Giving more importance to the tactics of this beautiful game is the main motive of this website and in doing so, it is important to give full credits to the best manager who has mastered his side and tactics throughout the whole season in a consistent basis. This piece is about Lucien Favre whom we think is the best Ligue 1 Manager for the Season 2016/17.
One of the teams to have created an impeccable name for them last season are none other than the French ‘not the biggest of teams arounf’, OGC Nice. Having seen a successful season under Claude Puel by finishing fourth in the league in the 2015/16 season, Nice entered the European tournament for the first time in almost half a century. Before the beginning of the 2016/17 season, Nice had to tackle certain obstacles. Two main reasons why Nice had a stellar season in 15/16 campaign were due to the brilliant management and tactics by Lucien Favre.
Nice had to deal with the loss of both the former and the latter as Ben Arfa left to join PSG with Puel moving to replace Koeman at Southampton. In response, OGC Nice appointed an astute replacement in Lucien Favre. To add to their squad, OGC Nice signed out of form striker Balotelli who became one of the talking points of last season by scoring 15 goals in the league becoming their top scorer.
In the month of October, Nice had turned everyone from football community to look upon them when they became the club to have most points per game at the end of 10 league games. They led gigantic clubs in the likes of Juventus, Bayern and Real Madrid at that point of time. This great start was due to many reasons and especially the revival of Super Mario was quite notable. In the course of the season, Favre made frequent tactical tweaks to shape his side better and he succeeded in his ideas as Nice beat PSG late into the season and finished third securing Champions League Qualifiers spot.
Tactics over the season
Known for his 4-4-2 with Monchengladbach, Favre was praised for his simple tactics which used the strategy of Gegenpressing. In defense Favre’s side often aimed at overloading the space which changes lanes to press the ball closing down the passing lanes and win possession. In attack, Gladbach used to strive forward quickly in numbers after winning the ball back.
At Nice, the Swiss has been lauded for his tactical tweaks and managing his side well through rough periods during the absence of key players. Three formations had been majorly used by the French Club under Favre and it has to be said that the coach along with the combinational contributions from many players should rightly receive applauds for this side’s stellar success last season.
Lateral movements are one of the key things which determines Nice’s ploy under Favre. The whole team shifts towards the ball near winger and overloads space while leaving the area of the ball far winger free. From the following, we can identify how Nice have fared tactically with different formations under Favre.
4-3-3: The Initial experiments
The initial games of the season for Nice saw them use the 4-3-3 formation. The goal guarded by Yohan Cardinale was supported by a back four with central defenders Baysse and Malang Sarr becoming key to the system. With Plea leading the attack, Nice had Lusamba and Marcel flanking on either side of the striker. In midfield two of the key players of the Seri and Cyprien became the fulcrum of the team.
However, the initial tactics used by Nice didn’t give them the much needed boost when they scored just 3 goals in the three games but to their luck the three games resulted in 7 points. Two 1-0 wins and one 1-1 draw may seem to be a good bunch of results but this Nice team proved that they were much more capable than that.
Change in the system: Three at the back brings success
On an unsuccessful note to achieve victories with aplomb, Favre ditched the 4-4-2 and made a shift to a system playing three at the back. With Balotelli and Dante arriving as reinforcements, the Swiss took a big call by changing the system to 3-5-2. In Dante, Baysse and Malang Sarr, Favre found a back three which would ideally suit his philosophy.
The massive influence of the tactic was finally seen in the game against Monaco when Nice handed them a 4-0 hammering. Younes Belhanda was preferred to play behind the target man instead of playing a second striker along with Balotelli. The trio of Cyprien, Seri and young talent Koziello packed the centre of the field flanked by Dalbert and Pereira.
The graphic above shows the line up used by Nice against Monaco. Balotelli scored a brace as both the wing backs stood up to their task with Pereira putting up a MOTM performance. Nice continued with the formation for 6 continuous league games which yielded them 5 wins and one draw. However in the game away at Metz, Favre decided to change things and for the second time in his stint at Nice, he chose the back four system.
Polyvalency in tactics and formation:
Lucien Favre mixed it up throughout the season. His side played 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and a 3-5-1-1(2). Favre’s attention to detail was fantastic and his side had the quality to be diverse and adopt different approaches according to the opposition. In principle, Nice looked to play a possession based game. While they did not necessarily look to hound the opposition and win the ball back, their counter pressing structure was more than capable of winning the ball back.
This polyvalency was mainly seen due to the fact that Favre pays much attention to detail. Also, it helps to have such flexibility in tactics and style of play as this can prove to be useful when in charge of a team that is not the best in terms of quality, on paper at least. The fact that Nice could play both possession based football and also beat the defending champions PSG 3-1 by playing counter attacking football speaks volume about their flexibility and tactical proficiency.
With Seri, Cyprien and Koziello in the side, Nice could vary it up in the midfield. The influence of jean Michel Seri was very telling as he pulled the strings for Nice in the midfield. The presence of Dante at the back was also crucial as the Brazilian is excellent with the ball at his feet. With a host of technically proficient players in the side, Favre could afford to play a possession based system.
The focus is on occupying the crucial zones in the final third with the wingers/ inside forwards occupying the half spaces when necessary. With a midfield runner behind the front line and players capable of pulling the strings from in behind, Nice had a stable structure to play through opposition who decided to sit back against them.
Made using TacticalPad
General structure by Nice when they dominated possession. Focus on occupying all zones to create easy passing options.
The attacking patterns in the final third vary according to the opposition. Quick combinations and overlapping full backs are a key part of this system. Long passes down the flanks are used here to break the lines of defense in the opposition. There is no particular focus on breaking the lines and vertical progressions in general but this too can be adapted in accordance to the opposing teams. For example, against PSG, Favre made Nice abandon possession and look to hit PSG on the counter. This worked wonders as a heavy focus on attacking down the wings by creating a numerical advantage helped Nice get the desired result.
There is a heavy emphasis on ball and man orientation in the way Nice defend. Ball local density is very high when Nice defend as they look to stay compact. There is almost complete negligence on the ball far side as they look to congest the space and win the ball back. Their structure while in possession offers them a good base to win the ball back. While Favre does prefer to win the ball back higher up the pitch, it is not by voracious pressing. A focus on cutting out the passing lanes to the options is maintained while the strikers trigger the press by directing the play to the sides.
Nice showed a tendency to vary in their defensive shape according to the formation in which they played. The 3-5-1-1 saw them drop to a 5-3-2 or a 5-4-1 in certain cases as they would look to remain compact. In their 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 Nice usually dropped down with their wingers joining the midfield. Whenever Belhanda played as the number 10, the defensive shape would be a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-4-2 with focus on remaining compact taking centre stage.
Nice’s defensive performance in their two best performances of the season saw them thump Monaco 4-0 and PSG 3-1. In the match against PSG, they surrendered possession and stayed compact. The offensive phases were discussed above while the defensive phases were the most crucial in that particular game. By staying horizontally very compact, Nice looked to squeeze the space in the center.
Added to this, PSG played right into their hands by not stretching them. This was partly down due to the way Nice directed the play and maintained their shape at the same time. The horizontal and vertical compactness was maintained and Nice ran out comfortable winners. Many such defensive shapes and patters were displayed by Nice throughout the season with minute changes in each game according to the opposition.
OGC Nice could not quite replicate their early season form throughout the season and ended up finishing fourth and narrowly missing out on Champions League football. However their achievements should not be discounted or be overshadowed by what Monaco achieved. Lucien Favre’s appointment has proved to be a masterstroke as the Swiss manager’s eye for detail and precise tactics have seen the club rise to a brilliant finish in the table.
His ability to be proactive has been rewarded. Nice have been pleasing on the eye for the better parts of the season and they have Favre to thank to for that. Favre’s ability to predict the opposition and prepare tactics for the game separately is a thing to laud. There is no doubt that Nice have been able to produce their quality at this consistency because of Favre which is why he is Football Bloody Hell’s Ligue 1 Manager of the Year for 2016/17.