OGC Nice – Olympique Lyonnais: Lyon Show Typical Inconsistency And Lose To Nice (1-0)

OGC Nice were most impressive in their pressing and midfield compactness, alongside creating a few opportunities and eventually getting the lead through a Rémi Walter penalty. In the second half, Lyon created numerous chances and took control of the flow of the game but failed to equalize as Nice put up a resilient defensive block.

Tactical analysis and match report by Chris Baker

Lyon are experiencing a fine season. They currently sit third in Ligue 1, play an exciting style of football and boast a plethora of talent in their squad. Going into this match, they had lost just once in fourteen away games in all competitions. Following on from their impressive victory over PSG, Bruno Génésio fielded the same starting eleven in Lyon’s 4-2-3-1 system.

OGC Nice went into this match following a 4-0 drubbing loss, away at Lille. Despite scoring just eighteen goals before this match, they found themselves just three points off of Montpellier in fourth place. Reverting back to their 4-3-3 formation, Patrick Vieira made two changes to his side. Walter and Myziane Maolida returned to the side while Youcef Atal and Danilo dropped out.

Both team’s general positioning when Nice had the ball.

OGC Nice build-up, direct attacks and Lyon’s pressing

OGC Nice’s main formation in possession was a 4-1-2-3. Wylan Cyprien dropped ahead of the center-backs, while Adrien Tameze and Walter typically moved vertically adjacent to him, trying to find spaces in higher areas. Initially, the pass selection in their build-up was very patient, using lateral circulation across the defense in order to draw Lyon’s forwards out, before playing long passes to their attackers.

Lyon were very aggressive in their pressing and would take any opportunity to engage with Nice’s back-line. When they were able to successfully move up field with their pressing, Nice opted for a more direct approach into their attackers. As Vieira’s side had some success with this, they began to entice Lyon into stepping very high and then attack the space in behind. Doing so not only allowed them to nullify Lyons’s press but enabled them to use the speed they have up front.

Lyon mixed between a 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formation when Nice were in stable possession but resembled something of a 4-2-0-4 when they looked to engage very early with Nice’s build-up. Within the first fifteen seconds of the match, the application of Lyon’s pressing was easily bypassed with a long ball. The defense pushed up very high and could not adjust their defensive positions quick enough, allowing Nice to exploit the space in behind to force Lopes into an early save. Lyon suffered the effects of this poorly connections, which struggled to support the passing between their defenders and midfielders in pressing.

Lyon left-side focus

Ferland Mendy’s position caused Nice all sorts of problems and was frequently targeted in Lyon’s progressions. Against the ball, Nice’s midfield and defense becsme very narrow to protect the centre. This was at the expense of uncovering the wings and not retaining a position to apply adequate pressure due to their orientation towards the centre. Therefore, combinations between Lyon’s midfielders would draw Nice over to the ball-side. This meant they could switch the ball to create isolation on the far-side, from where Mendy could get into a good position to cross into the box.

The left-sided behaviors of Lyon were structured around the Mendy, Memphis Depay and Aouar triangle, for combination plays. Depay rotated his positioning between the halfspace 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. and wing, while Mendy would complement his movement by occupying the opposite space. Aouar remained deepest of the triangular shape, mostly to offer passing lines back inside.

From these positions, Lyon used the benefits of third man runs as another route to get into crossing positions. This was usually executed when Depay dribbled inside to draw in the ball-near defenders, freeing Mendy to make a run in behind which was usually unfollowed due to the orientation towards the ball. Lyon was very unlucky not to score from the situations they created down the left with Depay and Mendy causing havoc for Nice’s backline.

Nice defensive scheme

Nice set themselves up in a 4-5-1 / 4-4-2 defensive organization depending on the movements of their wide midfielders. There was a big emphasis on both vertical and horizontal compactness with an especially narrow midfield five. From this tight block, the midfield rarely looked to apply direct pressure on Lyon’s build-up players.

When Lyon’s attack inevitably moved to a wider position, as the center was too crowded, Nice’s wide midfielder stepped out vacating their position to block the diagonal passing lane to the full-back. If they did, they would quickly retreat if the first line was broken while waiting for a cue to press again. Doing so provided fairly strong coverage of any means of diagonal progression which in turn reduced the possibility of playing back inside from a wide area. This reduced the options for Jason Denayer and Marcelo while the central midfielders man-marked their counterparts which was effective in blocking passes forward.

Nice were a lot more reactive when Lopes was in possession. Instead of setting up in their 4-5-1 formation, they pushed up high, resembling a 4-2-1-3 shape at times. The front four used man-orientations to nullify their marker as a potential pass recipient, by effectively marking each player they were able to disrupt Lyon’s build-up forcing them to play more directly. Instead of using dropping movements to overcome the man-marking assignments of the hosts, Lyon were content to go for a long pass in said scenarios.

Lyon’s transitional conundrum

In attack, Nice benefited most from transitional moments, which was aided by Lyon’s increased desperation to score. Mendy and Dubois often pushed up field to support Traoré and Depay while Fekir moved from side to side to offer combinations with one of the double-pivot moving up solely aiming to create breakthroughs.

This left a 2-1 shape made up of Denayer, Marcelo and one defensive midfielder against the front three of Nice. A large share of Nice’s chances thus originated from transitional moments as they exposed the spaces the backline offered.

When Nice regained possession, they immediately launched long balls for their attackers to run onto, which was made effective by Saint-Maximin. He created several dribbling progressions which often stretched out Lyon’s center-backs. However, due to inadequate decision making of the young Frenchman, coupled with the large distances between himself and teammates, there were no real supporting movements for combinations to progress further. Thus, Lyon were often able to adjust their defensive shape and create numerical superiorities to win the ball back.

Following some chaotic defending, which saw Ndombélé bundle over his opponent, Nice scored their nineteenth goal of the season, after an excellently converted penalty by Walter which made the score 1-0.

Nice change shape

Vieira altered Nice’s shape in search of a way to see out the game. With the introduction of Christophe Jallet, the hosts shifted into a five-man defense. Saint-Maximin occupied the central forward role, while Walter, Tameze and Cyprien formed a tight midfield three aided by Paul Wade at right wing-back. The midfield maintained stable distances to each other, minimizing the chances of Lyon playing vertically. The wing-backs often dealt with Lyon’s fullbacks.

Of course, this meant Saint-Maximin operated as a lone forward and was unable to control Lyon’s build-up, allowing the center-backs to establish a rhythm in front of Nice’s midfield. The lack of support from the midfield meant Saint-Maximin could not create opportunities in pressing. He did opt to drop into deeper areas, to add further compactness. Lyon easily gained control and enjoyed a dominating spell where they stabilised their build-up with ease and continued to find ways into the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. As Lyon begun to frequently execute their build-up, Nice were moved into deeper and deeper positions of the pitch.

Génésio’s team were able to maintain possession well in front of Nice’s block, but struggled to create gaps through their passing within said block. For the final twenty minutes, Nice played in their narrow structure, loading the central areas and spending more time in a deep defensive block. Depay had Lyon’s best chance of the second half as Dante’s clearance fell to his left foot, however, an excellent save from Benitez, who dived early, kept the score line 1-0. Lyon squandered a lot of chances, and with what they created, should have left the Allianz Riviera with at least a point.


The second half changes were effective, and Nice was able to see out the victory switching to a compact 5-4-1 seemingly to overload the box to deal with Lyon’s constant threat from crosses. Taking nothing away from Nice, their midfield press was implemented brilliantly, and the three points move them level on points with Montpellier, who are in the Europa League slot.

Quite a frustrating evening for Lyon. They were ambitious in their pressing and committed players forward in their attacks in search of a late equalizer. They created numerous chances, and a draw would have been a more fitting result. They remain six points off of second place Lille as the race for Champions League heats up.

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Chris Baker (22) is a Business Coordinator. Interested in, and writes about, tactics. Coaches twice a week and aspires to work full time in football. Tries to follow most of the top teams across Europe, especially Arsenal and Barcelona. When he is not coaching or watching football, he is probably reading… about football. [ View all posts ]


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