SM Caen – Girondins De Bordeaux: Caen Go Out With A Whimper (0-1)
For all that was at stake for the home side, their performance was very disappointing. Bordeaux’s fluid, yet structured, possession-based approach trumped Caen’s midfield and facilitated for complete control, relegating Caen to Ligue 2 in the process.
Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.
With their safety already assured, the Bordeaux players could be forgiven for feeling a little distracted by the approaching summer break. That was far from the case for this match’s hosts, as Caen were still right within the midst of a heated relegation battle on the final day of the season.
Only a win could lift Caen from the bottom three, but even that was dependent upon Amiens SC’s result at home to already-relegated EA Guingamp. A draw would be enough to keep them in the play-off spot.
Caen coach Fabien Mercadal tweaked the starting eleven which lost 4-0 to Olympique Lyonnais last Saturday. The switch from a 4-2-3-1 setup to a more straightforward 4-4-2 shape saw Malik Tchokounté partner Enzo Crivelli up front. Frédéric Guilbert was dropped from the right side of midfield to right back, replacing Younn Zahary as Herman Moussaki came into the side in place of Saîf-Eddine Khaoui.
Bordeaux manager Paulo Sousa, restored the 3-4-3 setup which was used in their last victory, against Olympique de Marseille, at the beginning of April. Six consecutive losses later and the system was back in place, along with a whole host of changes. Gaëtan Poussin replaced Benoît Costil in-between the posts, Youssouf Sabaly moved back onto the left with Sergi Palencia replacing Maxime Poundjé. Pablo and Younousse Sankharé’s returns saw Toma Bašić and Yacine Adli drop out of the lineup, also.
Bordeaux frustrate Caen with early dominance
An initial injection of aggression into Caen’s press quickly fizzled out as Bordeaux found it very easy to play through the home side’s defensive shape.
The first and most blatant issue in Caen’s setup was the gap between Tchokounté and Crivelli. Although Crivelli’s position, in close proximity of Pablo, would have been beneficial in preparation for counterattacks, al it did was provide Bordeaux more room in midfield. With Tchokounté being handed greater defensive responsibilities, he was often drawn deep and well away from his strike partner.
This hole was perfectly exploited by the alternating movements of the away side’s midfield pairing, who were key to Bordeaux’s ball control and progression. Their positions would shift according to the position of the ball.
For instance, when a wide center-back had the ball, the deepest midfielder would push up and the higher midfielder would drop in. This blind-sided rotation would create a free option.
Bordeaux’s midfield rotation to free up an option for the center-back.
As was the case when either wing-back held the ball. The nearest midfielder dropped backwards and short, thus drawing out Tchokounté enough for the far-sided midfielder to move closer, into the center in order to link play across.
Another contributor to this positional rotation being so successful were the roles of Sankharé and François Kamano. They were positioning themselves more like midfielders than inside forwards and, by being so deep, they were untouched by Caen’s defenders.
In the aforementioned examples, Caen’s holding midfielders could not afford to step up without being vulnerable to either one of Kamano or Sankharé being afforded tons of space between the lines.
Not only was the positional structure wreaking havoc in the center but the fluidity of it all was, too. Within the blink of an eye, Bordeaux would transition from a 3-4-3 into a 3-5-2, with the midfield pair splitting, and then into a 3-5-1-1 as Kamano dropped in to form the diamond setup. Because of this, the deep ball-holder was always able to access either inside forward through either 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. where they could then lay it off for the wing-back.
An additional feature of their ball play was the further involvement of the central midfielders higher up. Particularly on the right side, whichever central midfielder was positioned higher would move out to support Palencia. This was because Bordeaux’s forwards narrowed very quickly after progressing it out to the flanks, so that there were greater central options for imminent crosses.
Bordeaux take a deserved early lead
After nineteen minutes, Sousa’s side solidified their early control with the opening chance of the match. Otávio, the freed-up ball-holder, launched it over the top for Kamano against Caen’s high line. The winger’s run across was helped by Sankharé’s positioning, which attracted the attention of Alexander Djiku, leaving the space behind the center-back open. Kamano took the ball down and drilled it back across goal, as Sankharé’s late, untracked run resulted in a blocked shot.
Having been cleared for a Bordeaux throw-in, we saw the recurring link between central midfielder and wing-back once again. Jaroslav Plašil combined expertly with Palencia to give the wing-back a route into the box. Palencia obliged by delivering an excellent ball towards the back-post with the outside of his boot, where, once again, Sankharé was unmarked. The midfielder made no mistake converting his chance this time.
The chances did not stop there for Bordeaux. Five minutes later, Plašil almost doubled the visitors’ advantage.
Another example of Bordeaux’s rotations.
Following the use of the aforementioned midfield rotation when one of the wing-backs held the ball, Plašil quickly exchanged the ball with Kamano to evade the oncoming pressure. Then, with a little bit of time, he drove forward and played a simple give-and-go with Jimmy Briand, whose final ball was slightly overhit, meaning the Czech midfielder could not quite get his shot away.
Caen’s attacking approach lacks any substance
Unlike against Lyon where they had some grasp, albeit little, of how to maintain the ball and work it from side-to-side, that was not the case here at all.
One of the main issues was the fact that the fullbacks started wider than the wide-midfielders. So, when either fullback received the ball – as was always the case – the angle into the attacker was already blocked off, not to mention the fact that, by the time the fullback had controlled the ball and adjusted, their opponent was within touching distance of them. To make matters worse, the two central midfielders rarely offered support to the fullbacks, shying away from the ball.
Caen’s hope was for the fullbacks to find enough space on the ball so that they could then pump it down the flank for the wide-midfielder, who would have run off the back of the wing-back. It was no surprise that this route of particularly fine margins did not pay off.
Even on counterattacks, Caen were relatively hopeless. A lot of that was down to Bordeaux’s strong counterpress. After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. The away side were very reactive upon turnovers and pressed as a unit, covering all the ball-near options in order to reclaim possession. And, given Caen’s players were no experts technically speaking, it was easy for Sousa’s men to then prevent counters from breaking out.
A wasteful second half throws up more of the same
It was not yet panic stations for Caen, as Dijon went a goal down to Toulouse. However, there were no signs of improvement following the break. If anything, it got worse. They had become more frantic. At any given chance, they would launch the ball into the box, rather than attempting to play it forwards along the ground. To Bordeaux’s credit, their defenders were impeccable in the air all night.
Even up the other end, Sousa’s men were becoming increasingly wasteful. Being overly intricate in front of the defense saw them give away the ball many times, breaking down many potentially promising attacks. They lost possession fifteen times in the second half, compared to Caen’s nine.
Outside of a half-chance that dropped to Fayçal Fajr at the back-post, which he blazed high and wide, the remaining twenty minutes were like a game of ping-pong. Caen – having heard the news of a dramatic five-minute turnaround at Dijon – desperately bombarded the box only for it to be sent back the other way every time. Even the few well-placed deliveries were being excellently defended by Pablo and Jules Koundé.
Briand, then, in the final seconds had probably the best chance of the match with almost the last kick of the match. His effort was denied by Brice Samba, but it was of no importance any longer, as the referee called time immediately after.
Four was one time too many for Caen, as this was the year they could no longer withstand the Grim Reaper’s clutches. Pathetic might sound like a harsh way to describe any performance but that was truly how it felt, watching a side play so off the cuff in such a huge game. This, and Dijon’s 2-1 win over Toulouse, resulted in Caen’s demise as they will now be playing in Ligue 2 next season.
Sousa can be content with the way his players carried out his system as well as the relief of putting to bed the worst run of form in the club’s top flight history. Next season, the club should aim for the European tickets though, as they have underperformed slightly this season.
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