Maxime Bernauer is playing with Le Mans in France’s third tier – Championnat National – for the 2020/21 campaign. The central midfielder joined Les Sang et Or on a permanent deal earlier this summer from Ligue 1 side Rennes, who finished in France’s UEFA Champions League qualification places alongside PSG and Olympique de Marseille last season. Bernauer left having never made a senior appearance for Les Rouge et Noir’s first-team.
The 185cm (6’1”) tall 22-year-old had the opportunity to show what he can offer at Championnat National level during the 2019/20 season after spending that term on loan at US Concarneau, for whom he made 25 league appearances.
Evidently, the former Rennes man’s performances for Concarneau convinced those at Le Mans, who were relegated from France’s second-tier last term, that he could play a role in potentially helping them to challenge for promotion back to Ligue 2 this term.
In this tactical analysis piece, we will provide a scout report of Bernauer’s strengths and weaknesses based on his performances for Concarneau during the 2019/20 campaign. We will examine what kind of midfielder Le Mans have got in their ranks for the 2020/21 season, based on his performances in Championnat National last season and we will assess what kind of tactics would best suit a player of Bernauer’s mould.
To kick off this tactical analysis piece, we will look at the position that Bernauer played within Concarneau’s system during the 2019/20 campaign. Last season, in all competitions, Concarneau utilised the 4-4-2 formation in 23% of their games, making it their most commonly-used shape. Additionally, the somewhat similar 4-4-1-1 shape was their second most commonly-used shape last season, as they lined up in that formation for 17% of their games in all competitions.
Bernauer is a central midfielder and as such, he typically occupied one of the two central midfield roles within this system.
More often than not, right-footed Bernauer occupied the right central midfield position for Concarneau, as we can see from this heatmap above, which provides us with an indication of the kind of positions that Bernauer typically occupied throughout last season, in Championnat National.
We can see that the player spent a fair bit of time all across the centre of midfield in the deeper position, while in the more advanced areas of the pitch, he rarely ventured into the more central zones, typically holding his position in wider areas of the pitch.
Bernauer would shift from his position on either side of central midfield into the more central part of the pitch when operating from deep both in and out of possession.
Out of possession, as we will discuss in greater detail later on in this scout report, Bernauer enjoyed a lot of freedom to press and defend aggressively, effectively hunting down the ball, from his midfield position and this resulted in him picking up a variety of different positions during a given match, including the central position that one might typically associate with a holding midfielder and the wide positions close to the sideline that one might typically associate with a winger.
The former Concarneau loanee engaged in 9.78 defensive duels per 90 in the league during the 2019/20 season and this was the 14th-highest number of defensive duels per 90 that any player in Championnat National engaged in during the 2019/20 campaign, indicating how active he was in challenging the opposition out of possession last term.
Meanwhile, in possession, some of the primary strengths to Bernauer’s game, as we will also analyse at greater length later on in this tactical analysis piece, are his ability to play progressive passes and his long-ball playing ability.
He played 10.03 passes to the final third per 90 in France’s third tier last term, which was the sixth-highest number of passes to the final third per 90 that any player in Championnat National played during the 2019/20 season, while he also played 7.22 long passes per 90 and 9.78 progressive passes per 90 – ranking him impressively amongst Championnat National’s U23 players in those statistics.
With progressive passing and long-ball playing ability being key aspects to the Frenchman’s game, it comes as no surprise that he often drifted into a deep, central position during the build-up, collecting the ball from either the goalkeeper or his team’s defenders, as we can see an example of in the image above.
Here, Bernauer collected the ball directly from his goalkeeper and was afforded plenty of time and space to turn and subsequently scan the pitch to pick out a long-ball, as the opposition’s defensive tactics didn’t result in the 22-year-old midfielder being pressed very aggressively during this particular stage of play. This is the kind of situation in which Bernauer likes to find himself in possession of the ball.
So, as we can see Bernauer’s positioning varied to a large extent based on whether his team were in or out of possession. The central midfielder would typically roam about and charge down the opposition, covering a large amount of ground in the process, during the defensive phase, whilst he was generally less active when his team were in possession and preferred to operate from a deeper position, facing the opposition goal, with plenty of runners positioned ahead of him to potentially pick out with a long-ball.
In this section, we will take a closer look at the aggressive nature of Bernauer’s defending, how he uses his pace and power out of possession to help his side to force turnovers and we will provide analysis of some in-game examples of Bernauer’s aggressive defending.
Bernauer’s quickness is a key element to his game when his side are without possession. It doesn’t take him a lot of time to get tight to an opposition player. This is particularly useful in helping him to close down an opposition player as they prepare to receive possession of the ball, as we can see in this image above.
Prior to this image, Bernauer was positioned deeper on the pitch, however, as the opposition left centre-back plays this pass into the left central midfielder, Bernauer quickly makes up plenty of ground and applies pressure to the ball receiver, who doesn’t adequately prepare himself to deal with Bernauer’s press.
Then, just one second later in this passage of play, the receiver attempts to turn and face Concarneau’s goal as the ball reaches him, but Bernauer is already right behind him, ready to prevent the player from taking the ball out of his own half.
This passage of play shows us how much of an advantage Bernauer’s pace and aggressiveness can give his team without possession of the ball. The midfielder can occupy a deeper position, as he did on this occasion, and still make up the ground to an opposition ball receiver positioned higher up the pitch, allowing him to provide cover over a greater surface of the pitch in a situation like this thanks to his pace, as well as his anticipation and ability to know when the right time is to press the opposition player. This may give us an indication of why he engaged in so many defensive duels, last term.
However, his aggressiveness is not entirely positive, as it can result in him giving away unnecessary fouls. On this occasion, a foul was given against the midfielder, after he entered into this challenge at great speed, which potentially prevented him from timing the tackle better.
On many occasions, Bernauer is still successful as he engages the opposition in these types of aggressive challenges and he won 54.8% of the high number of defensive duels that he engaged in per 90 last season, indicating that more often than not, the pace and level of aggression at which he entered into challenges didn’t prevent him from using correct technique and timing the challenges well in order to avoid giving away a foul or, perhaps worse still, simply being beaten by a crafty opposition dribbler.
So, while there may be some room for improvement in terms of Bernauer’s ability to time his challenges better, more often than not the aggressive defender does a good job at winning the ball back, while still moving at pace and challenging for the ball aggressively.
During the opposition’s build-up, Bernauer advanced his position out of the midfield at times last season to press higher up the pitch. We can see an example of this in the image above. During this passage of play, the opposition had a 3v2 advantage at the back versus Concarneau’s two centre forwards and this made it more difficult for Bernauer’s side to win the ball back from them high up the pitch.
As a result, Bernauer waited for the opposition to play the ball to the closest one of those three players to him and utilised his pace to press higher up the pitch, joining the two centre forwards.
The 22-year-old was not quick enough to intercept the pass or to challenge for the ball as it arrived for the opponent on this occasion, however, his press was successful at preventing the opposition from building out from the back as this ball receiver was forced to quickly play the ball backwards in order to avoid being caught in possession by the midfielder.
This particular passage of play shows us another aspect of Bernauer’s game out of possession, which is his willingness to press high up the pitch, at times joining his team’s most advanced players, in order to press the opposition and prevent the ball from being played forward.
Just after this player played the ball back to the defence, Bernauer halted his press and retreated to his previous midfield position, showing that while he was happy to press high, on occasion, again, he did retain some level of discipline and didn’t simply press for pressing’s sake – avoiding leaving his team vulnerable in other positions.
In possession of the ball, as we touched on previously in this tactical analysis piece, Bernauer’s ability to play progressive passes and the threat that he poses from deep via his long-ball-playing ability, were his main attributes and these traits combined to help him be an asset for his side when playing against a deep, compact defence, due to his ability to quickly switch the play, and also when playing against a higher line, due to his capability to launch long-balls over a high line and get runners in behind the opposition’s defensive line.
Firstly, however, prior to even playing a pass, Bernauer’s quality at receiving possession is as, if not more important than his passing ability.
Both his mental ability and technical ability to deal with being put under pressure by an opposition player when receiving the ball are important. If he were incapable of coping under pressure, then he would be quite easy for the opposition to defend against, as opposed to if he were press-resistant.
When receiving possession of the ball, Bernauer showed himself to be capable of retaining his composure during the 2019/20 season. We can see an example of the midfielder receiving the ball quite high up the pitch while playing against a team defending in quite a deep, compact block in the image above.
Here, we can see that the opposition are defending in a 4-1-4-1 shape, however, one central midfielder has pushed out of his position to press Bernauer as he receives the ball.
While this player does well to make it difficult for Bernauer to simply shift the ball onto his stronger right foot and play a progressive pass via his positioning and the aggressiveness of his press, the Rennes academy product exhibits some commendable composure on the ball as he shows off his ability to beat a man via some sharp movement and impressive technique.
The 22-year-old quickly turns as he receives the ball and beats the opposition midfielder who ends up running past Bernauer. As the ball carrier moves forward, we can see that he now has a couple of potential passing options open on the right-wing, which are now possible thanks to his ability to remain calm under pressure and use some impressive technique to beat an opposition defender.
In possession, Bernauer often found himself in this right central midfield position that we can see him occupying in the image above. As a result of the midfielder’s long-ball-playing quality, Concarneau often tried to set up this diagonal cross-field ball which we can see Bernauer lining up, aiming for the left-winger, in this particular passage of play.
This was a dangerous ball that Bernauer was capable of playing to set his teammates off on a run in behind the opposition’s defensive line, however, one scenario in which Bernauer, at times, didn’t fare well when in possession of the ball, was when playing this type of long-ball when on the move.
While the 22-year-old was good at dealing with pressure, he often attempted to play long-balls like this on the move and that often resulted in him either putting too much power on the pass or misdirecting the pass, which led to the Concarneau attack fizzling out. However, his ability to pick out these passes was still evident and he has shown himself to be capable of hurting the opposition via cross-field balls like this.
While he struggled, at times with the accuracy of his long-balls when playing them on the move, Bernauer’s long-ball-playing ability was best utilised when he was more stationary, which was the case for the ball that he plays in this image above.
His accuracy appeared to be better from these types of situations and the 22-year-old appeared to be more comfortable with playing his passes from this type of scenario as opposed to when forced to play a pass on the move.
We can see Bernauer occupying the deep, central position that we’ve already established that he often liked to pick up, in this image and we can also see that he is under plenty of pressure from an opposition player here.
However, he wasn’t moving at pace here, unlike in the previous passage of play that we analysed and he was also calm under pressure, once again, and gave himself enough time to get his head up and scan the pitch ahead of him to pick out an offensive teammate running in behind, the result of which we can see in the above image.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece, we feel that Bernauer’s pace, his anticipation and his technical tackling ability are a high standard for Championnat National level and if his team’s tactics allow him to use these attributes to press the opposition aggressively, then he can be a very useful player off the ball.
On the ball, Bernauer’s long-ball playing quality is key to his game and his calmness and vision are traits that help him to perform well as a deep-lying playmaker.
If given played in a deep-lying playmaking role, from which he doesn’t have to carry the ball forward and instead can just focus on picking out offensive players via his long-balls, then Bernauer has shown that he can be a threat on the ball versus various types of opposition defensive set-ups.