It’s arguable that US Quevilly-Rouen Métropole manager Bruno Irles is one of the most promising young head-coaches in European football.
The 45-year-old spent his entire playing career at Ligue 1 side AS Monaco, currently under ex-Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovač. He played for Les Monégasques in France’s top-flight, as well as the UEFA Champions League, before he went on to also begin his coaching career at Monaco, where he served as U17 manager from 2005-2011 and 2013-2014, with a spell as their reserve team boss sandwiched in between from 2011-2013.
Since leaving Monaco, Irles’ stock has consistently risen due to the results he’s produced. When he took charge of Pau FC in January 2019, they were threatened with relegation. By the end of the 2019/20 season, he’d led them to promotion from France’s third tier, Championnat National 1, to Ligue 2 as champions, before leaving to join his current club, Quevilly-Rouen, who sit atop National 1 in his first season.
In this tactical analysis, we’ll take an in-depth look at Irles’ tactics with Les Canaris USQRM. We will highlight some of the key aspects of the manager’s coaching philosophy and style in this tactical analysis, exploring a coach who will inevitably end up managing in Ligue 1 one day if his career continues on its current trajectory.
Statistical analysis of Quevilly-Rouen in possession
Focusing solely on Irles’ tactics in possession, the 45-year-old isn’t a manager that puts much emphasis on keeping lots of possession. Quevilly-Rouen have kept the third-lowest average possession percentage (46%) of any National 1 side this term.
Additionally, Quevilly-Rouen have the lowest passing rate (11.3) and lowest pass success percentage (74.7%) of any National 1 side. However, they don’t struggle to progress the ball upfield, as they’ve taken the third-highest number of touches inside the box of any team in France’s third tier this term, and they don’t struggle to get shots off, with Irles’ men taking the most shots of any National 1 side this term.
This highlights an important aspect of Irles’ philosophy, which is that he likes his teams to play in a relatively direct fashion, getting the ball from one end of the pitch to the other while playing no more passes than necessary, which Irles’ structure helps them to achieve. We’ll take a closer look at the particular patterns of play they use to achieve this later in this tactical analysis, but that is the general idea of Irles’ playstyle.
In addition to being efficient at progressing play, Irles’ men aren’t wasteful with their shots, with 44.9% of their shots hitting the target – the third-highest of any National 1 side – and with Quevilly-Rouen generating a league-high xG of 23.23 from their goal attempts. This works out as 0.131 xG per shot, which is higher than the National 1 average of 0.12.
All of these stats explain that Irles’ side doesn’t just take lots of shots, they’re good at creating high-quality chances from their efficient, low-pass build-up play.
This efficient chance creation is why they have scored more goals than any other National 1 side at this stage of the campaign (29) and a big part of why they currently sit at the top of France’s third tier.
One final important statistic relating to Irles’ side in possession that we will analyse, is the success percentage of their progressive passes.
As we’ve mentioned, Quevilly-Rouen have got the lowest overall pass success percentage in National 1 for the 2020/21 campaign, but this is largely down to the fact that a large portion of their passes are progressive passes, which are naturally going to have a lower success rate than lateral or backward passes.
In line with the tactics that see them move from one end of the pitch to the other efficiently, Irles likes his Quevilly-Rouen side to play progressively, with more line-breaking passing than the average side.
This does see Quevilly-Rouen end up with a low overall pass success percentage but they’re very good at playing accurate progressive passes to break lines quickly and efficiently.
As a result, in contrast to their overall pass success percentage, they’ve got the fifth-highest progressive pass success percentage in France’s third tier.
This highlights the efficiency of Irles’ team. Every action has a clear purpose.
Quevilly-Rouen in possession under Irles
Next, we’ll provide some analysis of some structures and specific ideas that Irles’ side uses in possession, starting with their build-up play. Firstly, Quevilly-Rouen have usually lined up in a base 4-4-2 shape this term.
This next image shows an example of how Irles’ Quevilly-Rouen side typically shapes up during the build-up. Both centre-backs push out quite wide, leaving the goalkeeper occupying the centre, while both full-backs advance, essentially forming a four-man line with the two central midfielders. At the same time, the wingers push high, forming another four-man line with the two centre-forwards.
This creates a 2-4-4 shape which allows Quevilly-Rouen’s front four to shape up 1v1 against an opposition back four and typically allows the wide men to then utilise their dribbling quality when breaking past the final line of defence. This is a big reason why Quevilly-Rouen have attempted the fourth-highest number of dribbles of any National 1 side this term and maintained the fourth-highest dribble success percentage of any National 1 team.
This shape places great emphasis on getting numbers out wide, so perhaps it’s not a major surprise that much of Quevilly-Rouen’s build-up play comes via the wide areas.
Knowing that Quevilly-Rouen will typically look to build their attacks via short passes from the back, in a typical passage of build-up play, the ‘keeper, usually Nicolas Lemaître, will pass to one of the two centre-backs – usually a pairing of Mickaël Nadé on the left and Romain Padovani on the right.
One of the centre-backs will usually then play the ball out to the full-back. On some occasions, if the full-back is being marked tight or if there is more space higher up the pitch, the centre-back will play the ball straight to the winger, but more often than not, the play does go through the advanced full-backs, who will typically carry the ball forward if possible or, if not, then play the ball to the advanced winger or straight through to the striker if they have found space.
Splitting the pitch vertically, we see that Quevilly-Rouen’s centre-back, central midfielder, full-back, winger and striker form a pentagon shape, which becomes a diamond when you exclude the centre-back after the ball progresses beyond that initial part of the build-up, this creates lots of passing angles and helps them to progress the play via the wide areas.
In this system, the strikers – Andrew Jung and Ottman Dadoune – usually make runs in the channels just between the wings and the centre. Their movement is crucial to this system and helps their team to create a lot of goalscoring opportunities.
We see an example of Quevilly-Rouen’s left striker making this movement in the next image. Just before this image, the ball was passed to the winger from the full-back. As the winger dropped to receive the ball in space and then turned towards goal, he dragged the opposition full-back towards him. This frees up the near-side striker to get onto the end of a through ball as he makes this run into that channel between the centre and the wing.
We can see that this pass is all it takes for the 4v4 situation formed by Quevilly-Rouen’s shape to become a numerically advantageous situation for Irles’ team. With three attackers running into the centre of the pitch, they create a 3v2 situation versus the opposition’s centre-backs, highlighting one of the main ways this direct attacking system has proven so effective.
With a lot of the build-up coming via the wings, Quevilly-Rouen’s central midfielders don’t play an integral role in the build-up. Their main purpose in the build-up is providing either the advanced full-back or the winger with an outlet if their options are limited by opposition pressure.
We can see an example of this in the next image, where right-winger Yassine Bahassa is surrounded by opposition players, unable to progress the play on his own. As a result, the central midfielder’s movement to create a viable passing angle is crucial.
This highlights the effectiveness of Quevilly-Rouen’s offensive wide diamond in creating constant passing options, as well as, once again, the importance of off-the-ball movement in Quevilly-Rouen’s chance creation, as we previously noted when looking at the centre-forwards’ movement.
In general, however, the central midfielders don’t play a major role in possession and any passes they do play will generally be quite simple, with those two players – typically Gustavo Sangaré and Lucas Toussaint – playing a much more significant role out of possession.
Quevilly-Rouen play a low number of crosses, with their wingers usually cutting inside from positions like the one we can see Bahassa occupying in the next image, rather than staying on the outside in order to forge a crossing angle.
As a result, they don’t attempt a lot of headers, with Irles preferring his side to take shots on the ground from central positions.
One notable area of weakness within Irles’ tactics in possession is that his back-three – the goalkeeper and two centre-backs – has struggled when playing against an aggressive high press.
This next image shows us an example of one such situation. This could be a result of the relatively large amount of space between the ‘keeper and the centre-backs or the ball-playing quality of these players, but misplaced passes or poorly-weighted passes from the goalkeeper or the centre-backs are not uncommon to see when Irles’ side are at the very beginning of their build-up play, so this can be exploited.
Quevilly-Rouen out of possession under Irles
Quevilly-Rouen have got the sixth-highest PPDA of any National 1 side this term – 11.14 – which is also higher than the league average. This tells us that Irles’ side presses with relatively low intensity.
They tend to defend very passively until the ball enters their half of the pitch, applying very low pressure to players in the opposition half, even if they are close to them.
On losing the ball after one of their direct attacking expeditions, they generally look to drop back into their 4-4-2 block, as opposed to deploying a counter-press, which emphasises that the majority of their team doesn’t focus on trying to dispossess the opposition and instead, focuses more on preventing the opposition from playing through them by forming a compact structure.
As the next image shows, within their 4-4-2 shape, Quevilly-Rouen’s strikers block off passing lanes into the midfield from the centre-backs, while their wingers look to apply a moderate amount of pressure to the near-side full-back if they get the ball, or remain horizontally compact with the near-side central midfielder if the ball is on the opposite wing. The near-side winger won’t sprint, though, instead, they essentially become a barrier to the full-back to prevent them from progressing the ball down the wing, via dribbling or passing.
Upon the ball entering Quevilly-Rouen’s half, they will only really press aggressively on a heavy touch or a misplaced pass – essentially, a clear opportunity to win the ball back. For the most part, they still place far more emphasis on retaining their compact shape and remaining difficult to play through.
Despite their passive defending, Quevilly-Rouen have engaged in the most defensive duels of any National 1 side this term and that is largely because of the role their central midfielders play within this system.
Their usual central midfield pairing of Sangaré (13.13) and Toussaint (12.28) are placed in first and second in National 1 in terms of defensive duel-engagements this season. While Quevilly-Rouen’s central midfield duo doesn’t have a significant role in their team’s on-the-ball tactics, their role out of possession is crucial.
Unlike the rest of Irles’ team, who generally don’t press very aggressively at least in the opposition half, if at all, Irles’ central midfielders defend aggressively.
In the previous image, as the opposition midfielder moved across the pitch towards the full-back on the ball, he attracted pressure from the ball-near central midfielder as he entered into his zone. This demonstrates another important aspect of Irles’ tactics with Quevilly-Rouen – their central midfielders tend to get quite tight to an opposition player and press them more aggressively as they enter into their particular zone.
This next image shows an example of Quevilly-Rouen’s central midfielder following an opposition central midfielder as they drop deeper to receive a vertical pass attempting to break through the first line of defence.
This player dropped from the deeper zone being protected by the Quevilly-Rouen right centre-mid and to guard against this player receiving the ball and helping his side to play through the centre of the pitch, Irles has his man stay tight to him and follow him as he drops, forcing him to play the ball back in front of the first line of Quevilly-Rouen’s defence, so that he avoids being dispossessed by the aggressive midfielder.
The central midfielders also play a unique and important role in the transition to defence, as unlike the rest of the team, they press more aggressively in transition when an opportunity to win the ball is present.
We can see an example of this in the next image. Just before this image, Quevilly-Rouen attempted to play a through ball from the wing to the striker running in behind the last line but an opposition player managed to intercept the pass.
This triggers the central midfielder’s press and he gets onto the end of that loose ball, which allows Quevilly-Rouen to keep attacking and protects the centre of the pitch by preventing the opposition from hitting Quevilly-Rouen on a potentially dangerous counter-attack.
There are a couple of notable potential weaknesses within Quevilly-Rouen’s defensive tactics. Firstly, the ball can enter the centre of the pitch if the opposition plays around the striker and into the central midfielder quickly, before they drop into a very compact shape, as was the case in this next image.
This highlights that the protection of the centre of the pitch relies heavily on the team’s organisation, as well as the concentration, work-rate and speed of the central midfielders.
Additionally, due to how Irles has his central midfielder press aggressively and stick quite close to opposition midfielders when they do enter their zone, it’s possible for a team to overload the centre of the pitch to get past Quevilly-Rouen’s block by manipulating the central midfielders’ positioning through movement.
Another notable weakness teams can exploit in Quevilly-Rouen’s defensive tactics is the big gap that opens up between the backline and the midfield line in transition to defence. This gap can be seen in the next image.
This gap can be exploited by central overloads which make it very hard for the central midfielders to compensate for, with players either advancing into this space from deep or dropping into this space from a more advanced position. Creative players can cause Irles’ side great problems by exploiting this weakness.
To conclude this tactical analysis, if you were to describe Irles’ philosophy in just one word, ‘efficiency’ may be the most fitting one to use. It seems every aspect of Quevilly-Rouen’s game sees them get maximum results from the physical effort or the technical action that they put in.
Out of possession, Irles has his men drop into their compact 4-4-2 block to defend in a disciplined and organised way, with the midfield duo particularly carrying a lot of the weight for the team in terms of winning the ball back, via their aggressive role.
On the ball, Irles has an effective, organised way of playing to get the ball from one end of the pitch to the other efficiently, in relatively few passes, with all 11 players playing a clear, defined role within the system.