After drawing 1-1 in late August, Olympique Lyon travelled to Bordeaux for their second encounter of the league campaign. Coming into the match, both Lyon and Bordeaux sat in the middle of the Ligue 1 table. Nonetheless, a win for either side would see them reignite their Champions League hopes and take them within striking distance of third-place Stade Rennes.
Bordeaux began the game pressing in a 4-4-2 to disrupt Lyon’s build-up. Although they were not overly successful winning the ball higher up the pitch, they were rewarded for their effort and determination when a poor backpass from Joachim Andersen gifted Bordeaux the first goal. Lyon regrouped and, despite a handful of great chances, were unable to equalize before the break. To begin the second half, however, Lyon took control by scoring two goals in a span of three minutes. Lyon would go on to dominate the second half, and the game was never in fact as close as the final score suggested.
Paulo Sousa opted to begin the match with his team positioned in a 4-4-1-1 formation. In defence, Pablo and Laurent Koscielny were chosen as the centre back pairing with Loris Benito and Mexer at either outside back. From left to right in midfield, Sousa preferred Toma Bašić, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Otávio, and Youssouf Sabaly. Leading the attack was Jimmy Briand with Nicolas de Préville playing underneath.
In contrast, Lyon started in a 4-3-3 shape. Rudi Garcia chose an almost all-Brazilian backline in Marçal, Joachim Andersen, Marcelo, and Rafael. In front of the defence, Garcia selected Thiago Mendes with the youth of Maxence Caqueret and Houssem Aouar manning the attacking midfield positions ahead of him. Finally, Maxwel Cornet and Bertrand Traoré were given the start in the forward line on either side of top-scorer Moussa Dembélé.
Lyon’s attacking structure
One key to Lyon’s success in the match was their attacking structure, which helped them generate an impressive 13 key passes in the game. When constructing their build-up, Lyon would advance their outside backs, sit Mendes in front of the backline as a lone pivot, and push their attacking midfielders higher between the lines, typically occupying the inside central channels. In addition, Traoré tucked inside from his right forward position to join Dembélé, while Cornet stayed wide on the left flank of the forward line. The strength of this set-up is the positioning of the central midfielders because when the ball goes wide, Bordeaux’s ball-side centre midfielder is caught in a 2v1 against Lyon’s holding midfielder and ball-side attacking mid.
In order to confront this numerical and positional advantage of Lyon, Bordeaux would drop their attacking midfielder to try and cover Mendes, use their ball-side centre midfielder to cover the ball-side attacking midfielder of Lyon, and position their backside centre midfielder in a central covering position. Although this would at times halt Lyon’s initial progress down a flank, the problems would occur when the ball was recycled. As Lyon turned back and switched the play across their backline, Lyon’s backside attacking midfielder would drift back into the pocket of space created as a result of Bordeaux’s backside centre midfielder playing in a deeper cover position. This would essentially create a free man in midfield dropping as a kind of double pivot for Lyon. Once a centre-half connected with Lyon’s attacking midfielder coming back to the ball, Bordeaux’s backside centre midfielder would step to provide pressure and leave the centre of the pitch exposed. Consequently, if Lyon could combine quickly, they could exploit the space in midfield and run at Bordeaux’s backline unopposed as demonstrated below when Caqueret bounced to an advancing Mendes.
Lyon’s lack of aggression
Although superior to Bordeaux technically, tactically, and physically, Lyon showed a surprising lack of aggression in certain phases that allowed Bordeaux to remain in the match longer than they should have. This was evident first of all in their defensive tactics. It was clear that Bordeaux tried to build with three-back by pushing their left-back high and tucking their right-back inside to form a back three. As they did this, their left midfielder would invert and join their attacking midfielder to create a 4v3 against Lyon’s central midfielders. Despite creating an overload in midfield, by building with three, Bordeaux risked not having a plus-one advantage in the initial build-up. But rather than using this to their benefit, Lyon allowed themselves to be preoccupied with the Bordeaux players between the lines. As a result, Cornet was often forced to drop from his left forward position to create a five-man backline.
By dropping into a back five, Lyon afforded Bordeaux a numerical advantage in their initial build-up and thus time and space to create attacks. Instead of this, Lyon could have used their forward line to press high 3v3, suffocate the Bordeaux build-up, and take advantage of their speed in transition. Lyon’s pace was an area in which they were significantly superior to Bordeaux, and any time they did win the ball in transition it led to dangerous chances. Therefore, pressing higher would have ideally created even more opportunities like the one shown below.
Lyon also showed a lack of aggression in how they failed to attack the Bordeaux penalty box. Often in the first half, Lyon were able to enter the final third and get into excellent crossing positions. Too many times, however, Lyon’s attacking midfielders decided to sit deeper rather than dart into the penalty area as shown below. Consequently, Bordeaux were able to comfortably deal with many of Lyon’s crosses because they only had two players attacking the box.
Although by no means flawless in the first half, Bordeaux entered the break with a one-goal advantage. Things began to unravel quickly, however, at the start of the second half for two reasons. The first reason was that Bordeaux became unorganized in their attacking shape. As illustrated previously, Bordeaux would attack with a back three, two holding midfielders, and five players occupying Lyon’s backline. In this shape, when Bordeaux advanced higher up the pitch, it was the role of the two central midfielders to provide balance, offer support, and be in a position to cut out Lyon’s counterattacks. Unfortunately for Bordeaux, in the second half, these two players were overly aggressive in joining the Bordeaux attack. As a result, when possession was lost, Bordeaux lacked players in position to counter-press and often found themselves in situations like the one shown below.
The other reason Bordeaux struggled in the second half was individual errors. There were several instances, for example, in which Bordeaux gave away simple passes that directly fed Lyon counterattacks as shown below.
Furthermore, Bordeaux committed several individual errors defensively. This was most evident in the defensive display of Pablo, who found it particularly difficult to deal with the movement of the Lyon forward line. A perfect example of Pablo’s struggles was showcased in the second goal. In this situation, a poor attacking shape left Bordeaux vulnerable on the counterattack with Maxwel Cornet and Moussa Dembélé running at a recovering Bordeaux backline. As Cornet drove forward with the ball, Dembélé initially began peeling higher to the right side of the pitch. This was done to seemingly pull Castro away from the ball and create space in between the two defenders for Dembélé to then exploit in behind.
But as Dembélé began running central and started to bring Pablo inside, Dembélé planted hard on his left foot and then darted back to his right to create separation between himself and Pablo.
Therefore, Dembélé’s initial movement had only been a set-up to bate Pablo into thinking he would run centrally in behind. Dembélé’s true intention was to bring Pablo central to open up space for himself on the right.
Pablo bit hard on this double movement by Dembélé, and his inability to read Dembélé’s intentions left him helpless as he watched the Lyon talisman score his side’s second goal.
Despite a valiant effort, Bordeaux were no match for Lyon’s quality. Lyon created 22 shots in the match with an xG of 1.63, and it was only poor finishing that kept them from adding to their advantage. With only one win in the league since November, pressure will be mounting on Paulo Sousa to re-discover Bordeaux’s best form.