Ligue 1 2020/21: Nantes vs Nimes Olympique – tactical analysis
After securing a dominant 4-0 win in their opening game of the 2020/21 campaign against Stade Brestois, Nîmes Olympique came up short in their second game of the new Ligue 1 season as they suffered a 2-1 defeat away to Nantes, who remain undefeated from their opening two games this term after drawing 0-0 with Girondins de Bordeaux on the opening day of the campaign.
Nantes managed to get themselves a two-goal cushion in the first half of this contest and despite the home side eventually going down to nine men after Imran Louza was sent off in the 47th minute and ex-Man United right-back Fábio da Silva received a second yellow card in the 87th minute of the game, Nîmes could only manage to score one goal and Nantes ultimately came away from this tie with all three points.
In this tactical analysis piece, we will look at the tactics that were deployed by both of these teams in and out of possession in this past Sunday’s contest. We will look at the tactics that helped Nantes to earn a two-goal lead and ultimately take all three points, while we will also look at both the positive and negative aspects to Nîmes tactics from their recent defeat.
Formations and lineups
To kick off this tactical analysis piece, we will look at how both Nantes and Nîmes Olympique lined up in this game, in terms of their respective shapes and in terms of the personnel that started this fixture for both teams.
Firstly, the home side started this contest in a 4-4-2 shape. Alban Lafont, who is on loan at Nantes from Serie A side Fiorentina, started between the sticks for the home side, while a back four consisting of the versatile Dennis Appiah at right-back, Fábio at left-back and the central defensive pairing of Andrei Girotto and Nicolas Pallois started in front of the French goalkeeper.
Louza and ex-Liverpool man Pedro Chirivella started in centra midfield for Les Canaris, while Marcus Coco started at right-wing and Moses Simon started at left-wing for the home side.
In attack, Nantes started this game with Ludovic Blas, who acted as somewhat of a number ‘10’ at times, occasionally operating slightly more withdrawn than his strike partner, and the final member of this Nantes starting XI, Randal Kolo.
Meanwhile, Nîmes lined up in a 4-2-3-1 shape for this contest. Ex-Toulouse goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet started between the sticks for Les Crocodiles and in front of him stood a back four consisting of right-back Renaud Ripart, ex-Rosenborg left-back Birger Meling and the central defensive pairing of Loïck Landre and Pablo Martinez.
Andrés Cubas, who recently joined Nîmes from Argentinian side CA Talleres, and Lucas Deaux started in a double-pivot at the base of midfield for the away side, while the trio of right-winger Zinedine Ferhat, left-winger Romain Philippoteaux and central attacking midfielder Yassine Benrahou played just behind Nîmes’ centre forward for this contest, 19-year-old Kévin Denkey.
Both of these sides essentially retained these base shapes throughout the match, however, Nantes were forced to switch to a 4-4-1 when they went down to 10 men and subsequently a 4-4-0 for the final minutes of the game after they had a second man sent off.
Nîmes in possession
Now we’ll take a look at the tactics that Nîmes utilised in possession of the ball during this past Sunday’s game. The away side ended up retaining a total of 63% of the possession in this fixture by the end of the game. Additionally, Nîmes also had a pass accuracy percentage of 83% in this game to Nantes’ 71%.
These statistics indicate to us that the away side were far more possession-based in this contest than the home side were. Now, from watching this game, we feel it’s fair to say that neither of these two sides were particularly possession-based in terms of their game plan, however, Nantes undoubtedly set up to try and capitalise counter-attacks much more than Nîmes, which resulted in Nîmes spending more time on the ball, while the fact that Nîmes had at least one extra man on the pitch for the majority of the second half also played a part in their high possession figures.
Nîmes’ tactics in possession of the ball were clearly an important part of this fixture, simply due to the sheer amount of time that they ultimately spent with the ball in this one.
The image above provides us with our first visual example of Nîmes building out from the back in this contest. Here, we can see Nantes set up in their 4-4-2 defensive shape, heavily congesting the centre of the park and preventing Nîmes from playing through them.
Meanwhile, we can see that in order to help his side during this early stage of the build-up, one of Nîmes’ holding midfielders – Cubas – has dropped in between the two central defenders in order to create a 3v2 advantage for Nîmes versus Nantes’ two centre forwards during this phase of play. This results in the central defenders situating themselves in a slightly wider position, while this also results in both full-backs advancing their positions higher up the pitch.
Nîmes struggled significantly during this phase of play in the early stages of the game when their centre-backs were going 2v2 with Nantes’ two centre forwards and Nantes’ defensive tactics, which we will touch on later in this tactical analysis, were effective at preventing Nîmes from building into the middle third of the pitch.
Cubas’ movement from the centre of the pitch to this deep position between the centre-backs was important in helping Nîmes to create an overload in this part of the pitch and helping them to advance from their own third into the middle part of the pitch.
Nîmes liked to play the ball short from the back during this stage of the build-up for much of the match and neither their centre-backs nor Cubas when he dropped deep tended to play it long from their own third in order to beat Nantes’ press.
Instead, they opted to try and build into the middle third of the pitch patiently and through the use of precise, short passes. However, once they reached the middle third of the pitch, Nîmes’ tactics in possession of the ball did, at times, change slightly as more direct passes became far more common for them.
This image above provides us with an example of the type of pass that was frequently played by one of Nimes’ two holding midfielders – often Cubas – in this game once Les Crocodiles progressed the ball into the middle third of the pitch. Here, the holding midfielder can be seen spraying a cross-field ball from the middle of the park out to an overlapping full-back on the other side of the pitch, who is just out-of-shot here.
We can see that the holding midfielders were typically situated between Nantes’ first and second line of defence. As the away side progressed past the first line of defence – Nantes’ two centre forwards – they became much more willing to go more direct with the ball.
Furthermore, when building their attacks during this recent Ligue 1 fixture, it was very common for Nîmes to direct play through their holding midfielders. They tended to rely on these players quite a bit whilst building their attacks and Cubas, in particular, played an important role for Nîmes in connecting the defence with the attack in this game, hence why he played a total of 49 passes in this fixture – the third-highest number of passes that were played by any Nîmes’ player behind only the two central defenders Landre and Martinez.
Nîmes appeared to have quite evident, set patterns of play when progressing the ball into the final third. They would try to send the ball from the centre-back out to the full-back, who would then draw the opposition wide man’s press and he would subsequently play the ball inside to the near-side holding midfielder.
As this was happening, the nearest winger would drift into the half-space and as the holding midfielder received possession, he would quickly progress the ball to this winger in the half-space.
This player would then be capable of using their decision-making quality to decide on the best course of action, however, the full-back would often be making an overlapping run at this point and this created a 2v1 versus the opposition full-back and Nîmes often focused their attacks down the wings to capitalise on this situation.
The away side frequently created wide overloads throughout this game and built their attacks down the wings to create crossing opportunities. Nîmes actually played a total of 22 crosses in this contest which is more than three times as many crosses as Nantes played in the fixture. The majority of their crosses were high, however, they did vary up their style of cross throughout the game, albeit to very little success, when all was said and done.
Their crossing failed to break down Nantes’ defence during this fixture, however, they also created little from alternative methods in attack and this may be one reason as to why they failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage throughout the second half.
Nimes out of possession
Nîmes ended this game with a PPDA (Opponent passes per defensive action in opponent’s final 60% of the pitch) of 7.9, which was far lower than Nantes’ PPDA of 15.7.
This statistic measures pressing intensity and the lower the number, the more intense that team’s press was, so, it isn’t very surprising that Nîmes had a far lower PPDA than Nantes in this game, considering that we’ve already established that they dominated the possession in this fixture.
While watching this game, it was evident that Nîmes were pressing far more aggressively than Nantes throughout this contest, however, this was particularly clear during the early stages of the game.
The image above provides us with an example of how Nîmes acted without possession of the ball in this game. They pressed Nantes aggressively from the front, initially focusing their attention on blocking off the possibility of the home side playing through the centre of the pitch and forcing them to play the ball out to one of their wider players as a result, which we can see in action in this image above.
The Nantes winger who received the ball from the central midfielder in the previous image was quickly forced to play the ball back to the left-back as he was put under pressure by Nîmes players and as the full-back received the ball, he was also pressed aggressively and ultimately dispossessed, showing how effective Nîmes’ pressing was, at times, during this match.
As we touched on above, Nîmes made it very difficult for Nantes to build out from the back and through the centre of the pitch. The image above provides us with one such occasion on which Nantes attempted to play out from the back, through the centre of the park and here, we can see that there was, in the end, too much cover from Nîmes in this area for Nantes’ intended ball receiver to actually receive possession.
Nîmes’ near-side central midfielder, who we can see in the process of running outward from the centre circle here, managed to intercept this pass and prevents Nantes from playing through their defensive shape.
The away side, similar to the home side, made it very difficult for the opposition to play through the central areas thanks to their compact defensive shape and this image shows us why it was so difficult for the home side to play through the centre in this past Sunday’s game.
Additionally, while they pressed high up the pitch, in order to prevent large gaps from forming between their defensive lines, Nimes played a high backline and at times Nantes attempted to expose this on the counter via long-balls over the top.
We can see one of these long-balls being played in the image above, however, the Nîmes goalkeeper Reynet operated as a sweeper-keeper in this contest and on occasions like this, he was called upon to leave the safety of his own box in order to prevent long-balls like this one from reaching their intended target running in behind.
The goalkeeper was effective in this role on Sunday and Nantes got little joy from direct balls over the top, through the centre like this one seen above.
To conclude this section, it’s clear that Nîmes defended aggressively in this game and made it difficult for Nantes to play out from the back patiently due to their high press. Furthermore, the away side managed to block up the centre of the pitch and made it very difficult for Nantes to play through that area due to the compact nature of their defensive shape.
Nantes in possession
With Nîmes keeping 63% of the possession in this game, that left Nantes with just 37% of the ball possession by the time that the final whistle blew in this contest. Nantes didn’t spend an incredible amount of time in possession of the ball here, however, as is evident by the scoreline, they did make full use of the ball when they did have possession of it here.
This was due to the effectiveness of their counter-attacks during this past Sunday’s fixture. While Nîmes dominated possession and defended aggressively throughout this contest, they struggled to prevent Nantes from opening them up in transition and this is where the majority of the home side’s joy came in this one.
Nantes had a total of 12 counter-attacks in this fixture, to Nîmes’ total of zero counter-attacks in this game, according to Wyscout, indicating the home side’s effectiveness at turning defence into attack.
Nantes mixed things up throughout this game with regard to the tactics that they utilised during the transition to attack. The image above provides us with an example of one of the offensive tactics that Les Canaris used in last Sunday’s game. At times in this contest, the home side were happy to send the ball long after winning it back in a deeper position, directing it towards the wing, in particular the right-wing, where Coco would be there to meet the ball and take it forward.
As we touched on previously, Nîmes’ full-backs played a significant role during their side’s offensive side of play in this game, so they did often leave some space in behind them which Nantes made a habit of exploiting on the counter in this clash.
As well as that, an advancing full-back, sometimes overlapping, would join the winger in possession of the ball on the counter-attack to offer him support and help create more problems for the opposition on the flank during this recent fixture.
This scenario would arise when the winger would be tasked with, firstly, getting onto the ball and secondly, holding onto it as a result of no clear crossing opportunity presenting itself at the time he’d carried it all the way to the penalty area and the passage of play that we are analysing here is one such occasion when this scenario proved to be the case for Nantes.
However, Coco did well, here, to hold onto the ball and wait for the right-back to offer support, which he eventually does and as the winger lays the ball back to him, he enjoys the ability to float a cross into the box from deep unmarked – showing the benefit of this tactics, if the winger is unable to get a cross of his own off, for one reason or another.
In addition to those more direct counters, which set wingers off chasing after a long-ball down the wing, Nantes also played more fluid counters at times during this past weekend’s fixture and they actually caused Nîmes plenty of problems throughout the game via these kinds of counter-attacks too.
We can see an example of one of these kinds of Nantes counter-attacks in action in the image above. Here, we can see Nantes’ left-back in possession of the ball, having just received possession from the centre-back.
As this player receives possession he attracts the press of this near-side winger, however, the full-back is able to quickly turn and advance the ball past this player, passing it upfield to the Nantes winger, who is just out-of-shot here. The wide man who receives possession subsequently plays the ball infield to this near-side central midfielder, while the left-back continues his run forward and eventually gets himself in a position to quickly take the ball back from this central midfielder.
During Nantes’ fluid counter-attacks, all of these kinds of passes were played in quite quick succession to one another and as a result, Les Canaris made it difficult for the opposition to attempt to press them or to attempt to intercept their passes due to their quick nature. The home side were capable of cutting through Nîmes’ defensive shape as a result of these quick, short-passing plays and these plays resulted in some dangerous balls being played through to Nantes’ attackers in this game.
We already established that Nîmes pressed the home side aggressively in this contest, however, Nantes were wise enough to take advantage of Nîmes’ aggressive pressing at times in this game, and they occasionally manipulated Nîmes’ pressing to create chances.
Nîmes’ right-back always pressed Nantes’ left-sided wide man aggressively when he received possession of the ball. While this was effective at preventing the wide man himself from carrying the ball forward, the full-back left plenty of space behind him for other Nantes players to exploit, which some did on occasion. We can see an example of one such occasion when this occurred in the image above.
Here, Nantes’ left-winger has pushed inside in order to allow the left-back to advance his position and ultimately receive the ball high on the left-wing. As this happens, Nîmes’ right-back pushes up to get tight to the left-back, opting to mark him, rather than the winger who has pushed inside.
However, as this passage of play moves on, the winger moves back out wide again in behind this full-back and the Nantes left-back manages to pick him out with a through ball. This results in the Nantes man enjoying plenty of space down the wing which he exploits effectively, causing plenty of problems inside the opposition penalty area and this particular attack actually results in Nantes being awarded a penalty.
So, this passage of play provides us with one example of Nantes building up and playing past Nîmes’ press effectively in order to create a goalscoring opportunity.
Nantes out of possession
As we mentioned earlier on in this tactical analysis piece, Nantes defended in a 4-4-2 shape during this fixture and within that shape, while Nîmes were building out from the back, Nantes’ players orientated themselves to primarily protect the centre of the pitch and prevent Nîmes from playing the ball straight through them and their defensive shape.
Due to the congested nature of the centre of the pitch, as well as Nîmes’ tactics in the build-up which saw them try to build out from the backline into the middle third of the pitch with short passes, the away side were often forced to play the ball out to the full-back and Nantes were happy for them to make this pass, as this was a pressing trigger for them.
The image above provides us with one example of Nîmes playing this pass from the centre-back to the full-back during the build-up and as we can see, as the pass was played plenty of Nantes players adjusted their positions to pick up all of the nearest passing options while the near-sided winger began to press the full-back aggressively in an attempt to dispossess him.
After Louza was sent off and Nantes went down to 10 men, they adjusted their defensive shape to become a 4-4-1 formation. Blas, who had been playing as a forward in this match, was brought back into the midfield for the remainder of the contest, spending some time in central midfield and spending some time on the left-wing.
With one less striker, this gave Nîmes a big advantage in the build-up phase, however, interestingly, their defensive midfielder continued to drop deep during the build-up phase to create a back three despite the fact that they already enjoyed a 2v1 advantage with just the two centre-backs occupying the positions, which one might assume would allow the holding midfielder to position himself higher up the pitch and help the away side enjoy a greater advantage elsewhere on the pitch. They didn’t do this and Nantes’ 4-4-1 shape was effective enough to stop Nîmes from opening them up on more than one occasion.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece on this recent Ligue 1 clash between Nantes and Nîmes, it’s clear that Nantes counter-attacks played a pivotal role in their success this past Sunday.
Meanwhile, though Nîmes impressed in a number of areas, particularly in terms of their pressing, they didn’t exhibit a lot of creative ideas in attack and ultimately didn’t come up with enough solution’s to the puzzle of Nantes’ defensive tactics in this game and that proved to be the difference between these two sides here.