Lyon 3-2 Marseille: Cris nets winner

May 9, 2011

The starting line-ups

3rd-placed Lyon beat 2nd-placed Marseille to remain in the title race – just about.

Claude Puel made various changes to his side because of injury and suspension, bringing in Thimothee Kolodzieczak, Miralem Pjanic and Bafetimbi Gomis, which pushed Lisandro Lopez to the left.

Didier Deschamps brought back Loic Remy after suspension, which meant Jordan Ayew dropped to the bench.

This was – perhaps surprisingly for Ligue 1 – an exciting, open game packed with decent goals and opportunities for both sides. Then again, these sides have a history of entertaining clashes.


In a funny way, however, this was actually a good demonstration of the defensive-minded football that many have complained about in France in recent months. Yes, there were five goals, but it was notable that both sides only attacked when they needed to, when the scoreline dictated that they needed a goal. There was no attacking in the natural mentality of the sides, or even any attacking play as a form of defence – it was attack when you need a goal, defend when you don’t.

That’s a rather basic point to make, and perhaps its simply the definition of how to approach a game as the score changes. But take Marseille’s attitude – very negative until they went 1-0 down, rather exciting when they were trying to get it back to 2-2, and then back into their shells when it looked like they might grab a point.

Lyon, as the home side, started much more positively, but at 1-0 up they retreated and played solely on the counter. Cesar Delgado’s superb goal on the break indicates that there was plenty of reason for them to play that style of football – but Jimmy Briand’s stupid error (trying to keep the ball in, in order to save a corner, but actually just setting up Marseille for their first goal) indicated the danger with Lyon sitting back in their own third of the pitch.

The ‘tactical’ part of the game was relatively uninteresting, but the ’strategic’ part was fascinating. In other words, when and why Puel and Deschamps attacked and defended at certain times was fascinating – how they did it was nothing out of the ordinary.

Lyon tactics

Lyon’s main strategy was to bring their wide forwards inside, narrow the opposition defence, and get their full-backs high up the pitch to stretch the play. This had an obvious attacking benefit, but it also worked well defensively – it forced Mathieu Valbuena and Marseille’s left-winger back (Remy and Andre Ayew both guarded that side of the pitch at different moments) and prevented the away side from getting attacking players forward. With Marseille’s wingers so deep, they were not much of a threat.

Lyon were particularly fond of the long diagonal ball from the centre of the pitch out to Anthony Reveillere – they attempted it three or four times in the opening stages, but in truth it wasn’t particularly effective.

Most of their build-up play came down the wings, though. Kim Kallstrom played the ball neatly from flank to flank, whilst Mirolem Pjanic focused on getting himself into the box to meet cut-backs, a la Frank Lampard.

Marseille tactics

Marseille started off playing exclusively on the counter. Valbuena had a very quiet game on the right flank – Marseille instead used the the pace they had down their left, with the Remy-Ayew combination carrying the ball at speed. Marseille’s transitions were rapid and Lyon’s centre-backs were often caught very high up the pitch – their offside trap looked a little suspect on a couple of occasions.

In the defensive phase of play, Marseille’s wingers dropped back level with the two deeper central midfielders, with Lucho Gonzalez able to press higher up – making the away side look like 4-4-2 without the ball.

Tactical battle

With a 4-3-3 against a 4-2-3-1, the individual battles across the pitch were obvious, and the Lyon full-backs high up the pitch was the only notable point of interest positionally.

The pattern of pressing largely fitted with the earlier point about the mentality of the sides at different points. Lyon started off closing down high up the pitch with Marseille sitting back, then roles were reversed when Lyon took the lead.


Deschamps deserves praise for making two brave substitutions – removing his two wide players and bringing on Jordan Ayew and Andre-Pierre Gignac. Marseille did go behind immediately after bringing those two players on – but that was just being caught with an excellent break (see below). Ayew and Gignac added more variety upfront, and those two players grabbed an assist each.

Puel’s substitutions were less successful – Briand came on and made the mistake for Marseille’s first, whilst Jeremy Pied was less of a threat than Lisandro. Lyon’s attacking drive faded late on, but centre-back Cris went up for a set piece and decided the game with a thumping shot.


A fairly standard tactical battle of 4-3-3 against 4-2-3-1. The most interesting aspect was how high Lyon’s full-backs pushed up the pitch – when they did this, Lyon were in control, but when they sat deeper, Marseille’s wingers were allowed to play in dangerous zones, and this got them back in the game.

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