Second from top Marseille took on second from bottom Toulouse this past weekend in Ligue 1. This tactical analysis will examine how André Villas-Boas’ side were victorious as they travelled to Stadium de Toulouse for Sunday evening’s fixture. Marseille would have been hoping to take all three points from this game to maintain reasonable distance to PSG.

Marseille took a 2-0 win from this game in the end. However, it took 70-plus minutes, along with a Toulouse red card, for Marseille to get on the scoresheet. In this tactical analysis, we will dissect how Marseille managed to break down a resilient Toulouse side. 

Lineups and Formations

Ligue 1 2019/20: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

Villas-Boas set up his Marseille side in a 4-1-4-1 shape for this game. The holding midfielder Kevin Strootman, and Marseille’s two centre-backs provided a solid base for Marseille to build their attacks from in this game. 

Those three players all sat back during Marseille’s attacks throughout this game. This allowed the four midfielders ahead of Strootman to contribute more to the attack. Meanwhile, Marseille’s full-backs also provided support to the attackers with overlapping runs. 

Bouna Sarr also provided support to the midfield at times by playing in a more narrow position. Marseille’s full-backs became more and more committed to the attack as the game wore on. At times during the second half, Marseille had seven men in attack trying to break down Toulouse’s deep block. 

The home side lined up in a 4-4-2 shape for this fixture. Yaya Sanogo played alongside Efthimis Koulouris in attack for the first half of the game. However, Toulouse’s right-back Steven Moreira received a red card in the 41st minute of the game. Koulouris was subsequently sacrificed just before half time, as ten-man Toulouse added defensive reinforcements. 

Toulouse’s defensive shape

Toulouse provided a tough obstacle for Marseille to break down throughout this game. Toulouse’s vertical compactness was key to preventing Marseille’s creative players from enjoying too much freedom. 

As we can see in the image above, Toulouse’s midfield line is playing very close to their defensive line. This was a common theme to their defensive shape throughout this game. Meanwhile, Toulouse’s front two were more proactive in trying to regain possession during their defensive phase. 

Toulouse’s front two were allowed more freedom to press Marseille’s defenders as they played out from the back. The pressure applied by Toulouse’s front two, along with the vertical compactness of Toulouse’s two lines of four, forced turnovers at multiple stages in the first half of the game. These turnovers generally occurred either due to Toulouse’s press forcing a long-ball, or forcing a misplaced pass into the midfield. 

Marseille’s 8’s exploiting the half-spaces

Marseille’s two advanced ‘8’s, Morgan Sanson and Valentin Rongier, played an important role in Marseille’s attempts at breaking down Toulouse’s deep block throughout this contest. 

Ligue 1 2019: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

Sanson, in particular, was very active in driving into the half-space during this game. Frequently, he drove into the half-space from his midfield position. Marseille’s wingers were crucial in creating the space for Sanson to push into.

In the image above, we can see an example of one of Sanson’s attacking runs from midfield. On this occasion, Payet has dropped deeper than Dario Benedetto at centre-forward and Maxime Lopez at right-wing. As Payet drops deep, he drags Toulouse’s right-back with him. This creates space for Sanson to attack. 

This movement from Payet is also effective in creating space for the left-back Sarr to attack. We can see Sarr making his run from defence up to support the advancing Sanson in the image. This shows Marseille’s effectiveness of creating wide overloads in this game.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

Marseille’s wingers and ‘8’s frequently attacked the half-space throughout the first half. In the image above, we can see an instance of Lopez attacking the space in the channel between Toulouse’s centre-backs. 

Lopez has just released the ball out to the wing in the image above. We can see that at this point, Toulouse’s defenders are all focusing on play out on the wing. 

Ligue 1 2019/20: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

Lopez is intelligent to spot the opening between Toulouse’s centre-backs, as well as the lack of concentration of Toulouse’s defenders on his unmarked run. He is quick to probe into the space between Toulouse’s centre-backs and get onto the end of a dangerous cross. 

Lopez is unlucky on this occasion, to connect poorly with the ball with his first touch. However, this sequence of play provides another clear example of Marseille’s game plan of attempting to get their wingers and ‘8’s into the half-spaces throughout this contest. 

Toulouse long-balls and the importance of Strootman’s ‘screening’ job 

Toulouse frequently attempted to play past Marseille’s 4-1-4-1 shape by utilising a long-ball from the back. Sanogo was used as a target man throughout this game to get onto the end of these long-balls. 

Ligue 1 2019/20: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

In the image above we can see an example of one of Toulouse’s long-ball attempts to Sanogo. Kevin Strootman frequently made life difficult for Sanogo throughout this game from these long-ball attempts. We see him challenging Sanogo for the ball in the image above. 

Strootman’s physical presence was important in thwarting Toulouse’s long-ball attempts throughout this game. 

When Toulouse attempted the long-ball from the back towards Sanogo, their wingers pushed up to create a 4-2-4 shape. However, Sanogo dropped deeper than the wingers and centre-forward during these phases. 

Without the presence of Strootman playing the defensive midfield screening role, Sanogo would have provided a much more dangerous threat for Marseille. With Sanogo dropping deep to get onto the end of the long-ball, he could have dragged a Marseille centre-back out of position, or been left free between the lines. 

However, Strootman prevented both of those scenarios from occurring during this game. He marked the target man Sanogo and prevented him from becoming too much of a problem. 

Toulouse’s ‘plan B’ long-ball tactic was to push a full-back high up the pitch in the build-up phase. 

Ligue 1 2019/20: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

In the image above, we can see an example of this tactic in action. We can see an advanced Issiaga Sylla in line with his attacking teammates in this sequence. Sylla’s attacking presence is effective in creating a wide overload versus Marseille’s Hiroki Sakai at right-back. 

On this occasion, Sylla links up with Max Gradel who manages to get free in the half-space. Gradel whips a dangerous ball into the Marseille box, aiming for the attacking physical presence of Sanogo. However, Sanogo is unable to get onto the end of the ball on this occasion. Toulouse frequently attempted to utilise these two long-ball tactics in this game. 

Marseille full-backs add to attacking threat to break down Toulouse

As mentioned previously, Toulouse received a controversial red card in the 41st minute of the game. Originally, Moreira’s challenge was penalised with a yellow card. However, after intervention from VAR, Moreira was presented with a straight red card for a dangerous tackle. 

This red card evidently hurt Toulouse. Antoine Kombouaré immediately moved to a similar enough 4-4-1 shape with 10 men. Koulouris moved to left-wing, while Gradel moved to right-wing following the red card. However, Kombouaré also quickly substituted on a replacement right-back, Kelvin Amian Adou. Koulouris was sacrificed for the defensive change, allowing Gradel to move back to left-wing. 

Ligue 1 2019/20: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

Toulouse’s red card and subsequent switch to 4-4-1 isolated Sanogo as the sole centre-forward. However, the 4-4-1 shape allowed Toulouse to remain vertically compact, with two lines of four. This allowed them to continue their impressive defensive work in preventing Marseille’s creative players from enjoying space and freedom. 

Ligue 1 2019/20: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

Marseille pushed their full-backs higher much more frequently in the second half. They could commit more men forward due to the advantage of Toulouse being down to 10 men. 

On many occasions, the addition of the high full-backs to Marseille’s attacking shape left Marseille playing with seven men in attack attempting to break down Toulouse’s deep block in the second half. This forced Toulouse to essentially play with everyone behind the ball, in a compact block for much of the half. 

In the image above, Sakai, now playing at left-back, had just overlapped Payet who had cut inside. He provided the width and a crossing threat to Marseille’s attack. Meanwhile, Marseille’s more creative attackers attempted to find pockets of space in more central positions to play attackers in behind Toulouse’s last line. 

Benedetto’s intelligent centre-forward play 

Benedetto played a key role in Marseille’s attack throughout this game. Benedetto displayed great intelligence throughout this contest in finding and exploiting space. He was crucial at different times in both Marseille’s build-up play, as well as the final product. 

Ligue 1 2019/20: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

In the image above, we can see an example of Benedetto dropping between the lines, getting involved in the build-up. On this occasion, Benedetto drags Toulouse’s centre-back with him by dropping deep. This creates a gap in the Toulouse defence for Marseille to exploit. 

Benedetto displays his excellent passing range in this sequence of play. He spreads the ball from the centre, out to the wing on this occasion. This allows the creative Payet time and space to attempt a cross, which earns Marseille a corner kick. 

Benedetto’s intelligence in finding space to influence the game as much as possible was crucial to Marseille’s win. In the build-up, he frequently dropped between the lines to help link the play. However, Benedetto’s quick exploitation of space behind Toulouse’s defence was the key to Marseille’s first goal. 

Ligue 1 2019/20: Toulouse vs Marseille - Tactical analysis tactics
Image source: Wyscout

In the image above, we can see Benedetto’s exploitation of space behind Toulouse’s backline for the first goal. Toulouse’s Mathieu Dossevi stumbles into a deeper defensive position than his teammates in this image. Benedetto is quick to react to the space that opens up due to Dossevi’s position. 

Payet gets on the ball centrally as Benedetto makes his run. In a split second after space opens up, Benedetto points to where he wants the ball played, and makes his run. 

Payet, in his central position, subsequently plays an eye of the needle pass through Toulouse’s defence. Benedetto subsequently rounds the keeper and tucks the ball away to put Marseille ahead. 

From that point, Toulouse hadn’t got much realistic hope of finding a way back into the game. Due to some sloppy passing at the back, as well as the pressing of a freshly introduced Nemanja Radonjić, Marseille scored a second. This gave them a healthy 2-0 lead, which they finished the game with. 

Conclusion

To conclude this tactical analysis, it’s clear that Marseille made the most of their extra man advantage in this game. Toulouse held a disciplined, compact defensive shape which did well to keep Marseille out for much of the game. Even with 10 men, Toulouse’s defence proved a difficult barrier for Marseille to break down. 

However, Marseille’s patience paid off in the end. The intelligent movement of Benedetto, as well as a very attacking shape, paid dividends for Villas-Boas. 

Marseille exploited Toulouse’s compact shape by overloading wide areas. They also effectively deployed their creative players in dangerous central positions to create goalscoring opportunities in the second half. 

Marseille’s attacking play was intelligent and calculated. They were quick and clinical in exploiting their opposition’s mistakes to win this game.

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Fintan O'Reilly

My name is Fintan O'Reilly. I am a 21-year-old Irish football writer and analyst.