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Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon – tactical analysis

In the 19th round of French Ligue 1, Olympique Lyon’s struggle continued as they had a tough time visiting Reims. The highly physical duel ended with a 1:1 draw and the away team had a lot of problems shaping to their opponents who played a very nice match but also didn’t manage to get out as winners. David Guion’s men controlled the game in the biggest part of 90 minutes and, although they weren’t always in possessional dominance over rivals, can be easily seen as the better side.

This tactical analysis will show you the tactics both managers used to try to win in this fixture but failed due to good neutralizations from their opponents and a bit of bad luck.


Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Credit: Wyscout

The hosts’ coach went into the game with 4-2-3-1 formation that was attack-oriented. His idea was to narrow the area of manoeuvre for the opposition and to play direct football through their flank-forces embodied in Moussa Doumbia and Mathieu Cafaro who played as wingers. They provided a single striker Rémi Oudin with help, whilst the midfield was held by the Xavier Chavalerin-Tristan Dingomé-Marshall Munetsi trio.

Rudi Garcia set his team in the same formation as the rival manager and relied mostly on the creation of Houssem Aouar, who was their main catalyst along with the right-winger Bertrand Traoré. Moussa Dembélé was the target-man of their side who had a lot of help coming from inverted winger Martin Terrier. The wide option for them on the left-handed side was Maxwel Cornet who occupied the left full-back position in this duel.

Reims’ out of possession play

The home team entered the pitch with the clear offensive approach which reflected in their energy and pressing game. They sat tight in the central block which had a tendency to drop low, but also from which they oftentimes went to pressurize the opposition.

Their pressing was mostly central-oriented and had centre-backs and defensive midfielders of Olympique Lyon pointed out as the main press-targets. Reims tried to cut down the progressive passing lanes for the visitors and managed to restrict the area of play for those players which led them into making errors in “touchy” zones of the field.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Reims’ central-oriented press

Guion’s men’s motions were on a very high level, they were quite disciplined in the pressing runs and have kept their structure neat while trying to win the ball. Their aggressiveness forced the away team into faults and enabled the hosts to have dangerous attacks starting from high zones.

Organised high setup from the home team had, as we said, midfielders in their focus, but the key to disrupting Lyon’s forward play was to expel Aouar out of the match. He always had more than one guard on him, as he was the main creator for his side, so Reims spotlighted him as the supreme danger for them and wanted to cut him down by outnumbering him.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Reims’ tried to outnumber Aouar in most situations and to press him with more than two players all the time

As we can see, the hosts were really cooperative in guarding the metronome of Olympique so they tried to create surplus situations over him from which he can’t escape. The same happened to all the other visitors’ midfielders, but they didn’t use as many resources to protect them as they used on Aouar.

The same scenarios repeated in the higher zones of the pitch when the young “number eight” tried to create opportunities for his team positioning in the half-spaces of the opposition’s half. Reims’ players then “caged” him and narrowed his manoeuvre-space which forced Lyon to play through other players.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Reims “caging” Aouar as he was the main creator of the away team

The youngster was always forced too far away from the assists zones and wasn’t the threat to Predrag Rajković’s goal. They’ve kept it clean protecting the inner corridors and left the opponents to have the balls on the flanks, which made Traoré the most important player in endangering the goal.

If their high-pressing game didn’t succeed, Reims dropped lower in the well-organised block in the 4-4-2 shape letting Lyon circle and relying on fast-break transitions from this setup.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
The home team’s 4-4-2 defensive block

Their transformations were on a very high level and they mostly ended their attacks with six or more footballers which are a clear indicator of how good their direct play was.

Lyon’s possessional struggle

Although Reims can be seen as the one in control of this duel, they did it by forcing opposition play the way they wanted and playing direct, forward-oriented football. Their idea was to let Olympique Lyon have the ball and then to counter them with their good transitions.

The visitors went for the bait and tried to build their attacks with short passes circling the block if they managed to beat the initial pressing of the opponents. Guion’s side allowed them to play from the wide positions while cutting down the inwards options for progressive play. Traoré was the one securing the width for Garcia’s team on the right-hand side, Cornet played in the same role on the opposite, and the inside positions were occupied by Terrier and Aouar, who asked for the balls between the lines.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Lyon’s players’ positioning in the possessional attack – Traoré and Cornet played as wide options while Terrier and Aouar were searching for the room in the central and inner corridors

In the picture, it is shown how Lyon lined up in their usual possessional setup. The two players positioned in the gaps were in majority of situations easily closed because Reims paid most attention to those areas, while the wide players were time and again free to get the ball next to the sidelines.

The main issue for Traoré and Cornet when they got passes on the flanks was the lack of support they had from their teammates. The isolations of those players happened repeatedly, but they were commonly left on their own to get out of the non-winnable situations all by themselves.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Traoré often didn’t have good support when he got balls on the flank

Side-switching of Lyon had a lot of flaws, mostly because of poor supportive runs from the midfielders. Reims transformed their block very nice from one side to the other staying neatly behind the ball and leaving the oppositions wingers in difficult situations where they needed to play against a well-organised structure so the isolation attacks were neutralized with ease.

Also, one of the biggest problems in Garcia’s tactics was the numerical inferiority in the fast-break attacks. The support once again lacked when they tried to play it more directly and that resulted in Lyon ending most of their attacks with no more than four players. That made the job of defending easier for the hosts who kept their tight structure in all phases of the game.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Olympique didn’t end their attacks with enough players and allowed their opposition to have an easy job defending

Above we can see how the visitors repeated enters in the final third with a deficient formation which limited their options to endanger the goal. Reims was outstanding in negative transition and managed to set their block fastly after they lose the ball and made it truly difficult for the opposition to break through.

Main ideas from both sides

The game can clearly be set as the “pressing duel” since both teams tended to use that type of defending as their main possession-regain weapon. We have shown earlier in the analysis what was the structure of Reims’ press, while Lyon relied on counter-pressing throughout the 90 minutes.

Unlike the hosts’ central-oriented pressing, the away team tended to focus theirs on the flanks where they had help from the sidelines. They repeated those situations in the first seconds after losing the ball and managed to get the ball back from time to time.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Lyon’s flank-oriented counter-pressing

Reims had some issues with playing against this setup at first but they found the way to play through it not long in the match on the merits of their midfielders who were positioning very good in the opening stages of the attack. Chavalerin was the key to enabling progress for his side and repeated good gap-positioning which led them towards the opposition’s half.

The home team sensed Cornet as their main chance to endanger the opponent’s goal because of his bad defensive positioning and the fact he was playing in for him an unnatural position. He coped with run-ins poorly and didn’t communicate well with his teammates so the gap between him and the centre-back was the space Guion’s men pointed out as the one for exploitation.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Reims exploited the room behind the full-backs’ backs because of their poor positioning

Cornet struggled to perform in the left-back role and often guarded player from the wrong side and with wrong body positioning. Reims tried to utilize on that fact and sent a lot of deep balls behind his back to the forwards who tried to repeat runs in those spaces. They did it with parallel balls as much as with diagonal ones, through the ground and also through the air, because the defender wasn’t very good in any segment of defending.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Reims tended to attack Cornet’s back as he struggled in defensive actions

As we can see, the hosts wanted to skip the action and to move faster with those balls that were mostly aimed at the gaps between the full-back and the centre-back. They benefited from these scenarios that often ended with good return-passes or with crosses.

Since we said that Reims depended on their high pressing, Lyon got to their best chances when they broke it and kept their cool under pressure. The pattern of their actions in those cases relied on Dembélé’s lowering and midfield support, along with the wide runs from Cornet, who was a good attacking option for his team.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Reims vs Olympique Lyon - tactical analysis tactics
Lyon tried to break the pressure with Dembélé’s lowering and fast side-switching through him and one of the midfielders

The visitors redid those actions from time to time, playing fastly through the lines and then switching the area of play. Their transitive attacks were the best part of their game and they happened through the wide players who were good in transformative runs.


Both teams can be both happy and uncontended with the final result, as they both had their chances to win all the three points. Reims have shown the maturity in their game and their tactics displayed their idea of football clearly, while Olympique Lyon struggled to play the way they wanted because of the opposition’s good organisation. The visitors obviously missed Memphis Depay, who got injured a week ago and will probably be out for the season, and they didn’t have enough creative arsenal to replace him.

They will need to embrace Rudi Garcia’s idea faster if they want to play an important role in this season’s Ligue 1, and also in Champions League, where they will face Juventus in a tough clash for them. If they continue to play this way, even though they have created some opportunities in this match, they don’t have many chances in both of the competitions.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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