Rennes hosted Bordeaux this past Saturday evening in both teams’ final Ligue 1 fixture of 2019. Life is tight in the middle of the Ligue 1 table at the moment. Following this past weekend’s set of fixtures, just six points separate fourth-placed Lille from 14th placed Saint-Etienne. For most sides, there isn’t much room for error in France’s top tier.
Just four points separated Rennes and Bordeaux heading into this past Saturday’s fixture. As both of these teams will be aiming to secure a European qualification place this season, this final game before Ligue 1’s winter break will have provided a final chance for both of these sides to give themselves the best possible platform to build from as they enter into the second half of the season.
Julien Stéphan’s Rennes side ultimately emerged victorious from Saturday’s tightly contested game. They will go into the winter break sitting comfortably in third place in Ligue 1. In this tactical analysis, we will analyse how Stéphan’s tactics helped his side overcome the challenge of Paulo Sousa’s Bordeaux.
Lineups and Formations
Firstly, home side Rennes lined up in a 4-4-2 formation for this game. The 4-4-2 has been a familiar shape for Rennes in recent weeks. Stéphan’s side have enjoyed a successful run of form utilising the 4-4-2 formation in recent weeks. As a result, it will likely have come to no surprise for Sousa that they lined up in this shape.
However, Rennes’ shape appeared fluid throughout this game, often changing depending on the ongoing phase of play at the time. Rennes generally lined up in a 4-2-3-1 shape during the defensive phase. However, certain pressing triggers also left them in an aggressive 4-2-4 defensive shape at times.
We will discuss Rennes’ changes in defensive shape and their pressing at greater length in this piece.
Paulo Sousa also pulled no surprises with his Bordeaux lineup for this game. The away side started this game utilising their familiar 3-4-2-1 system.
Bordeaux also switched their shape up in the defensive phase. They played with three defenders during the build-up and in the attack. However, Bordeaux defended with four defenders throughout the course of this match. They often appeared to be set-up in a wide 4-diamond-2 shape in the defensive phase. We will also discuss Bordeaux’s defensive shape at greater length deeper in this tactical analysis.
Rennes’ 4-2-3-1 defensive shape
While Rennes attacked with two out and out centre-forwards, they defended with just one. In the defensive phase, one of Rennes’ two centre-forwards would drop deeper, placing themselves in line with the two wingers.
Rennes’ two central midfielders also dropped deeper, covering the space between the defence and the line of three. This created a 4-2-3-1 shape for Rennes during the defensive phase. Rennes utilised this defensive shape throughout this contest.
We can see an example of Rennes’ 4-2-3-1 defensive shape in the image above. The versatile Adrien Hunou vacated his centre-forward position during the defensive phase. He dropped deeper, offering support to the midfield. Meanwhile, his striking partner M’Baye Niang maintained his advanced position. Niang’s defensive role was usually to use his pace to press Bordeaux’s backline.
Hunou drops deep to sit on one of Bordeaux’s central midfielder, on this occasion, Otávio. Meanwhile, the Rennes winger farthest from the ball also offered support to the midfield, marking Bordeaux’s other central midfielder. In the example above, Rennes’ left-winger Benjamin Bourigeaud is marking Bordeaux midfielder Toma Bašić.
Rennes’ compact defensive 4-2-3-1 shape was effective in congesting the midfield. Bordeaux struggled to effectively feed their central midfielders the ball consistently during this game. This made it difficult for the possession-based side to maintain control of this game.
Rennes won the ball back effectively through the strategic use of pressing throughout this game. With the midfield congested, Bordeaux were often forced to either play the ball long or out to the wide areas. These remaining options were not as effective as Bordeaux would have hoped.
Rennes were happy to force Bordeaux to play the ball out to the wide areas. Bordeaux playing the ball out to the wide centre-backs, and subsequently the wingers, were big pressing triggers for Rennes.
In the image above, we can see Rennes begin to press Bordeaux’s defence more aggressively as the ball gets played out to right centre-back, Mexer. Niang had marked central defender Laurent Koscielny, preventing him from being a viable passing option. He begins to press Mexer as he gets ready to receive the ball from left centre-back Pablo.
Meanwhile, Bourigeaud, who had been marking central midfielder Bašić, also begins to aggressively press Mexer. Bourigeaoud keeps the passing option to Bašić in his cover shadow while pressing Mexer, preventing the pass into the midfield.
Rennes’ aggressive press subsequently forces Mexer to play the ball out to the right-wing. Winger Samuel Kalu is quickly pressed by left-back Souleyman Doumbia and winger Bourigeaud as he receives the ball.
As we can see in the image above, Kalu receives the ball under pressure with few viable passing options available. He is forced to play the ball long, which results in a turnover of possession, in favour of Rennes.
Rennes particularly tried to force Bordeaux to play through right centre-back Mexer throughout this game. We can also see an example of this in the image above. Rennes pressed particularly aggressively as Mexer received the ball.
Rennes’ focus on pressing Mexer and forcing play out to the right-wing was an effective strategy in forcing turnovers for them throughout this game. Only 57% of Mexer’s forward passes were successful throughout this game. For reference, his defensive partners Koscielny and Pablo played 92% and 91% of their forward passes accurately, respectively.
Bordeaux’s goalkeeper Benoît Costil receiving the ball was another of Rennes’ major pressing triggers in this game. We can see an example of this in the image above. Bordeaux have struggled under aggressive pressure when attempting to play out from the back at times this season. Rennes clearly intelligently targeted this vulnerability in Bordeaux’s game throughout this match.
In the image above, we can see Rennes forward Niang aggressively pressing Costil as he receives the ball. Niang’s aggressive pressure essentially cuts off half of the pitch for Costil at this moment. Subsequently, Costil’s only three viable short passing options are all situated on Bordeaux’s left-hand side.
All three of these passing options are also quickly pressed by Rennes players. Out of desperation not to make a mistake, Costil is forced to play the ball out for a Rennes throw-in, in a dangerous area of the pitch.
Rennes frequently pressed Bordeaux’s backline aggressively when Costil received possession. This was another effective strategy at forcing turnovers throughout this fixture. In total, 28% of Costil’s passes were inaccurate throughout this game. Seven of his 28 pass attempts were unsuccessful.
In comparison to Costil, Rennes goalkeeper Édouard Mendy had a more impressive 85% pass accuracy in this game. Mendy only misplaced five of his 34 pass attempts in this fixture.
Costil’s passing struggles in this game were primarily caused by the effectiveness of the aggressive press which Rennes deployed when the Bordeaux goalkeeper received possession.
Bordeaux’s defensive shape and press
As mentioned earlier on in this tactical analysis, though Bordeaux attacked with three defenders, they defended with a four-man backline. Bordeaux’s extra defender out-of-possession provided them with the cover necessary to prevent being easily overloaded by Rennes’ two forwards and two wingers in attack.
We can see Bordeaux’s four-man defensive backline in the image above. Right centre-back Mexer shifted over to the right full-back position during the defensive phase. His two centre-back partners, Koscielny and Pablo, also then shifted farther to the right. Meanwhile, left midfielder Loris Benito vacated his more advanced midfield position to occupy the left full-back position in Bordeaux’s four-man backline.
This is how Bordeaux smoothly shifted between playing with three at the back and playing with four at the back.
Bordeaux’s switch in defensive shape also impacted the shape of the rest of their team, out of possession. The image above shows Bordeaux’s typical shape out of possession throughout this game.
Firstly, this image clearly shows us the benefit for Bordeaux, of playing with four defenders, as opposed to three, without possession. In this image, we can see how Bordeaux’s extra defender is key in preventing Rennes from creating an easy overload in the final third.
In attack, Nicolas De Préville played mostly in the left half-space, just behind centre-forward Jimmy Briand. However, in Bordeaux’s defensive shape, De Préville had to drop deeper into the left midfield position which had been vacated by Benito.
Kalu remained in the right midfield position on the opposite side of the pitch, while Briand was joined by Yacine Adli up front. One of Bordeaux’s two central midfielders, in the case of the image above, Otávio, would sit deep. Meanwhile the other central midfielder, in this case, Bašić, pressed higher, essentially occupying a ‘10’ position.
Bordeaux’s front six players would engage in a more aggressive press as Rennes attempted to build from the back. Bordeaux’s press was effective at troubling Rennes during their build-up play on a couple of occasions in the first half. However, their press was ultimately unsuccessful at creating a goal for the away side in this game.
In response to Bordeaux’s pressing strategy, Rennes attempted to play out from the back, less in the second half. Rennes goalkeeper Mendy was quicker to launch the ball forward rather than looking for short passing options.
This is illustrated clearly when we look at Mendy’s long-ball stats in this game. Mendy attempted just five long-balls in the first half, however, he attempted 18 long-balls in the second half. This was effective in making Bordeaux’s press less effective in the second half.
Rennes find space between the lines
While Bordeaux’s press was effective at putting Rennes in trouble on a couple of occasions, Rennes were also effective at playing past Bordeaux’s press throughout this match.
In this image above, we can see an example of how Bordeaux’s press and defensive shape allowed Rennes to exploit space in the midfield. Bordeaux’s wide midfield diamond left Bordeaux’s sole holding midfielder vulnerable. Rennes could enjoy a 2v1 advantage in central midfield when Bordeaux pressed high in their 4-diamond-2 shape.
Rennes were able to create central overloads in these situations because Bordeaux failed to set up in a horizontally compact shape. Bordeaux’s wingers didn’t offer much support to the central midfield as they joined in with the high press.
In the image above, we can see that as one of Bordeaux’s midfielders presses high, the other is left outnumbered in midfield. On this occasion, Rennes manage to find Rafinha unmarked, in space in midfield. Rafinha quickly drives forward upon receiving the ball and quickly creates a goalscoring opportunity for Rennes.
The above image shows the space that Rafinha has to drive into upon receiving possession. It is clear that Bordeaux’s defensive shape also lacked vertical compactness in this game. While Bordeaux’s front five pressed high, their three centre-backs remained relatively deep. This contributed to the isolation of Bordeaux’s central midfield in situations like the one above.
While Rennes played out from the back, less in the second half, they did still attempt to do so on occasion. Rennes had been creating their most clear-cut chances, throughout this game, when they played past Bordeaux’s press. In the image above, we can see an example of Rennes playing past Bordeauz’s press in the second half.
Firstly, we can see that Bordeaux are pressing Rennes’ backline in their 4-diamond-2 shape in this image. Bordeaux’s holding midfielder is just out of the image above, however, the rest of Bordeaux’s front six are clearly visible in this image.
We can see that Rennes have got potential passing options on their left-wing. Substitute Flavien Tait, who is circled on the left-wing in this image, is quick and intelligent to move into the centre of the pitch to help exploit the space that has been created by Bordeaux’s high press.
Rennes are, once again, quick to play past Bordeaux’s press on this occasion and the ball quickly finds its way to Tait. Similar to Rafinha in the first half, Tait is able to turn and drive towards the goal with plenty of space around him.
On this occasion, Rennes were able to make Bordeaux pay for the abundance of space they had provided them with, in the midfield. Tait is able to play a clever ball past Bordeaux’s defence for his teammate, and fellow substitute, Romain Del Castillo, to get onto the end of.
Del Castillo subsequently sets Niang up for the only goal of the game.
To conclude this tactical analysis, Rennes’ tactics in this game helped them immensely in managing to edge a narrow victory over Bordeaux in Saturday’s fixture.
It is clear that Rennes’ pressing strategies and defensive shape were both effective in preventing Bordeaux from controlling this game. They limited Bordeaux’s chances by preventing them from being able to build from the back comfortably throughout this fixture.
Meanwhile, Bordeaux’s defensive shape and pressing strategy was arguably the biggest cause of their downfall in this match. It is clear that Rennes benefitted from the space that Bordeaux allowed them to enjoy in the midfield in this game.
Bordeaux’s defensive shape was not compact enough when they pressed. This allowed Rennes to midfield overloads, which subsequently allowed them to create too many chances for Bordeaux to cope with.
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