Ligue 1 2021/22: How Monaco’s midfield pushed their victory against Lille – tactical analysis
The 36th game week of the 2021-22 Ligue 1 season saw Lille host Monaco at the Stade de I’Aube. While Monaco were looking to consolidate their chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season, Lille looked to make a good end to what was a disastrous campaign where they couldn’t defend their title and also couldn’t make it into the top-4 this season.
It was an interesting tactical battle between the two teams where Monaco finally managed to hold their lead thanks to two wonderful strikes from their star boy Aurelien Tchouameni and take home the three vital points.
Monaco made two changes to their lineup that beat Angers 2-0 last season with Aurelien Tchouameni and Vanderson coming into the lineup for Eliot Matazo and Sofiane Diop.
Lille, on the other hand, made three changes to their lineup with Djalo, Bamba and Onana coming into the lineup in place of Zhegrova, Yilmaz and the suspended Renato Sanches, who received a red card in their previous game.
Monaco’s plan in possession against Lille’s press
Monaco lined up in a 4-3-3 system in a way to set them up to play a more direct possession-based way and Phillipe Clement has certainly emphasized a lot this season at the club. The midfield of the team is also crucial to his play as he looks to play out from the back against teams that set out to press aggressively and the likes of Tchouameni and Fofana are very important for the team to progress the ball ahead. Their 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 shapeshifted into a three-men backline shape when one of Tchouameni or Fofana joined the defence to give them a +1 and numerical advantage against the Lille’s front two.
An example of that can be seen in the image above where Tchouameni joins the backline or takes more of a quarter-back position like in the above image to look to progress the ball upfield. Especially Tchouamnei, who has become one of the most sought after players in Europe this season with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, etc all looking to sign him, was very much key in looking to beat the Lille press and break the lines with his passing.
Monaco’s +1 in the midfield were always bound to give them an additional advantage in all three phases of the play. The first phase had one of the deep midfielders drop and create a numerical advantage and the second phase now had a free man against the two-men Lille midfield if they were able to beat the Lille’s press and started to circulate the ball.
We can see that in the image below where Moncao are building from the back and initially used a +1 with their keeper against the front-two players of Lille pressing their centre-backs. When Lille commit their players forward with each of them man-marking their respective men from Monaco. This additional man from them in the midfield can be seen coming into play in the below image where they have a free man in the middle of the park. This means that they can easily play it to him and progress the ball forward.
Both Fofana and Volland were very crucial in terms of finding the spaces in the midfield and escaping the cover shadows and showing themselves to the other players as a passing option on the pitch. Often the Lille players were getting confused and were landing in a dilemma as to whether to man-mark these midfield players or stay very compact in shape in their shape. This led to them being very open without any concrete plan to defend in the midfield as sometimes their players were late to make challenges and were caught in between.
But at the start of the first half, Monaco themselves faced some issues in possession and the major one in that were a lack of communication between the players in terms of playing passes and showing themselves as an option. When the Monaco left-back had the ball, all the forward players would make a run in behind which meant that the Lille defenders will also be making the same run behind to track their movements which made the defending a little bit easier for them. With all of them making the same run, the redundancy was seen in terms of the movements that caused Monaco some issues. This can be seen in the image above where the starting position of the Lille players means that wherever or to whomever the ball is being played, the Lille defenders will have the upper hand to reach their before Monaco forwards.
But when they figured out the issue where one player drops deep to drag defenders with him and the other player makes a run in behind into that space to better exploit the defence with the positional play. But this time around the passing player was still playing the wrong options of passes wherein the above image we can see how instead of playing it to one of the players just ahead of them between the lines he decides to play it over the defence choosing the wrong option when the forward has two defenders lurking around him as well to defend if the ball comes. The circled player also complains to him that the option was supposed to be him for the pass.
Monaco also used rotations and triangles more in the second half to exploit the 3v2 situations wherever they got against Lille. We can see one example of that in the image above where Vanderson plays a neat one touch with the full-back and then has the opportunity to move forward when Vollans who has pinned the Lille’s CB with him shows for a pass that results in a gravity situation which leaves the full-back free to run into the space without the ball and making himself a good option if they want a cross from the flank.
Lille were also facing issues in terms of aligning themselves in the right body orientation to press the Monaco defence where in most situations the wrong body angles led to Monaco easily bypassing the press and playing it forward. This can be seen in the image below where the left-winger doesn’t stay compact and looks to press the 3rd player in the Monaco backline leading to an easy pass being played to the full-back out wide who also has a lot of space to cover.
Transition issues for both teams
Despite having a decent mid-block or high press, both Monaco and Lille were exposed a lot in the transitions defensively and were culpable of conceding a lot of spaces. Although this didn’t directly result in any of the goals that they conceded, the threat was always looming over them with each other looking to win the second balls and attacking the defence. Both the team’s midfield exposed their CBs on more than one occasion with improper positioning and not being in the right place or shape to win the ball back immediately.
Monaco particularly targeted the 1v1 situations against both the Lille’s CBs as both Fonte and Botman are pretty slow and can be easily beaten in 1v1 situations against fast forwards who are pretty good with their skills. So it was always going to be a tough thing to deal with for the CBs in these transition situations like in the image below where Fonte steps forward to cover the space in between the lines but the Lille midfield did not do their job particularly well and also the shape was pretty bad.
The central spaces are probably the most important part of the pitch that has to be defended and closed as soon as possible with ease. But if they are left exposed then it makes it very easy for the opposition team to counter-attack and easily get into the final third with their forward players. We can see how Lille have left the central space to be exposed in the image below and Monaco have almost at least three players ahead of Lille’s in the counter-attacking situations. Although Lille were lucky to not have conceded from this situation they were exposed and were punished multiple times due to the lack of cohesion in the midfield that resulted in their defenders constantly having to cover a lot of space, diving into unnecessary tackles or challenges to make it up for someone else’s mistake while leaving their position vacated and exposed.
Monaco themselves were also under scrutiny for conceding a lot of spaces in between the lines and leaving their defences exposed on more than one occasion. A lack of proper shape where players were constantly found out of position literally saw numerous instances where the ball could have been swiftly moved forward by the Lille attack. The example below also shows the same thing where the Lille left-winger has the ball and Monaco’s full-back steps out of his position unnecessarily leaving a huge space in behind for the Lille midfielders to make a run into and these unnecessary stepping meant that the defenders are left in a no men land where they can’t press and win the ball back from as they are pretty far when the ball reaches them and also leaving a huge space means they can’t quickly recover to protect that as well.
In another example, we also saw Monaco left in a 5v4 situation against the Lille attack when they were forced to turn the ball over. The lack of midfield protection can be better exemplified in this image below where we can see how easily Lille have been allowed to move the ball into the final third. The defence in this scenario did really well to delay and squeeze the spaces in a numerically inferior situation.
Lille’s possession play against Monaco’s press
Lille looked to play out from the back whenever they had the chance where the idea was to drag the Monaco players out of position by playing from the back. We can see that in the example below where Monaco are literally having a man-man press against Lille and not exactly allowing them to play out from the back.
They usually looked to have the full-back as the third man and use him in the buildup but Monaco did pretty well in terms of limiting the time for the defenders on the ball by intensely pressing them and looking to win the ball back immediately like in the image above.
The intense press of Monaco were putting a lot of problems for Lille and on more than one occasion they went long with a punt from their goalkeeper as the pressure started to intensify. The man-man press was also with the midfielder like in the image above which meant that there weren’t necessarily any options for the player having the ball where he was being pressed aggressively by the Monaco players. Lille also didn’t use a lot of rotations to drag the defenders aside and move them out of position where on more than one occasion they could have easily done that.
We can see in the image below where they used rotations and were able to drag the Monaco defenders and manipulate them to move the ball into the third. But these instances were very rare where Lille didn’t really do the rotations or triangles that they could have done a lot.
Lille also used the presence of Weah and Jonathan David as they found that long balls to these players are more useful in terms of the progression of the ball and winning the second ball from these situations would result in the Lille players winning the ball in front of the defence and attacking the same.
After the second half started, Lille decided to shift their structure where they brought in Angel Gome and move into a 4-2-3-1 shape that saw them have a presence in between the lines and also have a 3v3 midfield battle. Gomes could be constantly found dropping in between the lines and looking to receive the ball like in the image below.
With the help of two wonder strikes from Tchouameni, Monaco were able to take lead twice and they were able to defend their second lead to grab home all three points. This more or less confirmed their qualification for the next season’s Champions League with two games to go.
As for the 2020-21 champions, they would look to win their remaining two games in what was a very disappointing defence of their title this season. They also miss out on a chance of playing in Europe next season mathematically.