Montpellier HSC – Olympique Lyon: Vibrant display of attacking Ligue 1 talent ends in a draw (1-1)
Both teams lacked tactical cohesion in possession but made up for it with technical ability, pace and other individual qualities. Lyon took the lead through talisman Nabil Fekir before being pegged back by the home side late on.
Tactical analysis and match report by Martyn Davis.
Montpellier made two changes from their 1-0 defeat to Lille. Nicolas Cozza made way for Pedro Mendes while Daniel Congré was replaced by Ambroise Oyongo. Montpellier have had a successful start to the season and find themselves threatening the Champions League places.
Lyon named the same lineup that defeated Monaco 3-0 in their last league game. The visitors have been expectedly cut adrift from PSG in the table but are probably favourites to take second place.
Lyon setup in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Fekir sitting behind a strike partnership of Bertrand Traoré and Memphis Depay. Montpellier matched this almost entirely man to man with their 5-2-3 defensive structure.
Lyon’s 3-4-1-2 was mostly matched by Montpellier’s 5-2-3 formation in defense.
Lyon open match with mixed success in possession
Some of the best attacking moments for the visitors came through the forwards dropping off the front line and receiving deeper. This drew out Montpellier’s man oriented defenders and opened spaces for Lyon to then attack with quick transitions forward. Fekir was often the beneficiary of these plays as he made runs past the forwards into gaps in the defensive line.
Lyon did, however, struggle with their buildup. Without a clear positional structure in possession, their formation was often stretched and the spacing was suboptimal for ball progression. The wing-backs and often midfielders were too high up the field for the back three to access with easy passes. This forced the defenders to take more risks with dribbles or more dangerous passes. Oftentimes, this resulted in turnovers high up the pitch.
If the defenders did not want to try something risky, they would circulate the ball in deeper areas and this often involved passing it back to the goalkeeper. Anthony Lopes was then not offered proper support from the backline and was regularly forced into a long ball as the home side shifted up to press. With gaps in the formation, second balls were also difficult to win and this provided another source of turnovers for Montpellier.
Lyon’s passmap illustrates their problem to play passes into midfield, with lots of passes at the back and a vacuum in the middle.
Montpellier counterattack with pace
Each of these turnovers presented the home side a brilliant opportunity to attack the open spaces left by Lyon’s wayward possession structure. This often involved the forwards picking up the ball and running at the defense which was unsupported by the midfield.
Other times, Montpellier used the wings to their advantage with left wing-back Oyongo proving to be an exceptional ball carrier. The Cameroonian made multiple long dribbles in from the touchline, at one point going down in the box and unsuccessfully calling for a penalty.
In lengthier possessions, Montpellier moved into a 3-4-1-2 shape while Lyon switched to a 5-2-3 formation with Fekir pushing up to the forward line in order to gain access to the back three. Florent Mollet acted as the attacking fulcrum, linking play between midfield and attack. He roamed both horizontally and vertically, constantly offering himself as a passing option.
Montpellier’s passmap is the epitome of direct play, with nearly all passing directed vertically.
Nabil Fekir offers individual brilliance for Lyon
The second half started with heavy use of long balls. This resulted in a lot of scrappy contests for second balls and subsequent attempts to rapidly transition into space. A lot of emphasis was placed on the ability of players to dribble forward following these second balls, as both teams’ attacking mechanisms were otherwise non-existent.
Fekir thrived in this environment, being extremely talented when running with the ball at his feet. His linkup play and ability to make intelligent runs in behind supplemented this and made him the key man for Lyon during this period of the match.
The Frenchman scored the opening goal in the 67th minute after a deft first touch took a defender out of the game and a deflected shot sailed into the net.
Montpellier equalize but neither team is able to find a winner
The home side showed little threat in the period immediately after Fekir’s goal. It was not until Damien Le Tallec was withdrawn for Salomon Sambia that this changed. Unsurprisingly, it was through a dribble that the substitute made his first major impact — a driving run to the edge of the box in the 81st minute. The ball was cleared before coming back in through a cross. A few touches later the ball had been rocketed into the top corner by right wing-back Ruben Aguilar.
The match became even messier as substitutions were made by both sides in search of a decisive goal. Montpellier were at least able to string some passes together, mainly through Mollet who was cropping up in very deep zones to try and force some productive buildup play.
Petar Škuletić was the only substitute that seemed to bring about a tactical change with his knockdowns providing something new to the field of play — it’s effectiveness, though, was another matter entirely.
As six minutes of stoppage time failed to yield a winner, the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Montpellier remain in fourth place, still thereabouts in the chase for second place. Their threat to the Champions League places is also still alive, although their underlying numbers project them more like a team that should be around sixth spot. Their man oriented pressing and quick transitions were uncomfortable for Lyon, especially in the first half. Considering their failure to take the lead in those early stages they will feel that a rescued point is a just result.
Lyon had issues with their possession game and are not exactly debunking their reputation of being a team of individuals. Their structure during buildup did not make them come across as a well coached side. With that said, they have a truly amazing squad and still look capable of being best of the rest in the race for second.
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