Marseill Lyon tactics

Olympique Marseille – Olympique Lyonnais: Payet’s One-Man Show Yields Marseille Victory In Eventful Olympico (2-1)

In the main event of this weekend’s Ligue 1 action, Marseille could count on a very inspired Dimitri Payet, who scored a double to lead them to victory. Despite an early red card in the second half, André Villas-Boas’ side managed to keep their lead, meaning they are now second in Ligue 1. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Simon Piotr.

Despite having no rivalry in football history, games between the second and the fourth richest French clubs always have something special. Indeed, Rudi Garcia, former Marseille coach who led them to the Europa League final in 2018 (before getting fired after a mediocre 2018/19 season), has been called to the rescue by a Lyon in distress, after a woeful start to the season with rookie manager Sylvinho at the helm.

Dimitri Payet did not enjoy seeing his former coach taking over the enemy three months after leaving Marseille and expressed it in a pre-game press conference, « given what Garcia would say about Lyon, the club, the players, the president, I’m pretty surprised that he accepted to join them. »

Naturally, this was more than enough to spark things off and some Marseille fans attacking Lyon’s bus before the game made the whole context surrounding this game even more spicy. But let’s focus on football and the tactical choices both managers made.

Having won their last three games in a row, Lyon came to Marseille in good spirits, but without Depay and Tousart available, Rudi Garcia chose to set his team in a 4-2-3-1 system with a double pivot composed of Thiago Mendes and Houssem Aouar behind the offensive trio Maxwel Cornet, Bertrand Traoré, Jeff Reine-Adélaïde and Moussa Dembélé. 

As for Marseille, manager Villas-Boas kept the same 4-3-3 formation with Payet as left winger in place, but with the absence of Sakai, he played the winger Bouna Sarr as right back, meaning the young midfielder Maxime Lopez started as right winger. 

Lyon on the ball, Payet for the goals

The game began and Lyon immediately showed the will to keep the majority of the possession – more than 60% in the first half – and they would play though the wings a lot.

With a defensive double pivot and only one player between the lines (Reine-Adélaïde, the number ten), Lyon exploited the wings quite naturally with the fullbacks and the wingers, leading to the first chance of the game after three minutes. Cornet rushed down the wing before shooting on Mandanda in a closed angle. However, this was the first and only shot on target from the visitors in the entire (!) first half. 

Marseille left the ball to Lyon, and indeed, with the compact 4-1-4-1 shape they used off the ball, the hosts would keep the numerical superiority on the wings. Not only did they have a good tactical context to defend, but they also showed a very high level of aggressiveness towards the opponents. Marseille attempted 26 tackles (!) In the first half, and the vast majority, not to say the totality, occurred on the wings, with a decent 50% success. As a result, it was more difficult for Lyon to progress the ball with efficiency. 

Careful and patient 4-1-4-1 system from Marseille, they would rarely press high since Lyon quickly oriented their possession on the wings, where Villas-Boas’ side were safe.

On the ball, Marseille’s plan was to do something simple, as they had done in their last Ligue 1 game against Lille: playing long. Where it was inefficient against Lille despite the victory, this time Marseille had improved their plan because it was way more convincing, not necessarily at the moment of winning the aerial duels – which is very difficult with players like Payet, Benedetto and Lopez (the « dwarf ») – but when it came to winning the second balls. Here again, Marseille were more intense than Lyon.

After one of those situations, a foul was earned, the set-piece hit by Payet led to a corner kick, taken by Payet again where Mendes was a victim of a blatant handball inside the box. After six ever so long minutes (where the referee had to deal with some issues, like a ridiculous quarrel between Benedetto and Dubois or some lasers pointed at the goalkeeper’s face), Payet eventually took the penalty to score an unstoppable shot, meaning Marseille were leading after eighteen minutes.

Payet was actually under pressure before the game because of his declarations which were of course vastly commented on in the media, a response was expected on the pitch and this looked like a player taking his responsibility and not just being a « talker ». 

The Payet show carried on for the rest of the first half, with everything you can expect from an inspired number ten, progressive carryings, switches of play with the outside of the boot, long shots. The full package. 

The second goal he scored in minute 39 speaks volumes about his level of determination. After a raging tackle, he quickly picked himself up to get involved on the ball again, and the action ended with Lopez passing the ball to him around the edge of the box from where he crucified the keeper with a lovely far post shot. 

Garcia had tried to make something happen before that second goal, and tried to do so by reorganizing his team in a 4-3-3 system with Aouar and Reine-Adélaïde above Mendes as holding midfielder, without much improvement apart from Reine-Adélaïde being hard to defend against when he carried the ball. 

Second half: near comeback from Lyon

Returning from the dressing room, Garcia made a tactical change by substituting Reine-Adélaïde for Jean Lucas, even though the young French midfielder had been the best lyonnais by far in the first half, Garcia wanted to play Aouar in the number ten role while putting some more physicality in the defensive double pivot alongside Mendes, meaning the team returned to the original 4-2-3-1 system. The patterns of the game did not change much compared to the first half, Marseille were leaving possession to Lyon to manage their lead and kept on playing long.

But the curse went on for Lyon when Aouar injured his thigh on a solo rush ten minutes into the second half, leaving the team with both creative players out, the sixteen-year-old Rayan Cherki replaced Aouar as a number ten. This is the moment OM Ultras chose to light an impressive number of torches in the stands, creating a massive cloud of smoke over the field. This led the referee to interrupt the game because of the lack of visibility. 

Was the interruption the reason for the sudden change of momentum? The fact remains that just after the game re-started, minute 59, Traoré got the ball on the wing on a pretty random action, and made a superb cross to Dembélé who scored from a header after Álvaro González inexplicably bent over to leave the ball fly over him, maybe thinking the goalkeeper would claim it. 

Five minutes after the goal, Marseille lost the notion of organization trying to press Lyon on a goal-kick, the man orientation in midfield left acres of space in the Marseille structure, allowing Mendes to play vertically to Dembélé. Alvaro Rodgriguez fouled him as he was going to face Mandanda and the referee showed a logical red card.

The action leading to Álvaro González being sent off. Clear lack of organization in the team.

Having reduced the gap and now playing with a numerical superiority for more than 25 minutes, the odds were now in favor of Lyon. André Villas-Boas substituted striker Benedetto for Strootman and reorganized the team in a 4-4-1 system with Payet upfront. We could have expected Marseille to suffer being one man down, but Lyon did not really change their animation and the hosts prevented Lyon from being penetrative and dangerous with the two four man lines working as one.

In said 25 minutes, Rudi Garcia’s side had only three attempts and only one was a great opportunity in the extra time, with Terrier (who had replaced Traoré) receiving a cross from the right, off target. A few moments later, the referee blew the final whistle, relieving the Orange-Velodrome stadium.


In this modern classic of the French league, Marseille had an excellent game, especially if we keep in mind that despite their very poor beginning in the season, Lyon still have a greater potential as they showed in the Champions League winning against Benfica.

Payet was awaited before the game and the least we can say is that he delivered indeed. The whole plan for Marseille was to put more energy than « play » on the field and give the ball Payet so he could make something happen. 

In an extremely congested league table, Marseille were virtually at the twelfth position before kick-off and are now second behind Paris Saint-Germain, which is always positive before an international break. Although having a second with 22 points and a negative goal difference (-1) after thirteen games might be an indicator of the mediocre level of the Ligue 1 this season…

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