After the thrashing of Paris Saint-Germain and the triumph of Rennes over Arsenal, Ligue 1 enthusiasts hoped for another victory for the underdog. The desire for this victory succeeded when fans reminded themselves of the stakes of this match. With the Top Four finally settling, Marseille could not afford a loss against OGC Nice.
With Stade Reims chasing for the glorious Champions League spots, Marseille had to be on top of their game. Les Aiglons were hoping for an upset which would have tremendous benefits. Not only would this win beat their rival, but it would vault them near sixth. This match would also see Mario Balotelli playing against his ex-team. After having a resurrection season at Nice, Balotelli moved to the Stade Vélodrome. As with every Ligue 1 match, this match brought the rivalry, emotions, and a special guest, Super Mario. As we all know, whenever football and Mario find themselves, special things happen.
In this tactical analysis, we analyse why Marseille won over their rivals and the animations in each half.
Rudi Garcia lined-up his Marseille in a 4-4-2. Along with this formation, no additional changes were made to the lineup. Strangely enough, star man Dimitri Payet missed the final eleven, yet again. For Nice, Patrick Vieira had his side lined-up in a 5-4-1. This was a change from the 4-5-1 they deployed against Strasbourg. The change was prompted by the red card shown to Danilo Barbosa da Silva. In place of him, Christopher Jallet was brought in, playing as a left wing-back. Furthermore, Youcef Atal was deployed as a right wingback and due to that two more changes were made. Adriene Tameze and Remi Walter were deployed in the midfield of four. Finally, Jean-Victor Makengo, who was deployed as a striker against Strasbourg, was reinstated in his midfield role. Due to this, the young Allan Saint-Maximin was put as the lone striker for Nice.
Marseille’s Creative Bloc:
For the majority of the first half, Marseille enjoyed a lot of possession. From the get-go, Garcia had instructed his men to be aggressive, inventive, and proactive. Marseille’s intent could be clearly seen as early as the first five minutes. The centre-backs were quickly moving the ball about, switching it from one flank to the other. The midfielders were moving with dexterity, advancing the ball at a rapid speed. The two strikers, Germain and Balotelli, were already moving behind the defence.
This speediness in their approach was partly aided by Nice’s deep defence. Nice sat very deep in their half, often forming back-lines of six to five. Furthermore, this deep defending defined Nice in the first half. Nice were slow in their reaction times, often progressing very slowly. While the Marseille players would advance with the ball, Nice players would often be guilty of ball-watching.
Marseille knew, from the start, that breaking a five-man (or six in some cases) defence would be difficult. This emphasis on defence, from Nice, was repeatedly seen in attacks. There would be a considerable gap between the defence and the attack as the defence refused to move up the pitch. In order to exploit this, Marseille had to be creative in their attacking procedure.
Exploiting Nice’s Defensive Frailties:
One of Marseille’s attacking patterns was to target the left back, Atal. Diminutive in size and strength, Atal was an easy target for Marseille’s attacks. Atal struggled to cover all bases. Repeatedly, during the first half, Marseille put its wingers against Atal to win 1v1s. Moreover, when it came to deep crosses and diagonal balls, Balotelli was often positioned near Atal.
To stop this exploitation, Nice tried aiding Atal by having one of the centre-backs to Atal’s side. Moreover, one of the midfielders, usually Tameze would drop in deep. For a solid period of time, Nice were successful at stopping these attacks, which caused Marseille to shift to the right-hand side. However, the ever-inventive Garcia found a way. To get around potential 3v1s and 2v1s, Garcia would have the wide men play the balls centrally. After that, the wide men start wide runs, which would draw the left back. At this point, only a midfielder could afford to drop in deep. This created a numerical superiority near the half-spaces and the central corridors for Marseille. With quick switches of play, Marseille were able to find a 1v1 on the right-hand side. Now, you would have Ocampos or Thauvin going in a 1v1 against Atal, of which Marseille were the victors.
Another way of exploiting Atal was to have the deep-lying midfielders or centre-backs to play Balotelli or Germain in space between the lines. As mentioned before, the midfield and attack would leave spaces as the defence did not move up with them. Due to this, Balotelli, more often than not, would find space in the central corridor. This space creation was also aided by Germain who would make diagonal runs to occupy at least two of the members in the defensive back-line. After receiving, the ball would go to the wingers (the midfielders who played like wingers) onto which 1v1s could be created.
Nice’s Flawed Attack:
Nice, on the other hand, had a stark contrast to their attacking plan. Often times than not, their attack was built on buildup although their best chances came in counterattacking. The principle problem with Nice was their usage of the possession. When they would try to progress the ball from the back, Marseille’s high press, along with the sloppy relationship between the ball and the man, would cause them to lose possession.
Thus, Nice could not advance past the first few yards before losing the ball. Certainly, the main focus of Vieria’s side was Maximin. The most successful attacks went through him and were in the form of counterattacks. Whilst Marseille were pretty compact, there were some gaps, noticeably near the centre-backs. Whenever Nice would catch possession of the ball when Marseille was attacking, they would immediately play long or through balls to Maximin.
There were some problems with this attacking approach. The first one is that this attack leaves Maximin to do everything. Since Nice are parked in their half, Maximin’s greatest range is near the halfway line or some yards after that line. Thus, when he receives, he must face a 2v1 or 3v1 and also has to get past the defenders, run almost one half of the pitch and still have the energy to shoot or assist. It did not help matters that the supporting midfielders were often late to the attack and how the wingbacks, on rare occasions, came to support the wings.
Nice’s best chance came through a combination of Maximin, a wingback, and a midfielder. For some reason, Vieira was intent on defending and solely attacking through Maximin. Although, credit must be given to Maximin as he dealt extremely well with holding up the play and allowing Nice to use their full team to attack.
The only noticeable change in terms of personnel was in the 27th minute when Jallet came off, due to injury, for Patrick Burner. This change did not change a lot and kept Nice the same, albeit with some additional energy. As was both sides ended with 0-0 at half time, with Marseille threatening to break through and score.
Nice Change Their Approach:
There were some changes in the second half. Nice, on the basis of some fiery pep talks, had changed their behavior on the ball. Before, they were guilty of losing the ball and were not able to protect the ball from the Marseille pressure. In this half, Nice were much better in their retention and were able to progress through the pitch with the ball. This improvement was partly due to the fact Marseille had dropped the intensity of the pressing. In the first half, Marseille were very aggressive in their pressing and succeeded. In this half, Marseille dropped the height and the intensity of the pressing.
Furthermore, Nice were much better at buildup. Before, counterattacks were the primary method of attacking for Nice. In this half, Nice could build up and get past Marseille’s attackers. This led to a more holistic attack for Nice. In the second half, we saw more fullback in the final third, along with the host of midfielders. Nice saw their fair share of possession and started switching the play to each of the flanks. When they attacked, they assumed a formation of 4-3-3, with one of the midfielders stepping up to act as a secondary striker to Maximin.
Super Mario Strikes:
Marseille, on the other hand, still employed the attacking tactics, although to a less intensive extent. In the 62nd minute, the hard work from Marseille finally paid off. And who else than Super Mario?
The goal started from deep within Marseille’s half. After an excellent long ball from one of the Marseille’s centerbacks, Thauvin found himself in a 2v1, on the left, from which he crossed the ball. The ball’s end destination ended up being the right-hand side, where Atal was. Hiroki Sakai advanced upfield, to which Atal was attracted to. As we had mentioned before, to provide security to Atal, a midfielder, usually Tameze would end up dropping deep. This is exactly what happened. Furthermore, as we had discussed before, this left space for a Marseille player. With the excellent cross coming in, Balotelli found himself behind two centerbacks. Displaying his striker prowess, Super Mario jumped over the duo and headed the ball into the bottom left of the goal.
Panic For Nice:
After that goal, the dynamic of the match changed. As is normal, Nice started to move the ball much faster but also started to panic. Nice conceded silly fouls here and there, a sign of their panic. Despite this panic, Nice did start to make better-attacking combinations. For a change, Maximin moved to the wings, offering much more than in his lone striker role. The change was immediate. All of a sudden, the respective wide backs and midfielders were attracted to Maximin. This left spaces in the central corridor which was exploited through quick 1-2s.
Vieira, in the second half, decided to change the positioning of Atal as well. The diminutive Nice player had himself moved into a midfield position. In essence, the whole defense shifted one to the left. Due to this, Nice moved into a much more attacking 4-5-1. While this did allow Nice to attack in a more holistic approach, it also meant big holes were left in front of the defense. Due to this, in the latter stages of the game, Marseille got various opportunities on the wings and the half-spaces.
As the game went on, however, the intensity and the passage of the play slowed down as Marseille kept possession more often and defended in a more compact 4-4-2
Rudi Garcia’s men will be delighted with this victory. This win places them within three points off Lyon and allows them some breathing space from Stade Reims. As the race for Champions League spots tightens, Marseille can rest assured that they are not out of the race yet. With Lyon going against Montpellier, Marseille have some hope of making into the third place. Garcia will be pleased with how his men responded, particularly dealing with some testing Nice moments. Vieira will have some thinking to do. His men, while being solid defensively, were not as organised in their attacks. Moreover, he will have to rethink his tactics, especially in the attacking phase. However, he can take solace in the fact that his striker position is sorted out with Maximin’s great performance. The young striker is slowly developing and becoming the type of player Vieira likes. All in all, it was another Ligue One game, dominated by the favorites and lost by the underdogs.