Bordeaux 2-0 Lyon: a tight game won in the second half thanks to three factors

September 22, 2010

The starting line-ups

Yoann Gourcuff’s return to Bordeaux was an unhappy one, as the home side won a good contest.

Bordeaux made significant changes to the side which lost 2-1 to Nice the previous weekend, with Moussa Maazou being given his first start of the season in a lone striking role. Jussie also came into the side, meaning Jaroslav Plasil started in a deeper role.

Lyon played a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Gourcuff as the main playmaker. Michel Bastos started for the first time since the opening day on the left wing, whilst Aly Cissokho also returned at left-back.

Bordeaux went onto win the game 2-0, a fair result based upon the balance of play throughout the ninety minutes. They were quicker, more organised and passed the ball better, and deserved the win. There are a couple of caveats – Lyon had the best chance of the first half when Lisandro Lopez missed a one-on-one, and hit the bar in the final minute through substitute Bafetimbi Gomis, with the score at 1-0.

Had those chances gone in, it would have been a very different story, but with both sides playing broadly the same shape, and the usual 4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1 battles panning out quickly on the pitch, it’s fair to focus upon three specific areas rather than how the opposing formations played out, or on individual battles across the pitch. Broadly, there were three factors that made Bordeaux the better side.


This is probably the most interesting aspect of football tactics at the moment, illustrated best by last season’s Barcelona v Inter tie. Should sides defend energetically from the front, and press all over the pitch, like Barcelona – or should they sit back, invite pressure and defend deep like Inter?

This game was not as stark a contrast as that, but Bordeaux pressed much higher and were therefore much more effective at winning the ball back in this game. The front four players worked extremely hard to put the Lyon defenders under pressure, meaning Lyon’s clearances were often panicky, and their defenders weren’t able to pick out an accurate pass to one of the more creative players.

Of course, the downside to pressing intensely (when considering the need to keep it tight between the lines) is a very high defensive line, which probably wasn’t right for Bordeaux in this particular game. Lisandro’s chance midway through the first half was the game’s most presentable opportunity, and it came from a fairly simple ball through the defence for Lisandro striker to run onto. Bordeaux rode their luck here, but overall their pressing game was a successful tactic.

This (very useful) in-game television graphic shows the average position of where each side won the ball back. Bordeaux's pressing means that their dark blue line is far higher up the pitch than Lyon's white line

Lyon’s forward players, on the other hand, did little to win the ball back – casually closing down with no real determination to win the ball back, or force the Bordeaux defenders into errors.

The importance of being compact

The lethargy shown by the Lyon front four meant they effectively only defended seriously with six outfield players, forcing those six to get through more defensive work than is ideal. The result of this was effectively a ‘broken team’ – six players defending, four players attacking – and no-one looking to join the play, or be involved in both aspects of the game. Lyon often looked lost when Gourcuff was not available for a pass, and with him up against two holding players, this was a fairly regular occurrence.

Bordeaux were much more compact, and this meant they both defended better, and found easier short passes when they regained possession. Although the differences in formation is slight, it would be fair to say that Bordeaux often looked more like a 4-5-1 when they didn’t have the ball, whereas Bordeaux remained in a 4-2-3-1, vaguely becoming 4-4-1-1 when the wide players looked to get level with the holding players.

A tactical shift

After half-time, Jean Tigana seemed to reorganise his central midfield, tilting the ‘triangle’ so that rather than have Plasil alongside Alou Diarra, the Czech midfielder instead joined Jussie higher up the pitch, whilst Diarra coped alone in the holding role.

This had three benefits. First, it meant that Gourcuff was more tightly tracked by Diarra and even less of an influence on the game, whereas in the first half Gourcuff occasionally found space by drifting to the right when Plasil ventured forward. “Diarra was always near me”, said Gourcuff. “I had to play between the lines and he tracked me, almost as if he were man-marking me.”

Second, it meant Bordeaux found it easier to press – their triangle in midfield more closely corresponded to Lyon’s on the pitch, with Diarra on Gourcuff, and Plasil and Jussie closing down Jeremy Toulalan and Jean II Makoun.

Third, there was less creative burden on Jussie – he was able to drop slightly deeper, see more of the ball, and dictate play without being the sole playmaker that the central figure in the 4-2-3-1 often becomes. Jussie rounded off the win with a superb goal in stoppage time.


Two very nervous sides playing out a cagey contest. In truth, the game was decided by such fine margins (as so many football matches are) that giving full credit to Tigana over Claude Puel would seem hasty, but his side were undoubtedly more compact, more organised, and Tigana’s tactical shift was important in the outcome of the game.

Amazingly, these two sides – both Champions League quarter-finalists six months ago – find themselves 13th and 17th in the Ligue 1 table, and it’s clear that both are still trying to adapt to the summer changes in personnel. It remains to be seen what long-term lessons can be taken from this game.

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