Nathan Staples writes a detailed tactical analysis about the Ligue 1 game that finished Nice 2-1 Bordeaux.
A combination of a dip in form and season-ending injuries to key players had really impacted Nice’s title challenge in the final third of the season. Having the led the way during the winter break, Ligue 1’s surprise package has slowly slipped away from their perch and their hunt for silverware, with two giants now ahead of them, looks bleak at best.
However, there was an opportunity to turn up the heat on their championship rivals this weekend, with both Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain contesting the Coupe de la Ligue final. That would also require them besting the in-form Bordeaux, who have risen like a phoenix up the table in 2017.
Jocelyn Gourvenec’s side had a rocky start to the season but have skyrocketed since January, only losing in the league to the aforementioned top two. This would be another big test of their European credentials and three points at the Allianz Arena for them would have seen them leapfrog Marseille into fifth and closed the gap to Lyon to just two points.
OGC Nice (4-2-3-1): Yohan Cardinale; Armand Souquet, Dante, Maxime Le Marchand, Dalbert Henrique; Jean Michel Seri, Vincent Koziello; Richardo Pereira, Younes Belhanda (Mickael Le Bihan 78’), Valentin Eysseric (Malang Sarr 89’); Mario Balotelli
Girondins de Bordeaux (4-3-3): Cedric Carrasso, Diego Contento, Vukasin Jovanovic, Igor Lewczuk, Youssouf Sabaly; Younousse Sankhare, Jeremy Toulalan, Valentin Vada (Jeremy Menez 72’); Francois Kamano (Adam Ounas 78’), Gaetan Laborde (Diego Rolan 72), Malcom
Having lost the likes of Paul Baysse, Wylan Cyprien and Alassane Plea this season, Lucien Favre has had to morph his side from that which was so successful in his 3-5-2 attacking formation. Replaced by a flat back four and Younes Belhanda operating behind the main striker, they still try to replicate the great width and interplay in midfield areas that helped them rise so high in the table.
The surprise came in defence, with Maxime Le Marchand chosen over youngster Malang Sarr. The teenager has been out of the first team for some time after a poor start to 2017 but many expected his return after Baysse’s absence but Favre instead trusted the former Le Havre man with the job.
As for Bordeaux, Gourvenec stuck with a similar set up to what had helped infuse his side’s recent revival. January addition Younousse Sankhare added a little more verve in midfield, allowing veteran Jeremy Toulalan to be his classic destroyer self while youngster Valentin Vada added the box-to-box energy.
Gaetan Laborde started ahead of Diego Rolan, despite the Uruguayan’s recent double before the international break, with the latter recovering from a journey back from South America. The worry for Les Girondins was at the back, with Vukasin Jovanovic replacing the dependable Nicolas Pallois who was suspended.
The away side’s plan was pretty clear from the off, deny the two midfielders of Nice space to start attacks. While there was no pressure put onto the centre backs from the attacking players, whenever Jean Michel Seri or Vincent Koziello had the ball, Vada or Sankhare were not far away.
That sat them in almost a 4-1-4-1, looking to either counter quickly through the speedy wide players or use Laborde’s strength to hold the ball up while waiting for support. They quickly settled into that formation, only pestering Les Aiglons when needed to do so.
In turn, that meant Nice saw a ridiculous amount of possession in the opening minutes. With Bordeaux sitting off them, they stroked the ball around as they got comfortable being the ones expected to be on the front foot for the evening.
Again, their formation morphed in those early moments to more of a 3-5-1-1. The full backs were encouraged to regularly seek space in the final third out wide when they had possession, Seri or Koziello sitting just in front of the back two as a deep-lying playmaker while Valentin Eysseric and Ricardo Pereira came inside to put plenty of bodies in the gaps between their opponent’s lines, displayed in the black circles and blue squares above.
They would then try to pry open Bordeaux’s defence through small triangles and quick passing, pulling players out of position before exploiting the gaps. Take the example above, Koziello has the ball and as soon as he plays it to Belhanda, he is moving forward.
The Moroccan quickly shifts it to Pereira, who guides it back to Koziello, who has now lost his marker through movement. Pereira’s move towards the ball pulls the fullback out of position which, combined with a dozing winger, allows Souquet to advance into the hole that’s left and all of a sudden, Nice are in behind.
The end pass was a little heavy and the full back was wrongly given offside, but it was a glimpse into what Nice’s gameplan would be. If they have more possession, they need to artificially create pace in their attack both through movement and quick interplay to pull Bordeaux away from their structure.
However, it would be the away side that strode in front, partially through Laborde’s brilliance and some incredibly poor defending from the home team. A throw-in pulls three players to the big man, when a quick interplay pulls Dante out of position before a bit of luck and some static defending allows Laborde to pull off a superb individual goal.
The positive is this didn’t put Nice out of their stride and their small triangles worked again for the penalty decision. Souquet again finds space out wide; his cross is cleared by the Bordeaux defence but only as far as Pereira.
The Brazilian looks for a quick one-two and as shown in the image below, the stationary Toulalan pulls Contento inside to cover a potential goal-scoring opportunity. It doesn’t quite work that way but with the full-back out of position, Belhanda plays it to an open Souquet who is then rashly fouled by the Bordeaux captain.
A simple quick passage of football, combined with the knowledge from the opposition that they needed to stop this, engineered the space for the penalty that was comfortably slotted home by Balotelli.
That gave the home side the platform to go snatch a second, with a poor pass from Vada allowing Balotelli to neatly pick out Eysseric for a terrific finish. Again, it was Bordeaux’s eagerness to quickly counter Nice that led to a mistake and it eventually cost them the game.
With Les Girondins chasing it more after 30 minutes, Vada was pushed into a more advanced role as they looked for him to find gaps behind Seri and Koziello. He himself should have scored an equaliser but that one movement of one player quickly shifted the game into a more attack-orientated affair for the rest of the first half.
In the second half, Bordeaux began to press higher up in the pitch and attacked Nice’s full backs when they had the ball. This pushed the home side further back, into more of a counter-attack mode but that relied more on Balotelli pulling something out of the bag rather than numerous runners springing off him.
With some of that width and dominance gone as Nice sat a little deeper, Gouvenec’s men grew back into the contest. Kamano missed three presentable opportunities, the first from a corner being more of a feat that it stayed out of the goal, as his side’s style had slowly constricted Nice into their shell, highlighting the mistake-prone nature of Le Marchand on several occasions.
Bordeaux’s failures forced Gourvenec to turn to the classic tactic of throwing on all the forwards. Diego Rolan, Jeremy Menez and Adam Ounas all came into the fray but a small switch from Favre countered it perfectly, limiting the visitors to praying for a moment of magic.
As evidenced above, the move to 4-2-4 gave Bordeaux more players in the final third but with less routes to take, relying on Toulalan and Sankhare to feed them the ball. Nice brought on Mickael Le Bihan for Belhanda not as a second striker, but as a nuisance in that attacking midfield role to pester that midfield two as the rest of the team sat into banks of four.
Lacking the time to pick out great passes, it became a case of players either having to come deep for the ball or the long passes being cut out by defenders. Taking that aerial threat of Laborde off the pitch made it so much more comfortable for the Nice defenders who simply saw out the game.
In the end, Bordeaux never really got into the ascendency in this game, even when gifted the lead. The first half saw them concede too much of the ball and make mistakes, while the urgency to get a goal in the second half saw them cancelled out tactically just as they were making some openings.
It also highlights Favre’s attention to detail, expertly seeing out a game that keeps his side just about in the title race. Comfortably one of the best hires in Europe this season, the Swiss manager showed throughout the contest how good his team can be under his stewardship even without key personnel down the home stretch.
Read all our tactical analyses here