas that made playing through and creating combinations a difficult task. Both Thiago Mendes and Bruno Guimarães often covered the same areas of the field, which gave their opponent’s block an easy task in blocking off this area. Nevertheless, the front three of Lyon had two strikers operating in the center and the right, whilst the ten was left more isolated on the left.

Nevertheless, it was the dynamism that Houssem Aouar offered down that left that produced the more encouraging attacks from Lyon. His sharp turns and close control was tailor-made to attract the opposition to collapse on him and create space for others, but Aouar was often met with little support. His shot towards the end of the half, flicking the ball vertically to evade both Zeki Çelik and Benjamin André, was by far Lyon’s best movement of the first period, but even this shot was in a position of little quality.

As a result, Lyon attacks led to a lot of lateral passes with little end product. The ball continuously flowed towards Malo Gusto down the right, to end with the wingback crossing the ball towards the penalty area. With no support in the halfspace, it came as no surprise that Lyon’s shot count at half-time reached a measly four attempts. Lille’s was five, with neither team taking a shot on target.

 As you mean to go on

The second half continued with Lyon in possession and lacking the spark up the field to cause Lille major issues. Nonetheless, circulation amongst Bosz’s team did improve a little.

This came from more verticality being offered by Mendes and Guimarães, behind Lille’s midfield line. Mendes offered more support to Gusto when the ball was moved out onto the right, which enabled better movements to be made from the wing-back, which further led to better crossing positions being accessible.

One of Lyon’s better moves of the game was made available by Guimarães’ position behind the pressing Sanches. Castello Lukeba’s pass to Slimani split the lines, whilst the third man run made from the midfielder opened up the final third and put Gusto into a vast amount of space. Guimarães couldn’t get enough connection on the header, whilst the ball was too quick for Dembélé to properly connect.

Bosz’s team had control of the ball, but once again, lacked any substance in the final third that could have caused Lille issues. Twenty minutes into the second half, Lyon had doubled their shot count but hadn’t improved in the quality of such attempts.

 Create from the chaos

From this point, momentum swayed into Lille’s favor with a late flurry of consistent chances being created. This often came from Yılmaz’s runs behind the Lyon defensive line, which was highly reactive to the play in front of them, rather than the strikers’ movements behind that created chaos at the back.

These runs started to come through the middle of the field, able to find separation by moving into the blind side of his marker, whilst being supported by runs by Jonathan David or Ikoné, who was replaced by Angel Gomes with twenty minutes left. With Ikoné carrying into the center and a curved run from David around Jérôme Boateng, Yılmaz was found in a pocket of space with Damien Da Silva transfixed on the ball, to create the game’s best chance to this point. Yılmaz’s shot was saved, but Ikoné blasted the rebound into the stands from close range.

70th minute: Buildup to Yılmaz chance. Lack of counterpressure on Sanches enabled the long ball to be created, whilst Boateng’s jump forward created a three-versus-two, met by the curved run from David.

Lyon’s defensive line was highly reactive to long balls over the defensive, which caused Lille to have golden opportunities from these types of passes, from the left into the center. On one phase, Da Silva rapidly stepped up to try and play Yılmaz offside, whilst Lukeba tracked David’s run behind. What followed was a three-versus-two in Lille’s favor, but Lukeba slowed down the attack and forced the shot to be taken by Yılmaz, instead of David, who had the ball in a better decision. Yılmaz had a similar run of his own, who won Lille a penalty once he was brought down by Anthony Lopes, but play was brought back as the striker was offside.

In the final ten minutes, runs from the veteran striker served a more creative role, as his movements came down the right channel and fed substitute Gabriel Gudmundsson at the back post as well as an opportunity for Amadou Onana late on. However, a chorus of bad finishes kept the score goalless.


Lille and Lyon have hit a terrible curve in their domestic campaigns, highlighted by the poor amount of quality for most of this game. Their title-winning season married an unhealthy dose of underperformance in their numbers, but Lille is a shadow of themselves. A team that pressed effectively no longer has such fundamentals. Having said that, Gourvennec’s team created more than enough to take the points.

Meanwhile, Lyon needs a concrete plan to take them forward. The team is still blessed with individual quality, but bad recruitment in the market has seen them fail to replace their star man in the attack and a squad that isn’t coherent to Bosz’s usual layout. With the likes of OGC Nice and RC Lens pushing for top places, no European football for next season is a very real possibility.

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Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


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