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Dimitri Payet: The tactics behind his Marseille revival under André Villas-Boas

Following a disappointing run of six straight seasons without UEFA Champions League football, André Villas-Boas faced an uphill battle to try and put Marseille’s name amongst Europe’s elite once again for the 2020/21 campaign, upon being appointed the club’s manager in May 2019. However, with 27 games played, Villas-Boas’ Marseille side sit in second place in the Ligue 1 table, eight points ahead of third-placed Rennes. 

The Portuguese manager’s tactics have played an important role in helping his side to become the ‘best of the rest’ in Ligue 1 this season, behind PSG. One of the key elements to Villas-Boas’ success thus far with Marseille, has been the resurgence that has been seen in the form of 32-year-old playmaker Dimitri Payet this season.

Payet has been far more of a key figure for Les Olympiens throughout the 2019/20 campaign thus far than he had been last season. The 32-year-old has currently made the joint-highest number of assists that have been made by any Marseille player in Ligue 1 this season, with four. Payet is also currently Marseille’s second-highest Ligue 1 goalscorer this season, scoring a total of eight goals, which is already twice as many goals as the playmaker scored last season. 

In this tactical analysis piece, we will examine how Villas-Boas’ tactics have been set-up to get the best out of Payet this season. We will provide a tactical analysis of how Payet has benefitted from Villas-Boas’ usual system of play, as well as how the Portuguese manager has been able to highlight Payet’s main attributes to make him a key man this season in this scout report

Payet’s positioning within Marseille’s system

Last season, under former manager Rudi Garcia, Marseille generally played with a 4-2-3-1 shape. Within this shape, Payet usually occupied the central ‘10’ role, playing behind the centre forward as a base position. 

However, the playmaker enjoyed plenty of freedom of movement within Garcia’s 4-2-3-1 shape. Rather than just sitting centrally, Payet often drifted into the half-spaces or even as far wide as either wing, to link up with his wide teammates, over the course of 90 minutes. 

Dimitri Payet: The tactics behind his Marseille revival under André Villas-Boas - tactical analysis - tactics
Image source – Wyscout

The image above shows us Payet’s heatmap from the 2018/19 season. Here, we can see an example of how varied the 32-year-old’s positioning was last season across the width of the pitch. As is evident by this image, Payet spent the majority of his time on either wing last season. 

We can also see that the attacking midfielder did frequently occupy the central attacking midfield zone last season, which is where he started a lot of games out within Garcia’s 4-2-3-1 shape. While we can see a slight bit of colour in some deeper areas, this heatmap shows us that Payet has primarily spent his time in more advanced areas of the pitch during the 2018/19 campaign. 

Dimitri Payet: The tactics behind his Marseille revival under André Villas-Boas - tactical analysis - tactics
Image source – Wyscout

This second image shows us Payet’s heatmap from the 2019/20 season. This heatmap shows us that Payet has been far less active on the right-wing this season, while he has spent the vast majority of his time on the left side of the pitch. This can be attributed to a change of position for the playmaker, as new manager Villas-Boas has introduced a change of system this season at Marseille. 

While Payet generally played in the central attacking midfield position of Garcia’s 4-2-3-1 shape last season, the 32-year-old has usually occupied the left-wing position in Villas-Boas’ preferred 4-3-3 shape throughout the 2019/20 campaign thus far. 

This heatmap shows a lot of colour as far wide as the touchline on the left-wing. This indicates that Payet has often been taking up quite wide positions this season, orientating himself to stretch the play and take advantage of the full width of the pitch. 

Furthermore, this season’s heatmap shows us that Payet has also spent a fair amount of time occupying a deeper position on the left side of the pitch. While Payet spent plenty of time spread across the width of the pitch last season, he has been exploring the depth of the pitch to a greater extent throughout the current campaign. 

As previously mentioned, Payet’s heatmap from the 2018/19 campaign showed a slight bit of colour in deeper areas, however, the playmaker’s heatmap from the 2019/20 campaign indicates that he has been spending much more time positioned deeper in his own half this season, compared to last season. 

Payet’s role for Marseille has changed this season, along with the change in manager for Les Olympiens. Villas-Boas has preferred to play Payet on the left-wing of a 4-3-3, whereas Garcia gave the player freedom to roam across to either wing from a central position in his 4-2-3-1 shape. However, under Villas-Boas, Payet’s positioning has varied by depth to a greater extent this season. Payet’s positioning within Villas-Boas’ system may be playing an important role in his improved form this season. 

Left-wing overloads

This season, Marseille frequently create overloads on the left-wing versus the opposition full-back. This is often done via attacking runs from a full-back, either overlapping Payet, thus allowing him to shift more centrally into the left half-space, or underlapping him, allowing him to maintain the team’s width and create from a wider position. 

Alternatively, another way that Marseille frequently create wide overloads versus the opposition full-back is through wide, outward, diagonal runs from the left central midfielder. Morgan Sanson frequently plays on the left side of Marseille’s midfield three and can often be seen making these outward diagonal runs from the centre of the pitch out to the left-wing to create support for Payet. 

Dimitri Payet: The tactics behind his Marseille revival under André Villas-Boas - tactical analysis - tactics
Image source – Wyscout

This image above, which is taken from Marseille’s recent Coupe de France quarter-final game versus Lyon, shows us an example of Sanson making one of these outward, diagonal runs from central midfield out to the left-wing in support of Payet. 

Here, we can see the 32-year-old playmaker in possession of the ball just inside his own half. Payet’s ball-playing quality makes him a creative threat for the opposition, even from a deep position, such as the one he’s occupying in this image. As a result, he attracts the press of the Lyon right-back, Kenny Tete, who we can see moving out of the defensive line to close Payet down, here. 

The right-back’s movement creates a large amount of space between him and his nearest centre-back. Furthermore, as Tete presses Payet, he allows a large amount of free space to be created behind him on the left-wing. 

As we can see in this image, Sanson quickly breaks from central midfield to make a run through the large gap that has been created between Tete and Lyon’s right centre-back, Joachim Andersen, in order to try and exploit the free space that has been created behind Tete on Marseille’s left-wing. 

The central midfielder’s run creates a 2v1 advantage in favour of Marseille on the left-wing. Sanson’s movement gives Payet the option of playing a through ball to him down the left-wing, as well as creating time for Payet on the ball as the right-back now has two players to worry about and subsequently hesitates to continue pressing the dangerous playmaker Payet.  

Marseille’s creation of overloads on the left-wing, in a variety of different ways, help to create more options, time, and playmaking opportunities for Payet in his wide position. Payet’s passing and dribbling quality help him to be a dangerous creative outlet for Les Olympiens once they create these wide overloads. 

Deep playmaking quality

As we previously discussed, Payet often finds himself occupying deeper positions more frequently this season. In the previous image, we saw an example of how Payet can be dangerous from these deeper positions when pressed by the opposition right-back. However, Payet has shown himself to be capable of posing just as much danger to the opposition from these deep positions this season when not being aggressively pressed, through his long-passing quality. 

Dimitri Payet: The tactics behind his Marseille revival under André Villas-Boas - tactical analysis - tactics
Image source – Wyscout

This image shows us an example of how Payet has operated effectively as a deep-lying playmaker from a wide position this season. Just prior to this image, the 32-year-old playmaker dropped deep to collect the ball from the centre-backs. As we can see here, Payet is effectively occupying a position one would typically associate with a left-back, in possession of the ball. 

Meanwhile, Marseille’s actual left-back Jordan Amavi can be seen higher up on the left-wing here, making a run in behind the opposition’s last line of defence, after having effectively swapped positions with Payet. 

Payet is given far too much time on the ball here before an opposition player presses him, which results in the 32-year-old skilfully picking out Amavi’s run with an outside of the boot long-ball that beats the opposition right-back, who decided to remain in a deeper position here. This ball effectively sets Amavi off down the left-wing, where he can go on to drive at the opposition defence. 

Dimitri Payet: The tactics behind his Marseille revival under André Villas-Boas - tactical analysis - tactics
Image source – Wyscout

This next image provides us with another example of how Marseille’s wide overloads help Payet to find space to get onto the ball in deeper positions, where he can then find more advanced teammates with his long-ball playing ability. 

Here, we can see Payet shifting into a slightly more central and deeper position on the left side of the pitch. The playmaker can effectively shift into this position due to the overlapping run of Amavi, on this occasion. 

As Amavi advances down the left-wing, Payet drifts inside, opening up space in front of the attacking left-back, in addition to making himself a potential passing option between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines. 

Dimitri Payet: The tactics behind his Marseille revival under André Villas-Boas - tactical analysis - tactics
Image source – Wyscout

This next image shows us how Payet’s movement helps him to get into a position to create from deep as this play unfolds. The left centre-back finds Payet dropping into the midfield. The playmaker subsequently receives the ball well and manages to quickly turn towards goal, get his head up and spot the run being made by centre forward Dario Benedetto, who we can see Payet picking out with a long-ball, as he makes a run in behind Nantes’ backline. 

On this occasion, Payet’s pass is ultimately intercepted by a defender, however, this passage of play shows us another example of Payet’s effectiveness as a playmaker when operating from a deeper position. 

Effective and unpredictable dribbling

Villas-Boas has been successful at effectively making greater use of Payet’s dribbling ability this season than Garcia was last season. According to Wyscout, the Marseille playmaker has attempted a total of 133 dribbles in Ligue 1 this season, completing a total of 63 successful dribbles throughout the 2019/20 campaign so far, having played a total of 1988 minutes of Ligue 1 football. 

Meanwhile, Payet attempted a total of 59 dribbles over the entire course of the 2018/19 Ligue 1 season, successfully completing just 36 of them in 2005 minutes of Ligue 1 game time. 

These stats show us that Payet’s dribbling has been a much more important tool in Villas-Boas’ system this season than it was in Garcia’s system during the 2018/19 campaign. 

Dimitri Payet: The tactics behind his Marseille revival under André Villas-Boas - tactical analysis - tactics
Image source – Wyscout

This image above shows us an example of how Payet uses the full width of the pitch to put himself in a good position to receive the ball in advanced areas. Marseille’s opponents can be seen retaining a narrow defensive shape in this image, as they were attempting to defend a crowded central zone just prior to this image. 

Payet, who kept himself positioned out wide, is subsequently found with a pass. As the ball is played to Payet, the opposition right-back is quick to make an attempt at closing down the Marseille wide man. However, when put in a 1v1 dribbling situation and given time and space on the ball, Payet is usually reliable to beat his man and the 32-year-old successfully drives down the left-wing with the ball here. 

In addition to impressive technical dribbling ability, Payet carries somewhat of a sense of unpredictability with him when carrying the ball forwards on the left-wing. The wide playmaker cuts inside onto his right foot frequently, in addition to driving down the outside, as he does in this particular passage of play. This may make the 32-year-old a difficult and unpredictable dribbler to defend against for the opposition. 

Dimitri Payet: The tactics behind his Marseille revival under André Villas-Boas - tactical analysis - tactics
Image source – Wyscout

As this particular play unfolds, Payet drives towards the byline, before using his speed and agility to quickly cut back inside onto his right foot. Payet can often be seen making this particular quick movement to cut inside when driving down the wing. This can often be seen effectively helping the 32-year-old to breeze past defenders.

However, instead of going on to play the ball into one of the attackers who can be seen waiting inside the box, on this occasion, Payet cuts the ball back onto the outside again, further demonstrating his unpredictability on the ball. The 32-year-old playmaker goes onto put the ball into the back of the net himself from a tight angle to complete this passage of play. 

Payet can often be seen receiving the ball in wide and deep areas this season, where he often enjoys time and space to carry the ball forward and carve out opportunities for teammates, in addition to himself, as this passage of play shows. The Marseille playmaker’s role within Villas-Boas’ system has helped him to make greater use of his dribbling quality this season.


To conclude this tactical analysis piece, it may be fair to say that Payet has been used in a more effective way by Villas-Boas this season, than he was by Garcia last season. 

Payet has benefitted greatly from Marseille’s change in manager, and subsequent change in system, which has seen him go from playing more centrally and with more horizontal freedom of movement, to playing far more exclusively on the left-wing, with more vertical freedom of movement. This has seen Payet showcase his ability as a wide deep-lying playmaker to a greater extent, this season. 

In addition to that, Payet has benefitted from his wider positioning by making the most of his freedom to stretch the play within the final third. When pressed, Payet’s 1v1 dribbling ability helps him to drive at opposition defences to carve out opportunities. The improved form of the 32-year-old under Villas-Boas has been one of the key elements to Marseille’s impressive season.