Round 21 of Ligue 1 saw FC Nantes face Bordeaux in what was an important tie for both sides. After a promising start to their campaign, Bordeaux’s dismal form in the league over the past two months saw them enter the match only eight points outside the relegation zone. Meanwhile, a win for Nantes could see them come within two points of third-place Stade Rennais in the race for the final Champions League spot.
The match began at a frantic pace with both sides pressing aggressively. With such a high tempo, it was difficult for either team to gain control of the match, and the first half was largely a stalemate. The dynamic changed, however, when Andrei Girotto received a red card inside the opening 10 minutes of the second half. Bordeaux began to dominate possession, although they struggled desperately to create any real scoring opportunities. The match seemed destined to end in a draw until Jimmy Briand finally broke the deadlock in the 86th minute.
Christian Gourcuff elected to start the match with Nantes in a 4-4-2 formation. A groin injury to Nicolas Pallois saw the Rene Krhin start at centre back alongside Andrei Girotto, while Charles Traoré and Dennis Appiah manned either outside back position. In midfield, top-scorer Ludovic Blas began on his favoured right side, Moses Simon started on the left, and captain Abdoulaye Touré formed a central partnership with Mehdi Abeid. Leading the line were Renaud Emond and Imran Louza.
In contrast, Bordeaux began the match in a 4-2-3-1 formation. At the heart of the defence, Paulo Sousa chose his preferred centre back pairing in Laurent Koscielny and Pablo. Loris Benito and Enock Kwateng started at left and right-back respectively, while Otávio and Toma Bašić formed a double pivot in central midfield. The line of three was comprised of Nicolas de Préville, Ui-jo Hwang, and Rémi Oudin, with the experienced Jimmy Briand in advance of the trio to spearhead the Bordeaux attack.
In recent weeks, Nantes have often built out of the back using three players by advancing their right-back and inverting their right-winger to unbalance opponents. With this in mind, Paulo Sousa elected to have his men begin the match pressing high up the pitch to suffocate the back three and not allow them time and space to find their overloads in midfield. Any time Nantes recovered possession and passed backwards to set up their attacks, Briand immediately sprinted centrally to close down the central player of Nantes’ building three with the rest of his teammates squeezing the space in behind as shown below.
Similar to Bordeaux, Nantes also felt it was best to press high up the pitch and take the game to Bordeaux. Nantes employed this tactic by stepping 4-4-2, pressing Bordeaux’s centre backs, and forcing play into the wide areas where they could kill off Bordeaux’s attacks as demonstrated below.
Bordeaux’s attacking structure
As a result of both teams pressing aggressively, much of the opening 10 minutes was spent in continual transition with either side unable to connect more than a few passes before surrendering possession. After the first 10 minutes, however, Bordeaux grew into the game as a result of a superior pressing intensity, a 55 to 44 advantage in duels win rate and the completion of a few line-breaking passes that began to back down the Nantes press.
Consequently, Bordeaux were able to create their attacking structure with more regularity. In this structure, Bordeaux would slightly advance their outside backs, position their holding midfielders centrally behind the initial line of pressure, invert at least one winger, and position their attacking midfielder between Nantes’ midfield and backline. This effectively created numerical advantages against Nantes’ central midfielders as shown below.
Bordeaux would then seek to play penetrating passes from their centre backs to exploit their numerical advantage in midfield, often looking to find their options between the lines. Although they connected well between the lines, Bordeaux were rarely able to get in behind Nantes and create clear scoring opportunities because they lacked width. This was largely a result of how they positioned their holding midfielders. These two players were stationed behind Nantes’ two forwards in the initial build-up and were instructed to stay central rather than drift beside the Bordeaux centre backs to provide support. As a result, when Bordeaux’s centre backs were pressed by Nantes’ forwards 2v2, to relieve the pressure, support for the centre backs had to come from Bordeaux’s outside backs. Therefore, Bordeaux’s outside backs were forced to play in a more conservative position and essentially create a line of four by playing on the same line as the holding midfielders.
The consequence of this set-up was that when Bordeaux did find line-breaking passes to either their attacking midfielder or inverted wingers, there was nowhere for them to go. The outside backs were still deeper behind the play rather than being higher and wider as illustrated below, and therefore, Bordeaux often had to settle for sideways or backwards passes after they connected between the lines.
With a lack of width stifling Bordeaux’s attack, Nantes were able to recover possession and counter Bordeaux. In response, Bordeaux dropped deeper with often all 10 field players getting behind the ball.
Nantes were thus able to begin to organize their attacking structure and launch more positional attacks. To create their attacking shape, Nantes would first form a back three by pushing their right-back high. As the right-back drifted higher, he and the right-winger would work in tandem. If the right-winger was inverted centrally, the right-back would position himself wider. If, however, the right-winger positioned himself wider, the right-back would position himself centrally. While this happened, Nantes would also have one forward drift back to the ball to overload in midfield. With the help of an inverted player and the withdrawn forward, Nantes were able to outnumber Bordeaux in midfield 4v3 as shown below.
Although they could not find a way through the Bordeaux defence, this attacking shape helped Nantes achieve their highest attacks per minute rate of the game and finish the first half the stronger of the two sides.
Bordeaux’s second-half struggles
The second half started fairly even with both sides seeking to reassert their dominance. Everything changed, however, when in the 54th minute Andrei Girotto was awarded his second yellow card and dismissed from the match. With Nantes down to 10 men and over a half hour to play, it seemed likely that Bordeaux would impose their will and that Nantes would likely buckle under the mounting pressure. Surprisingly, this was not the case, and the second half was a stalemate as Bordeaux painstakingly tried to break down the Nantes defence.
Bordeaux struggled to carve out opportunities for several reasons. The first was that they continued to lack width on Nantes’ last line. Because of this, Bordeaux were only playing in a fraction of the space available, and it was easy for the Nantes defence to simultaneously defend several players as shown below.
If Bordeaux had instead placed a player closer to the red circles shown in the image above, this would have stretched the Nantes defence and positioned Bordeaux to get in behind their backline.
Another reason why Bordeaux’s attack suffered was that there were at times too many players in the build-up coming back behind the line of pressure to receive as pictured below.
In this particular instance, Bordeaux were essentially using five players to penetrate past Nantes’ line of pressure. With Nantes down to 10 men and only playing with one forward, by doing this Bordeaux were wasting players that could have been occupying dangerous attacking positions higher up the pitch.
A final reason why Bordeaux struggled in the attack was because of technical errors. For example, there were many occasions like the one shown below in which a Bordeaux player would receive the ball out wide with a closed body shape.
Therefore, even if a teammate did make a run peeling into the channel in behind, Nantes would not even need to defend it because the body shape of the player on the ball prevents him from making such a pass.
Fortunately for Bordeaux, Jimmy Briand saved the day in the 86th minute. Mexer, who came into the match in the 49th minute, received down the right side and swung in what appeared to be a hopeful cross.
Briand, however, read the flight of the ball perfectly, and he was able to get to the service before his mark to steer home and seal a Bordeaux victory.
After only conceding an xG of .85 and playing the majority of the second half a man down, Nantes perhaps deserved more from the tie. Despite the result, it is clear that Bordeaux have much to improve if they wish to stand a chance in their upcoming matches against Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille.
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