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Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon – tactical analysis

Second-placed Lille took on Lyon in this past Sunday’s late kick-off in Ligue 1. The two teams shared the spoils at the end of the contest, as it ended in a 1-1 draw, which means that Lille remain the only side in France’s top-flight who are yet to taste defeat in the league, at this stage of the season. Meanwhile, Sunday’s game leaves Lyon sitting in sixth place on the Ligue 1 table, four points off of third-placed Rennes, who currently sit in a UEFA Champions League qualification place.

In Sunday’s game, these two teams played similarly in some ways and differed significantly in others. In this tactical analysis piece, we will provide a comprehensive analysis of the tactics that both of these sides used in attack, in defence and in transition on Sunday and we will explain how both teams attempted to outwit the other side tactically.

Lineups and formations

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

As the image above illustrates, Lille lined up in their usual 4-4-2 shape for Sunday’s game. Mike Maignan started in goal for the home side, and he played just behind a back-four consisting of left-back Reinildo Mandava, right-back Mehmet Zeki Çelik and the centre-back pairing of José Fonte and Sven Botman.

Jonathan Bamba started for Les Dogues at left midfield, and Luiz Araújo started at right midfield, while Renato Sanches and Benjamin André were Lille’s central midfield pairing in this one. Meanwhile, Jonathan Ikoné played upfront with Burak Yılmaz for Christophe Galtier’s side.

As for Lyon, while the image above suggests that they lined up in a 4-3-3 shape for Sunday’s trip to Stade Pierre Mauroy, their shape was often more of a 4-4-2 when defending deep and a 4-2-3-1 while pressing high – as we will elaborate on as this tactical analysis piece progresses.

On the ball, Lyon did sometimes shape up in a 4-3-3, though their shape altered depending on which exact stage of the attack they were in. Early in the build-up, for example, Lyon sometimes shifted into a 3-4-3 shape.

Anthony Lopes started in goal for Rudi Garcia’s side while right-back Léo Dubois, left-back Maxwel Cornet, along with centre-back duo Sinaly Diomandé and Marcelo – who was sent off in the 50th minute of the game – made up Lyon’s defensive line.

Thiago Mendes played just in front of those four in a holding midfield position, and he sometimes dropped into the backline, splitting the centre-backs to help his side to create the aforementioned 3-4-3 shape in possession. Lucas Paquetá played as a slightly more advanced midfielder to Mendes’ right, while Houssem Aouar played as an attacking midfielder to Mendes’ left and he enjoyed a lot of freedom to get forward in this game, frequently positioning himself in the left half-space or out wide on the left-wing.

Karl Toko Ekambi started on Les Gones’ left-wing and Tino Kadewere started for Lyon on the right-wing. Both men are capable of playing as centre forwards and tended to drift into central positions in attack, but both also dropped quite deep off the ball, essentially moving into left and right midfield positions, respectively, as their side shifted into a 4-4-2 defensive shape. Meanwhile, Aouar remained high, forming the ‘2’ of this defensive 4-4-2 alongside central attacker Memphis Depay.

Lille off the ball

Now, we’re going to provide some analysis of Lille’s tactics without the ball in Sunday’s clash with Lyon. From the outset of this game, Lille didn’t try to force turnovers very aggressively and instead opted for a more passive approach off the ball.

They had a PPDA (Opponent passes per defensive action in opponent’s final 60% of the pitch) of 34.3 in the first half, which was significantly higher than their opponent’s PPDA of 10.3 in the first half, which essentially tells us that the home side pressed with far less intensity than the away side in the first 45 minutes.

This saw Lille make just 0.14 recoveries per minute in the first half of this game and this passive defensive strategy, combined with Lyon’s rather patient tactics in the build-up saw the away side keep the lion’s share of the possession in the early stages of this game, as Lille ended the first half with just 40% of the ball possession.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

The image above shows us an example of how Lille shaped up without the ball in Sunday’s clash with Lyon. We can see their 4-4-2 shape in action in the image above, and we can see that they aren’t pressing Lyon extremely aggressively during their build-up here.

Instead of pressing the Lyon centre-backs aggressively, Lille’s two forwards sat off and blocked off potential passing options for these central defenders into central midfield. As the image above shows us, one striker remained close to holding midfielder Mendes while the other striker allowed a bit more distance to exist between himself and the holding midfielder, though he kept him in his cover shadow while blocking the passing lane from the near centre-back to Mendes.

These strikers combined with the four midfielders just behind them to form something of a hexagon around the central midfield area and this shape was relatively effective at preventing Lyon from easily building through central midfield. At times in the first half, this forced them to go long, which was, more often than not, ineffective, though they did have pacey attackers on the pitch.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

On other occasions, as this next image shows us, this defensive shape was effective at helping Lille to win the ball back fairly high up the pitch despite them not pressing very aggressively. This allowed them to retain their compact defensive shape, blocking off passes into the midfield while still posing a ball-winning threat by effectively luring Lyon into playing dangerous passes too close to Lille players.

The image above shows us one such example of Lille winning the ball back just around the halfway line after Lyon had attempted to play the ball around Lille’s defensive shape and into the midfield despite the home side’s secure defensive set-up.

Left centre-back Diomandé played the ball out to left-back Cornet, and as the left-back received the ball, he attracted pressure from Lille’s right midfielder, while the rest of Lille’s shape moved over along with him. They didn’t really begin to press aggressively as a team here but this pass out wide did result in the right midfielder – Araújo – pressing rather more aggressively, though he did still manage to keep Aouar in his cover shadow.

Araújo’s pressure forced the left-back to play a quick pass, while the right midfielder’s positioning, which kept Aouar in his cover shadow, also made it difficult for the left-back to find him comfortably which meant that this rushed pass was also directed slightly in front of Aouar, but the result of this was that the pass was intercepted by Lille right-back Çelik who began to press aggressively as Araújo did and then managed to pounce on this misdirected pass to set his side off on a counter-attack.

So, this passage of play provides us with an example of how Lille were able to effectively win the ball back relatively high up the pitch despite not pressing very aggressively, though, again, they didn’t force many turnovers in the first half.

This changed after Lyon centre-back Marcelo was sent off in the 50th minute of the contest, however. This early-second half sending off resulted in a sharp rise in Lille’s PPDA from 34.3 in the first half to 4.6 between the 46th-60th minute and their PPDA continued to rise as the game went on, reaching its peak of just 1.6 for the period between the 76th-90th minute.

This also saw Lille make more than twice as many recoveries (0.45 per minute) in the second half and this, combined with a change in Lyon’s tactics on the ball in the second half following Marcelo’s red card, also saw Lille keep 77% of the possession in the second 45 minutes.

Their press slightly altered too, as they switched to a 4-2-3-1 shape with the introduction of Yusuf Yazıcı for Ikoné in the 67th minute, This saw them press the backline more aggressively, though Lyon also played more long-balls and tried to dribble out from the back more following Marcelo’s sending off, which was largely ineffective versus Lille’s more aggressive pressing later on in the game.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Lastly, this image above shows us an example of how Lille shaped up off the ball when defending deep inside their own half, on occasions when Lyon did manage to build into the final third.

We can see Les Dogues in their 4-4-1-1 shape here in the image above. As Lyon built into the final third, Lille’s two lines of four became very compact just on the edge of the area, while Ikoné dropped deep too, posing a threat to potential back passes from Lyon’s more advanced players. We can see him readying himself to pounce on a potential pass from Aouar into Mendes here.

Yılmaz remained up top, presenting an outlet for long-balls for his side, should they win the ball back deep. When in this shape, Lille’s players pressed much more aggressively when Lyon players were in possession of the ball in or near to their zone, and they were largely effective at preventing the away side from playing through them via this compact shape and this type of pressure.

As this particular passage of play moves on, with Ikoné preventing the pass back to Mendes, André and Araújo double up on Aouar and succeed in dispossessing him and starting a Lille counter-attack, which indicates the effectiveness of these deep defensive tactics.

Lyon off the ball

In contrast to Lille, Lyon pressed quite aggressively from the early stages of this game. As previously mentioned, they had a PPDA of 10.3 in the first half, and they also made 23 recoveries per minute in the first 45 minutes of this game.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Lyon’s shape off the ball altered quite a bit during Sunday’s contest due to their use of a fairly rigid man-marking system but the image above shows us an example of how their shape off the ball looked more often than not while pressing high up the pitch versus Lille.

We can see Mendes and Kadewere positioned just in front of the back four here, with Toko Ekambi just slightly more advanced on the left-wing, while both Paquetá and Aouar are pressing high up the pitch alongside Depay. Lyon’s two advanced central midfielders were dragged out of position by Lille’s central midfielders, and that is what creates this shape high up the pitch during Lille’s build-up.

This man-marking system while pressing high proved fairly effective during the early stages of this game for Lyon as their tight marking and lively pressing made it quite difficult for Lille to build attacks at times and that likely played a significant role in Lyon dominating possession in the first half of this contest.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

In the previous section, we provided a tactical analysis of how Lyon pressed Lille high up the pitch, and this next section of analysis will examine how Lyon set up when defending deeper inside their own half.

When Lille built their attack into Lyon’s half of the pitch, Les Gones’ defensive tactics changed to a zonal system that more closely resembled the one used by Lille in similar situations. Lyon’s defensive line rested slightly higher than Lille’s when defending inside their own half but both teams set up in a compact 4-4-2 block in these types of situations.

As previously touched upon, Aouar joined Depay at the front of this shape, while Ekambi and Kadewere occupied the wide midfield positions just outside of Mendes and Paquetá.

Following Marcelo’s red card in the 50th minute of the game, Lyon switched to a 4-4-1 shape and they essentially lined up like this more frequently but engaged the opposition deeper and played with one centre forward instead of two. That shape gave up a lot of space high up the pitch which allowed Lille to build past the first line with relative ease but the home side struggled to break down Lyon’s two banks of four and that well-organised defensive set-up played a key role in helping Les Gones to take a point from this one.

Lille on the ball

Next up, we’ll provide some analysis of the home side’s tactics in possession of the ball in this game. Firstly, in the previous section, we saw that Lyon utilised man-marking when pressing the opposition high up the pitch during the build-up and Lille managed to take advantage of this by effectively manipulating Lyon’s defensive shape as the game went on.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

The image above shows us an example of this manipulation of Lyon’s shape in action. Here, we can see Lille building out from the back versus Lyon’s defensive shape, similar to how we saw it in the previous section.

As we touched on, both of Lille’s central midfielders, Sanches and André, dropped deep into the defensive line, attracting Lyon’s midfielder with them. The purpose of Lille’s midfielders dropping so deep was so that they could create space for their teammates higher up the pitch in the centre of the park which could then be exploited via a line-breaking ball.

They deployed this tactic of attracting Lyon players high up the pitch on numerous occasions throughout Sunday’s game and in the image above, we can see an example of how effective it could be, as Bamba drifted into the centre from the left-wing and got onto the end of substitute right centre-back Adama Soumaoro’s line-breaking ball. As these two combined to progress the ball up the pitch, Bamba could then enjoy plenty of space in midfield from where he could then carry the ball forward.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Another notable tactic that Lille used on multiple occasions during this game was left-back Reinildo’s underlapping runs, one of which can be seen in the image above. When Lyon were defending deep, they set up in their compact 4-4-2 block and Lille could find space while playing against this compact block by quickly switching the play from one wing to the other.

The left-back often found himself in space as a result of this and when found in space by one of his teammates he would progress the ball via a forward pass and attempt to help his side to break into the final third via this underlapping run, which went untracked on a few occasions.

In this particular example above, Bamba was unable to turn after receiving the ball on the left-wing and as a result, he was unable to take advantage of this underlapping run; however, this movement from the left-back was a common sight in Sunday’s game. Reinildo liked to be played through on the last line of defence rather than carrying the ball upfield himself and this was his main way of trying to do that in Sunday’s clash with Lyon.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Renato Sanches played a key role for Lille during the build-up in Sunday’s game. The Portuguese midfielder played more passes (103) than any other player for Les Dogues in this game, with a 92% pass accuracy, while he also played the highest number of long passes (13) and the second-highest number of progressive passes (13) of any Lille player in this fixture.

Sanches’ progressive passing ability was important for helping Lille to build from the back and break opposition lines in this game and this aspect of his game, along with his ability to carry the ball out from the back, was also important for the home side in the transition to attack versus Lyon. We can see one example of the former Bayern Munich man carrying the ball out from the back just after his side won it back in a deep area of the pitch in the image above.

They immediately played the ball to Sanches, who had found some space and who then carries the ball upfield, coping well under opposition pressure while doing so. The 2016 Golden Boy award winner attracts attention from multiple opposition players while carrying the ball upfield which then creates space for some of his teammates and he can then utilise his progressive passing ability to play a through ball to them further up the pitch, then setting his team off on the counter, so this shows us how valuable of an asset Sanches is, in the sense that via his dribbling and passing quality he can quickly help his side to turn defence into attack.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Yılmaz also played an important role for Lille in the build-up in Sunday’s game, as he dropped deep from his centre forward position on multiple occasions into a deeper position in order to offer his deeper-positioned teammates a passing option in the midfield when his deeper teammates had created space in this part of the pitch.

We can see an example of Yılmaz dropping deep to get involved in the build-up in the image above and we can see that as the Turkish striker dropped into the midfield, he dragged a Lyon centre-back with him, which creates a gap in the defensive line, which is potentially dangerous if exploited, however, Lille never managed to exploit this space during Sunday’s game.

They did, however, manage to exploit this aggressive central defensive play, as a progressive pass like this into Bamba between the lines – who then dragged out Marcelo from the Lyon defence – is what resulted in the Lyon centre-back receiving a red card in this fixture. So, while Lyon managed to guard against this aggressive defending being exploited in one way, Lille were able to exploit another weakness of their defensive tactics.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Lastly, Yılmaz also played an important role for Lille via his holdup play in the final third. The Turkish forward’s strength and quality on the ball made him an ideal target man when Les Dogues opted for the long-ball when their backline was being put under pressure by Lyon’s high press or when he, at times, shifted from the centre forward position to a wide position to contest a long-ball via a goal-kick with a full-back, as opposed to a bigger centre-back.

Additionally, his strength and quality on the ball made him very effective with his back to goal just inside of the penalty area and this is how he managed to set up Lille’s only goal of the game, as his holdup play drew pressure from opposition players which then created space for Bamba just outside of the penalty area who managed to score from the edge of the box.

This wasn’t the only chance that Yılmaz set up in this fashion during Sunday’s game but it was the only one that was successful.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Lyon allowed Lille plenty of space just outside of the penalty box from where they could attempt long-shots. The home side tested Lopes with a few of these shots and even scored from one, however, as the image above shows us, despite having 16 shots in this game, their total xG in this fixture was just 0.76 – less than a goal.

So, while Lyon did allow them plenty of space to take on long-shots just outside of the box and while they did actually manage to score one, Lille were limited to very low-quality chances in Sunday’s game and as a result, you could criticise them for not building into shooting areas inside of the penalty box more often in order to be able to take advantage of better quality chances.

As a result of their failure to create those high-quality chances, Lille were unable to take advantage of their man advantage and their overall possession dominance versus Lyon.

Lyon on the ball

As for Lyon on the ball, firstly, as previously mentioned, similarly to Sanches on the opposite team, Mendes played an important role for Lyon during the build-up in this game, as a lot of Les Gones’ play went through him and when the away side were unable to build-up their attacks through him as a result of the midfield being blocked off by the opposition’s defensive shape, he dropped deep into the defensive line, creating a back three in a deeper area of the pitch than Lille were prepared to press, which allowed Lyon to get Mendes on the ball.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

We can see an example of one such occasion when the Brazilian midfielder got on the ball in the middle of his side’s two centre-backs during Sunday’s fixture. Lyon built-up with something of a 3-4-3 shape on occasions like this when the midfielder occupied this deeper position.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Another way in which Lyon managed to build past Lille’s press during this game is by quickly switching the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, all the way out to the full-back on that side, who could then play the ball into the midfielder, in this case being shown in the image above, Mendes.

However, Mendes still struggled even when he was found in positions like this in Sunday’s clash with Lille. He was quite hesitant to play the ball forward at times and played it safe a number of times – even when Lyon still had 11 men. The image above was one such occasion. As the midfielder received the ball from the right-back here, he quickly played it back to the centre-back it had originally come from, despite receiving the ball facing the opposition goal, as he was being put under pressure from some central opposition players and seemingly opted for the safer approach.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Kadewere played a similar role to Yılmaz of the opposition side in the sense that he assumed the role of target man – particularly after Marcelo’s sending off, as Lyon began to play far more long-balls after the 50th minute of the game.

The attacker’s aerial quality was on display, as he won five of the seven aerial duels that he contested versus Lille. He also showed his capability to control the ball well, hold it up and bring others into the game in Monday’s clash with Lille.

Ligue 1 2020/21: Lille vs Lyon - tactical analysis - tactics

Lastly, Depay played as one of Lyon’s furthest forward players off the ball but on the ball, he frequently dropped deep, creating space for other Lyon players, such as Kadewere and Toko Ekambi to drift inside and pick up the space he vacated.

We can see one example of this in the image above. Just prior to this image being taken, Depay drifted from the centre forward position out to the left half-space, while Toko Ekambi was in possession of the ball on the left-wing.

As we can see, he effectively linked up with Depay and as the Dutch forward attracted an opposition player out of the defence, Toko Ekambi could then move into that space and Depay could find him with a through ball, which resulted in the attacker finding himself in a decent potential goalscoring position.

In total, Lyon took nine fewer shots than Lille in this game but the two sides drew despite that and Lyon also had a slightly higher xG (0.82) than Lille in this fixture, which indicates that while they took far fewer shots than the home side, those chances were generally of greater quality than Lille’s chances tended to be.


So, it’s clear that both sides had similar ideas in terms of their deep defensive shape, their use of long-balls to offensive target men and in terms of the importance that they placed on the role of a deep-lying midfielder in Sunday’s game but both sides also differed in terms of how they pressed, how they built out from the back and how they opted to take their shots at goal.

Ultimately, neither side managed to edge the other one out in this fixture and given that Lille struggled to create high-quality chances and Lyon failed to create a large number of chances, while both sides demonstrated some impressive defensive tactics, perhaps this was a fair result overall.