The match saw both sides create equal opportunities to another, but one side managed to finish one of them. Lille, led by Christophe Galtier, looked to attack down the right side through Jonathan Ikoné and utilise through balls in order to optimise the chances of their pacey forwards getting in on goal. These tactics have been present throughout the campaign, particularly the usage of through balls to carve out opportunities. Galtier has gotten his side into a good run of form, winning five of their last six matches, after a tough January period where they lost four games. As a result, Lille are sat 4th place in Ligue 1, eight points ahead of 5th place, Stade Reims. Lyon, managed by controversial coach Rudi Garcia, have had a disappointing season by their recent standards. Although, their season can be seen as unlucky, with their points total not entirely reflecting their performances this term. This analysis will take a deeper dive into this game, and how one side managed to scrape past the other.
Lille lined-up in a 4-4-2 formation which looked to operate a balanced approach, transitioning from defence into attack in one smooth passage of play. Galtier’s side was fronted by Loïc Rémy and Victor Osimhen. An interesting combination as Osimhen is reminiscent of a young Rémy in his style of play and physical stature and pace. Osimhen has been a great asset for Lille this season, providing 17 league goal contributions in his first season with Les Dogues, at just 21 years old.
Regarding the two banks of four behind the two strikers, Galtier stuck with Jonathan Bamba and Jonathan Ikoné as his two wingers, with Ikoné pushing higher up the field than Bamba, meaning Bamba couldn’t shy away from his defensive responsibilities in this system. Lille often play a 4-2-3-1 formation, with three midfielders, meaning that one of Boubakary Soumaré, Renato Sanches, or Benjamin André would miss out on this occasion. In this case, it was Soumaré who missed out, with Galtier likely opting for the experience of André in a high-pressure match. Lille’s back four consisted of Domagoj Bradarić, Gabriel, José Fonte, and Mehmet Zeki Çelik. This made for a great balance of age, experience and youthful eagerness, as it has all season long.
Lyon set out in a 3-5-2 formation, with Garcia looking to dominate the midfield space with plenty of bodies in the centre of the pitch. Karl Toko Ekambi and Moussa Dembélé were the two strikers up front, who were supplemented by the two wingbacks Léo Dubois and the ever-flexible Maxwel Cornet. The two wingbacks in this game however, provided more of a defensive duty, as they spent the majority of the game in their own half. Garcia went with an interesting mix in the midfield three, with Houssem Aouar taking up his usual position, Lucas Tousart sat in a box-to-box midfield role, and Bruno Guimarães sat in the deepest midfield role. This is a juxtaposition to the position these two midfielders have played in the past, with Tousart often operating as the deepest midfielder doing the defensive work and Guimarães playing in a box-to-box role whilst in Brazil. One might argue that their skillsets are better suited to their former roles. Lyon’s back three consisted of Joachim Andersen, Marcelo, and captain Jason Denayer.
Lille have a number of talented and varied midfielders at their disposal, meaning their approach to possession within games is flexible, depending on the opponent. In this match, they came up against a side who keep an average of around 55% on average in Ligue 1, so they realised they might struggle to keep possession against a side who like to hold it. Lyon held a respectable 79% pass completion as a result, while Lille had a lower rate of 72%, indicative of their attempts to move the ball forwards with speed. This is seen in many of Lille player’s passing statistics, as the majority of them made more forward passes than they did lateral passes throughout the ninety minutes.
In this instance, when in possession of the ball, we see Lille place emphasis on keeping the ball moving forwards in an attacking scenario. Renato Sanches has received the ball and immediately looks forward to lay the ball onto a teammate. With little to no pressure, he passes the ball forwards to Bamba, who does receive pressure from a Lyon defender. Bamba passes the ball into the run of Ikoné with his first touch. Ikoné made a run behind the Lyon midfielder who was caught out of position, ball-watching at the time. It is a quick passage of play that catches the Lyon side off-guard and, in this position, Lille can exploit their lack of anticipation.
Ikoné settles the ball for a brief moment, aware of the pressure he is receiving from behind him, he does not dwell on the ball. Denayer is stood firm in front of him, looking to cut off the passing lane, but Ikoné does well to play the through ball past him. Overall, this was a great piece of composure by the young French forward. The ball finds the run of Osimhen, who is met joined by Marcelo to his left, forcing him to decide quickly. Ultimately, Osimhen takes the shot with venom and it ends up hitting the side netting. This was a great piece of build-up play by Lille, who worked brilliantly as a team to forge an opportunity to score on goal. In this pattern of play, no single player was selfish in their efforts to score a goal for their side, however, it was well-defended by Marcelo at the last second.
Lille also did well from set-pieces in this match, with four of their thirteen efforts coming from this type of attempt. The goal that they scored was a result of brilliant off the ball movement by Rémy and some poor positioning on behalf of the Lyon defence. In this scenario, we see the ball on the edge of the 18-yard-box after a corner which is played short towards another teammate. Notice Rémy in the middle of the screen, he is feinting his body to the right when he then continues to move left towards the ball. This is something that Tousart misses entirely as he is too focused upon the movement of Gabriel. As we can see below, three Lyon defenders are all just staring at the ball, providing little to no pressure on the Lille attacker. To the left, we can also see André taking the attention away from another Lyon defender, meaning that Rémy is totally free, available to take a shot on goal.
Bamba provides the slow cut-back towards Rémy, whom upon receiving the ball, actually has his work cut out for him. Due to the pace of the ball (or lack of), Rémy can strike the ball cleanly and with precision. However, it has also meant that five Lyon defenders have clocked on to the position of the ball, and where they need to be. He manages to place is past all of the Lyon defenders, and somehow past Anthony Lopes too. It really was a shot he should be saving, although his vision must have been compromised.
There were plenty of lapses of concentration on behalf of Garcia’s side in this game. That’s to be expected of a team in March, where they are still battling the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League, as well as the Coupe de France until recently. Lacking concentration throughout the ninety minutes is a sign of a fatigued side, where many of these players are generally in the starting XI every game. However, that cannot be the sole excuse and some of the blame has to be laid on the players themselves or perhaps the coach. Lille passed them off the park in certain occasions, especially when reaching the final third.
Perhaps, that title is an exaggeration. Nevertheless, Lyon were not great, or even good in this game. They did not particularly excel in any way throughout the ninety minutes, with their only impressive statistic being that they have 57% possession in the match, which ultimately led to nothing. When they did find themselves in a scoring opportunity, they produced poor finishing, particularly Ekambi who should have scored at least one goal in this game. They were also quite aggressive in this match too, hence the amount of free kicks that they conceded in the game. It was not for a lack of effort that they lost this match, rather that their efforts were misplaced.
An example of poor finishing from Lyon occurred in the first half, where they had a chance to bring the game level going into half-time. Ekambi genuinely does well in the build-up, with many Lille players centring on his position. This did, however, leave Dubois completely open on the overlap, who is looking to receive the ball. This is a case of Lille defending far too centrally, especially against a side who are using wingbacks who do push forward when instructed.
As soon as Dubois gets the ball to his feet, the Lille defenders being racing backward to mark the Lyon attackers. They fail to mark the one striker who started the attack, Ekambi. However, he still has three defenders behind him providing pressure, which means he has no time to settle the ball or even take a touch. He takes the first-time shot which spurns off and into the crowd. His second great opportunity of the game, which he fumbled in the crucial moments. You can imagine this won’t be great for his confidence going into their next fixtures.
The only other notable chances Lyon had been by long shots through Guimarães, who had two shots late in the game. The better of which came from a wide free-kick which was headed away by a Lyon defender. It is a header that is not met cleanly and it reaches the path of the on-running Brazilian. As a young player, he probably saw his name in the stars before thinking about the smart decision to make. He strikes the ball on the volley and it goes over, not by a massive distance but considerable enough for the keeper to not worry about it. This is likely out of frustration by Guimarães as he has been a part of a side who have struggled to carve out many notable chances throughout the ninety minutes.
Lyon struggled to create the quantity of chances necessary, relative to their possession. Taking just nine shots from 57% possession is possession wasted. The two high-quality chances they did have were spurned by Ekambi, who had a good match in any aspect that wasn’t finishing. He produced three shot assists, won two aerial duels, and completed a single dribble. Decent numbers for a player who had just 34 touches of the ball. Hopefully he does not let the misses go to his head, as he clearly displayed the right movement to get himself these chances, he just needs to work on his technique.
Renato Sanches has been brilliant for Lille this campaign, and arguably their standout player this term. Osimhen has provided the output, Sanches has provided the base for such output to occur. He has transitioned the side from defence to attack with great success this season, truly fulfilling the ‘6’ role he has been assigned by Galtier. In this game, he was particularly great at pushing the team forward from midfield into the final third, rather than taking the ball from the defence and into midfield like a Casemiro might do. We saw earlier that he started an attack with his progressive passing, as he is often the fulcrum of the side whenever they look to begin the attack. One can imagine that he has many second assists this season, as he got one in this game as well. Combine this with four dribbles and three shots and we can see that he was very good using his individual flair to create chances for himself and others.
At just 22 years old, Sanches has made 127 senior appearances at the highest level, which is more than the average 22-year-old footballer can claim. Perhaps he is not the golden boy we once thought he was, but that does not make him bad at all. In fact, he is a great footballer now, with the potential to become even better in the future.
Overall, we can see that Lyon failed to take their opportunities in this game, and Lille punished them for it. The Expected Goals metric had this game 1.20 to 1.03 in favour of Lyon, which reflects that statement. Galtier does need to adjust his tactics slightly so that his defence are not as narrow as they currently are. This leaves space open for wide players on the opposition team to exploit, as we saw with Dubois in this game. Other than that, his side are on the right track, creating high-quality chances, but perhaps they should work on their output of such chances. Garcia’s side was lifeless for large portions of this match on the other hand. They had plenty of possession but did not create enough chances to justify the time on the ball. Garcia needs to find an attacking contingency and stick with it, and allow them to work on their attacking chemistry.