Ligue 1’s second-placed team Marseille hosted Bordeaux last Sunday in a clash between two of Ligue 1’s most impressive teams. Just four points and one place in the league table separated these two sides before Sunday’s game. Both of these teams have provided plenty of entertainment on the pitch this season. As a result, fans will have been eagerly anticipating a high quality, box-office clash for Sunday evening.
Both teams will have hoped to have walked out of Sunday’s clash with all three points. However, in the end, André Villas-Boas’ Marseille side secured a dominant 3-1 victory over their opponents.
Marseille’s tactics exploited weaknesses in Bordeaux’s game which helped them to create a plethora of goalscoring opportunities. In this tactical analysis, we will examine how Villas-Boas’ tactics helped his Marseille side to a resounding victory over Bordeaux.
Lineups and formations.
The home side Marseille lined up in their familiar 4-1-4-1 shape to begin this game. However, Villas-Boas made a couple of personnel changes to his usual team for Sunday’s fixture.
Top scorer Darío Benedetto was absent for this game. He was replaced by Valère Germain in the centre-forward position for this game. Furthermore, holding midfielder Kevin Strootman started Sunday’s game on the bench, as Boubacar Kamara enjoyed a deputised in midfield. Álvaro González was called into the Marseille backline as a result of this change.
Other than those personnel changes, Marseille fielded a familiar-looking lineup for this game. Dmitri Payet, Morgan Sanson, Valentin Rongier, and Bouna Sarr formed a dangerous creative quartet in Marseille’s midfield. Meanwhile, Jordan Amavi and Hiroki Sakai started at full-back in what was an attacking Marseille lineup.
Visitors Bordeaux also lined up in a familiar shape, as they started this game in their usual 3-4-2-1 formation. Youssouf Sabaly enjoyed a rare start on the right side of Bordeaux’s midfield, while Loris Benito provided width on the opposite side of Bordeaux’s midfield.
Nicolas De Préville and Yacine Adli played either side of Josh Maja in Bordeaux’s attack. Bordeaux’s forward trio attempted to link up with their wide midfielders on the overlap to create a dangerous attacking five. Those players were given freedom to attack, as Bordeaux’s back three and central midfield duo sat back, providing cover.
Bordeaux’s defensive shape.
While Bordeaux lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, their shape changed in the defensive phase to a flat 4-4-2. The image above shows a clear example from quite early on in this game, of Bordeaux utilising a 4-4-2 while out-of-possession, in a mid-block.
Benito dropped from his left-sided midfield position to take up the left-back position in the 4-4-2. Meanwhile, Yacine Adli also dropped from his position playing just off of the left side of Maja, to occupy the left side of midfield in the 4-4-2.
Bordeaux’s 4-4-2 was effective at preventing Marseille from easily progressing the ball forward during the early stages of this game. As we can see above, Bordeaux’s shape gave Marseille’s attackers very little space in between the lines. This made life difficult for Marseille during the build-up play early on in this game.
The only one of Marseille’s players in space in this image is Payet, who is positioned wide on the left. Marseille had just played the ball away from the left-wing over to the right when this image was taken. We can see that the ball carrier, González, is just turning back to the face the left-wing in this image.
Bordeaux prevented González and Marseille from quickly playing the ball back over to the left-wing, by pressing González as soon as he turns inside. We can see Maja begin to press the centre-back in the image above.
As we can see in this image, taken just a second later, Maja was quick to close down González. This rushes González and forces him to play the ball all the way back to Steve Mandanda in goal.
Maja’s pressing ability was used effectively during the early stages of this game to force Marseille to play backwards. In the two images above we can see another example of Marseille’s defence being forced to play the ball back to Mandanda under pressure.
We can see that Maja was quick to close down González, once again, as he received possession. As Maja quickly approaches the centre-back, he is forced to go back to Mandanda again.
Maja’s pressing ability was crucial to the effectiveness of Bordeaux’s 4-4-2 mid-block early in this game. He forced the ball back to Mandanda on multiple occasions. This allowed Bordeaux to advance further up the pitch, pinning Marseille in their own half. This was subsequently effective in forcing turnovers in favour of Bordeaux, as Marseille were forced to play the ball long.
Underlapping full-backs and Marseille’s effective link-up play on the left.
Despite the effectiveness of Bordeaux’s mid-block early on, it didn’t take too long for Marseille to begin creating quality chances. Marseille’s wingers both sat very wide during their build-up play. Bordeaux left a lot of space to be exploited on the wings due to their narrow defensive shape. Marseille frequently attempted to create overloads on the wings to unlock Bordeaux’s defence.
Marseille’s two wingers, Payet and Sarr, are both creative players who can thrive if they are provided with as much space as they received on the wings in this game. Payet, in particular, was effective at exploiting space on the left-wing throughout this game.
At times, Payet dropped quite deep to receive the ball in space on the left-wing. Marseille were able to play through Bordeaux’s mid-block much easier once Payet began to drop deeper. He was much more capable to progress the ball forward under pressure than Marseille’s centre-backs. We can see an example of Payet dropping deep to get on the ball and create in the image above.
In this image, we can see that there is a lot of space ahead of Payet on the left-wing. Sanson is in the process of moving out wide to exploit this space in this image.
Meanwhile, Payet dropping deep created an opening for left-back Amavi to venture forward. The left-back frequently made underlapping runs to support the wide creator Payet. When Payet dropped deep, Amavi would probe into the left half-space. This troubled Bordeaux’s defence throughout this game.
We can see Amavi making a threatening run in behind Bordeaux’s last line in this image. The movement of Sanson and Amavi creates an overload on the left-wing for Marseille. In this image, we can see that Vukašin Jovanović, the centre-back playing at right-back in Bordeaux’s defensive 4-4-2 shape, is caught in a 1v2 situation.
Jovanović struggled on the right-hand side of Bordeaux’s defence. He lacked the pace and agility of a natural right-back. Amavi exploits his pace advantage over Jovanović in this passage of play. Payet plays the ball past Bordeaux’s backline, through to Amavi. Amavi plays a poor cross on this occasion, however, Marseille would go on to create plenty of chances thanks to this link-up play on the left-wing.
We can see another example of one of Amavi’s underlapping runs in the image above. The left-back once again has no trouble beating Jovanović for pace on this occasion. He also plays a better cross into the box during this attack. The cross is ultimately cleared back out to Payet who finds himself in space on the edge of the box. The dangerous winger is subsequently unlucky not to score from the attack.
Marseille’s press vs Bordeaux’s difficulty playing out from the back.
Marseille denied Bordeaux time on the ball to build-up effectively throughout this game. Marseille effectively utilised a man-oriented zonal pressing system. This was effective in preserving their base 4-1-4-1 shape, as well as allowing them to press Bordeaux’s players and force opposition errors and, subsequently, force turnovers.
Bordeaux struggled to create attacks due to Marseille’s press. This is evident in their low total of just three attempted shots throughout this game, to Marseille’s 25. Bordeaux were fortunate to score a goal from one of the few times that they managed to get on the ball in the half-space. A wonder strike from Adli put them 1-0 up going into half-time.
However, Marseille subsequently pressed Bordeaux with even more intensity at the beginning of the second half. Pressing intensity can be measured by the ‘PPDA’ stat. This means ‘passes per defensive action’. This stat divides the number of passes made by the opponent, by the defensive actions taken by the defending side. The lower the ‘PPDA’, the more intense that team is pressing.
Marseille had an average PPDA of 6.1 in the first half. However, during the period of the 47th minute to the 60th minute, their PPDA was measured at 4.1. Marseille’s increased pressing intensity was evident immediately in the second half and Bordeaux’s defence struggled to cope with it.
The image above is from the passage of play which leads to Marseille’s equalising goal. In this image, we can see Sarr quickly pressing Bordeaux centre-back Pablo. Pablo is forced to play the ball back to his goalkeeper due to the intensity of Marseille’s high press.
However, Pablo’s backpass is a poor one and it results in a Marseille corner kick. Payet again links up with Amavi from the corner kick, except on this occasion he finds Amavi’s head from the corner, which gives Marseille their first goal of this game.
In this image, we can see another instance of Marseille putting Pablo under pressure when playing out from the back. On this occasion, Rongier puts the centre-back under pressure.
We can see that Pablo is being forced backwards as Rongier continues to press. Payet is in the Bordeaux penalty area covering multiple potential passing options, meanwhile, Sarr is marking the passing option to Benito on the wing. Pablo is forced to play the ball out for a throw-in in a dangerous area from this passage of play.
That Marseille throw-in subsequently leads to the goal-kick which gives Marseille their second goal. Once again, Marseille’s press caused Bordeaux’s backline a lot of trouble. Marseille’s attackers pressed Bordeaux’s backline quickly after a short goal-kick. On this occasion, Otávio is the defending player being pressed in his own box.
Otávio has few viable passing options available in this image, and even less time to make a decision. Ultimately, the holding midfielder attempts to play the ball to his midfield partner Tchouaméni, highlighted in the image. The pass is played too hard and Sanson intercepts and subsequently tucks away Marseille’s second goal of the game.
Marseille’s increased pressing intensity in the second half of this game was the key to completing an impressive comeback. However, Les Phocéens didn’t stop at just two goals.
Marseille’s pressing intensity significantly lessened following their second goal. However, they still managed to nick a third, decisive goal in the 91st minute of the game thanks, once again, to their pressing.
In the image above, we can see that Pablo gets caught in possession once more under pressure. Rongier once again presses and wins the ball from the struggling centre-back. He subsequently plays Marseille substitute Radonjić through on goal, and he scores Marseille’s third and final goal.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece, it is clear that Marseille’s high press was key for them in overcoming Bordeaux this past Sunday. All three of Marseille’s goals came as a result of forced errors caused by their intense pressing in the second half.
Bordeaux also struggled to create many chances in this game primarily due to Marseille’s effective pressing system. Paulo Sousa’s side could not effectively play past Marseille’s press, and that is what ultimately cost them this game.
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