Selma Bacha: Why the 21-year-old Lyon star could be France’s Euro 2022 secret weapon – scout report
Whilst 2020/2021 was not a happy time for Lyon Féminin, 2021/2022 has been far better, as they currently sit top of the Division 1 Féminine table with 12 wins from 12 and won their Champions League group, losing just once (away to Bayern Munich Frauen). This success has largely been attributed to the signings they made last summer, with the likes of Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler, France left-back Perle Morroni and Netherlands midfielder Daniëlle van de Donk all moving to the European giants in their attempts to rebuild.
Despite these high-profile arrivals, one player who has had a big impact this season is someone who was already at the club; Selma Bacha. Last season, there were question marks surrounding where the 21-year-old would be given opportunities to play, as she was competing with Sakina Karchaoui in the battle for the left-back role. However, under new manager Sonia Bompastor, who replaced Jean-Luc Vasseur last April, Bacha has been deployed in other positions around the field, becoming one of their most versatile squad members.
This tactical analysis will break down Bacha’s game, seeing how she fits into Lyon’s tactics and why her form has been key to their improvement. The scout report will look at how she operates in defensive and attacking situations, as well as how she closes down the ball in different ways. In doing so, it will look to find why she could be essential in France’s title bid at this summer’s Euro 2022 tournament.
Positioning in attack
Selma Bacha has mainly operated in Lyon Féminin’s midfield this season, which has allowed her to have a bigger influence on their attacking play than she had previously. It has also allowed her to play with more freedom around the field, which is what this section of the analysis will focus on.
Before delving into the finer details, we need to give a basic overview of what her positioning gives the team. The blue lines here show Paris FC Féminines’ defensive and midfield ranks, with Bacha in the space between them. By getting into this part of the pitch, she provides a link between the defence and attack, allowing them to move the ball through the thirds with more fluidity, and her forward pass accuracy of 80.7% and back pass accuracy of 94.7% indicate how she is adept at moving the ball in whichever direction is required.
Her positioning also allows the Lyon forward line to stay higher up the pitch, as they don’t need to drop back and win the ball whilst Bacha is in this space. The knock-on effect of this is that the opposing defenders also have to hold their positions, as coming out and closing Bacha down here would leave the attackers with an open route to goal. What we can see therefore is that there are several positives to having Bacha in this area, and this is a tactical change that we have noticed during this campaign as a way of improving Lyon’s grip on games.
The other thing that comes from Bacha having this freer role is that she can drift around the pitch and move into different channels, always putting herself where she can affect the game. One area where she has often been found is the half-spaces, which are always danger areas that defenders find it hard to deal with, and her ability to slot into these channels comes from Perle Morroni’s ability to stay wide and maintain the width in Lyon’s attack, and her position relative to Bacha’s is shown in this image (Morroni is wearing number five).
What we need to focus on here is Bacha’s movement, as her run through the gap created by Lyon’s wide setup has provided her team with a passing option in Montpellier Féminines’ goal area. Whilst Bacha is not found on this occasion, with ex-Arsenal Women player van de Donk opting instead to pass towards the far side of the pitch, Bacha is still in a useful position to receive the next ball, so is still able to help her team. She has found the net just three times this season, whilst only 31.8% of her shots have been on target, but getting into these areas still puts a doubt in the defenders’ minds and makes them think, and that is sometimes what is needed to take their attention away from the ball at just the wrong moment.
Even when not in a central role, Bacha is still essential in creating goalscoring chances. One player that she has linked up with on plenty of occasions this season is USA international Catarina Macario, who has become Lyon’s playmaker this season, and Bacha’s role now is not to run into the space behind, but to position herself where she can support the American and enable her team to keep control of this situation.
With this style of play, Lyon are almost mirroring the tactics used by Manchester United Women last season, with Ella Toone the one tasked with moving the ball around and creating chances for the WSL side. However, it only works if players work together and have a good understanding of each other, and that is why Bacha is just as important here as Macario.
Due to the France international’s positioning here, Montpellier are now unable to narrow up in their own box, as is the natural defensive instinct, and we can see how one defender is already rushing out to close her down. This creates gaps in the middle as the defensive line becomes stretched, and Macario can now run through them in much the same way as Bacha did in the previous example. When transferring the ball into the box, her individual crossing accuracy is just 35.1% to date, which doesn’t sound a lot, but she only averages one cross every 17.2 minutes and yet has racked up seven assists, so the balls that she does put into the goal area tend to count.
When defending, Selma Bacha is just as important for her team, but her defensive qualities rely on more subtle movements and a good awareness of what is happening around her, as this next section of the analysis will explain.
We have already mentioned that Bacha last season tended to play as one of two left-backs in the Lyon Féminin squad, but the midfield role that she has occupied this season has often led to her being in central areas of the pitch instead. As a result, when running backwards to help the defenders out, she is often forced into a central defensive role. This is not a problem, as she is just as adept at this role, with her pace allowing her to slot into gaps and prevent opponents from finding easy ways into their box. In this case, it is Bayern Munich who have launched an attack, and Lyon only had three defenders back here, so they would have been left exposed. Bacha’s awareness to fill the gap is therefore crucial.
The other thing that comes from Bacha’s ability to drop back here is that one of the other players in the line, in this case France defender Griedge Mbock, can then move out and look to close the ball down, putting pressure on the Bayern Munich players and ending their attacking momentum earlier than Lyon would have initially been able to. This would not have been possible without Bacha dropping back, and it is likely that the German side would have continued to motor forwards as a result, so this is one key aspect of Bacha’s defensive capabilities that has really helped Lyon this season.
As mentioned, a lot of Bacha’s defensive play is not as easily noticed, as it is through clever positioning that she looks to end attacks and prevent opposing attackers from breaking through the Lyon backline. In this case, Paris have two players in close proximity looking to play a one-two in order to create a goalscoring opportunity, but Bacha has got into the right area to disrupt their attempt.
This is not the only occasion that we have seen Bacha find the right position and block or deflect opposing passes, with 62 interceptions to her name so far this season (an average of 4.21 per game). This is therefore another key quality that she brings to Lyon’s defensive play, and is another reason for her being just as important when her team are out of possession as she is when they have the ball.
As well as good positioning, Bacha also angles her body in clever ways too, with this image showing PSG Féminine defender Amanda Ilestedt looking to play out from the back. However, whilst the Sweden defender’s obvious pass is out towards the far side wing, Bacha has blocked this by standing back slightly from her, giving herself time to react if that option was attempted. As a result, Ilestedt is forced to run straight ahead, into an area where Lyon have a numerical advantage, as demonstrated by the white and blue lines. Bacha has won 65.1% of her defensive duels this season, and this has largely been down to her making the right decisions about when to challenge for the ball and when to simply guide opponents into traps, with this image a clear example of the effectiveness that the latter can have.
Closing down the ball
Whilst we have looked in this scout report at the different ways that Selma Bacha has fitted into Lyon Féminin’s attacking and defensive tactics this season, one of her on-pitch qualities that helps at both ends is her ability to close balls down at pace and take time away from opponents. However, as has been evident throughout this article, she can adapt and change the way she does this, which is another reason that she has become such an important asset for Lyon to have.
In the opposing half, her excellent anticipation comes into its own as soon as Lyon lose possession, as it means that their mistakes have very rarely led to them being punished. Here, for example, Paris are looking to attack up the field, but Bacha has come towards the wing to prevent the ball going forwards, ending the potential attack before it started. This also gives her teammates time to set up behind her and close off any gaps which might have been open, and eight goals conceded in the league and Champions League combined is a testament to their hard work in trying to be more difficult to beat this season.
The other point to make here is that Lyon have often formed triangles in the wide channels in their attempts to overload areas of the field and move the ball into dangerous areas at speed, much as WSL leaders Arsenal are known for doing. These usually start with Bacha making interceptions and tackles such as this, and so this shows how Lyon’s attacks and counter-attacks are built around her ability to make fast movements and win back possession, again showing how much better they play when she is on the pitch.
In defensive scenarios, Bacha closes balls down in a slightly different way. She does still show good anticipation and positional ability, but she doesn’t get as tight to the ball, standing back in the same way as she did against PSG in the last section. In this case, it is Benfica who are looking to find a way into Lyon’s goal area, with Canada striker Cloé Lacasse passing to midfielder Pauleta, who has the ball here.
Now, the Spanish midfielder is looking to move the ball forwards, but her options have been limited, just as Ilestedt’s were, by Bacha making a run towards her but then stopping short of tackling her. Pauleta can now only pass diagonally, as shown by the red arrow, which is where Lyon will be able to end the attack by blocking the attempted cross from Portugal forward Catarina Amado, who is the recipient of Pauleta’s pass here.
To some, it may appear that Bacha got her timings wrong here. However, getting too tight to Pauleta would have left the space behind her unprotected, giving Benfica the opportunity to play the ball around her and create a goalscoring opportunity, whilst not closing down at all would have given Benfica time to pick the right pass for them, making it harder for Lyon to predict where the ball would go. This is why sitting in the middle was the right move here, and shows again why Bacha’s footballing intelligence has been a huge benefit for her side during the current campaign.
We mentioned at the start that Bacha has tended to operate in the hole between opposing defenders and midfielders, providing a link in Lyon’s attack, but she also gets into similar gaps in her own third too. In this situation, her role is to offer protection to her defenders, preventing Benfica from finding a way through them. The Portuguese side are looking to move the ball inside in their hopes of locating a chink in Lyon’s armour, this time by passing the ball around the Lyon player coming to close them down. However, the pass lacks the necessary accuracy, going between two players and allowing Bacha, in the white circle, to move in and make the easy interception.
This is further proof of her capabilities on the pitch, and why she is the type of player that teams need in order to succeed. A good comparison to make would be to Chelsea Women’s Sophie Ingle, in that neither player necessarily gets the headlines, but their job of feeding balls into dangerous areas, staying back to cover defensive spaces, and anticipating what opposing attackers will do is just as important as the striker who scores four goals a game at the other end of the field.
In conclusion, we have looked in this tactical analysis at Selma Bacha, seeing why she has become arguably the most important player in the Lyon Féminin team, and one they undoubtedly can’t do without. However, the title of this article hinted at why she could be a secret weapon for France during this summer’s Euro 2022 tournament, and answering this point is what we will end on.
Throughout this analysis, we have sought to illustrate the different qualities that Bacha brings to her team, and the reason that she could be France’s secret weapon is that she can be deployed in any defensive, midfield or attacking role and would thrive in it. In offensive play, her pace would enable her team to break through opposing lines, whilst she would link up play and control the midfield and be able to plug gaps and prevent opposing teams from scoring against them in their own third. Given this, it will be interesting to see just where France head coach Corinne Diacre deploys her this summer, but there is little doubt that she will be one to watch as the tournament progresses.