Olympique Marseille – Olympique Lyonnais: Individual Quality Once Again Sees Lyon Through (0-3)

The talent in Lyon’s squad is well known, and it helped them to a 0-3 win over Marseille. They were aided by a relatively low tactical level from Marseille though, as Lyon were able to exploit their man-marking midfield to get the first goal. Lyon were then also helped by a Marseille red card, which allowed them to extent their lead against an increasingly open Marseille side in the final minutes.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

Marseille came into the game chasing a Europa League qualifier spot as they looked to go level on points with Montpellier in fifth. Having used a back three in their away draw at Strasbourg last week, coach Rudi Garcia decided on a 4-3-3 formation this time around. The midfield three included the experience of Kevin Strootman and Luiz Gustavo alongside the young academy graduate Maxime Lopez.

For Lyon, this match was pivotal in terms of securing Ligue 1’s third place. With LOSC Lille already out of sight at second place – and thus the direct Champions League spot that goes with it – Lyon are now fighting to cling on to the third place. A win in this game would open the gap between Lyon and their nearest competitors AS Saint-Étienne to four points. Coach Bruno Génésio made two changes to his line-up compared to their last game, a draw against the aforementioned Lille. Jason Denayer and Bertrand Traoré were the players to drop out, and they were replaced by Jérémy Morel and Maxwel Cornet in Lyon’s 4-2-3-1 system.

All twenty-two players depicted in their nominal position when Lyon had the ball. Notice the movement from Fekir and Depay.

Lyon make use of Marseille’s man-marking

Lyon attacked in a fairly orthodox 4-2-3-1 when they had the ball. Within this, Tanguy Ndombele generally came into deeper defensive midfield positions to collect the ball between the two center-backs, while Houssem Aouar would stay slightly higher up to his left. This has been the common way of building up for Lyon; one of either players of 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’. collects the ball and either through a pass or through a dribble, it ends up in a better place.

On the wings, Maxwel Cornet would generally stay higher and wider than his counterpart Terrier on the left. Cornet looked to provide a threat throughout the game with his speed in behind the Lyon defence. Numbers nine and ten Nabil Fekir and Memphis Depay both had the freedom to drop deep into midfield to collect the ball, or to both stay on the last line of defense. This made Lyon’s formation resemble a 4-2-4 shape in some phases of the game.

Marseille meanwhile started from a base defensive formation of 4-1-4-1. Man-marking in midfield was a prominent part of their defensive plan. The midfielders generally took up marking their nearest opponent, which most notably meant that Luiz Gustavo found himself moving forward out of the midfield line to stay close to his direct opponent Ndombele, as the Lyon midfielder dropped deeper in front of his own defense.

As the man-marking in midfield would cause the distances between their own midfielders to be quite large when they were without possession, a lot of passing lanes into the feet of Lyon’s forwards opened up. It also meant that there were large gaps for Lyon’s forwards to drop into as the free man in an overload, When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team.as Marseille’s central defenders did not follow them all the way into midfield, instead opting to stay deep and maintain a defensive line of four.

There were some positive aspects to it, however. Marseille were often succesful in preventing Lyon’s closest passing options from being easily playable when building up, forcing them to attempt more difficult passes to further players.

It was at the base of Lyon’s opening goal, however. In the scenes leading up to the goal, Lyon’s midfielders were marked by their counterparts from Marseille. This meant Depay was able to drop into midfield, receive the ball and turn with relative ease. He was then able to pick out a pass between the lines to expose Marseille’s back four, and eventually leading to Cornet putting the ball in the net to give Lyon the lead in the 24th minute.

Individual quality decides the match

Marseille’s attacking play was generally quite underwhelming, but they did grow into the game a bit in the early stages of the second half, the highlight being Mario Balotelli’s close-range header from the cross of half-time substitute Florian Thauvin, which was cleared off the line.

This spell was about the best it would get for Marseille though, illustrated by the fact that Marseille did not have another shot from the sixty-minute mark onwards. Their case was of course not helped by the sending off of Duje Ćaleta-Car in the 67th minute.

The situation that led to his sending off arose from a moment of individual skill in the form of yet another decisive pass from Ndombele. The French international sliced Marseille’s defense open with a wonderful disguised through ball off his left foot to find Terrier running through on goal. Ćaleta-Car decided that he could do little else but bring Terrier down outside the box. Being the last man, he was sent off for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

As a result of the sending off, Gustavo moved to left center-back in a 4-4-1 shape, and Marseille were left in the unenviable position of chasing the game with ten men. At this point one would expect them to become increasingly disjointed and defensively open, leading to them being picked off easily by Lyon to extend their lead beyond doubt.

This did indeed happen, but took a bit longer than Lyon probably would have wanted. It took them until the 84th minute to finally convert one of their promising attacking situations, when substitute striker Moussa Dembélé converted. This second goal also came from the great ability of Lyon’s midfielders, as Aouar showed neat skill to dribble his way out of pressure near the halfway line, before another stylish pass from Ndombele with the outside of his boot set up Dembélé to curl the ball home. Cornet added another goal shortly afterwards to put the game to rest at 3-0.


Defeat for Marseille in this game effectively ends their season, with any hopes of Europa League qualification going out of the window. Notwithstanding the sending off and Lyon’s ability, their performance on a tactical level was disappointing both in and out of possession. In his career, Rudi García has been able to set up his sides coherently and well-drilled from a tactical point of view. Marseille’s overall performance this season – given the squad they have – therefore feels both unexpected and unsatisfying

With this win, Lyon have given themselves breathing room when it comes to Champions League qualification, as there is now have a healthy four point margin between themselves and AS Saint-Étienne. They also probably have one eye on the summer window already, regarding which of their young talents they can hold on to, and how they can replace the ones that may end up leaving. With manager Génésio leaving in the summer, the jostle for Lyon’s coaching seat is one of the more interesting to follow, as the club has proven itself consistently able to come through with fantastic young players through both the academy as well as scouting. Throw in a good manager to polish all those diamonds, and who knows where Lyon might end up next season.

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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