Olympique Marseille; their tactics and a Player Positional Tracker

By Colin Trainor | September 24, 2014

Olympique Marseille; their tactics and a Player Positional Tracker

Marseille 3 vs 0 Rennes (20th September 2014)

This format of this Player Positional Tracker post is a little different to the way we usually publish them.  I thought it would be good to hear the thoughts on the game from someone that is much more familiar with the teams involved than I am.

This game was played last Saturday, but instead of publishing it straight after the final whistle I wanted to get the thoughts of the excellent Sébastien Chapuis; Sébastien is my go-to guy for French football. 

Sébastien's thoughts, both on this game, and in respect of how Marseille set themselves up under Bielsa in a wider context appear underneath the PPT for this game.



Game and positional observations

  • Marseille was set up with a back four considering that Rennes only played with a lone striker (Toivonen). Contest looked one-sided in the first half, Rennes was well organised with 2x4 in his defensive half, preventing Marseille to play.

  • Thus, Payet and Ayew had to roam to try to overload Rennes in central areas.

  • Bielsa likes to have attackers on different lines, attacking shape looks lopsided.

  • Thauvin was wide high willing to take on defenders, while the aforementioned Ayew acted more as a midfielder tucking inside on the other side

  • Rennes caused a threat on the counter attack but failed to convert good goalscoring chances.

  • Toivonen acted as a focal point, receiving support from box-to-box Abououalaye Doucouré while Paul-Georges Ntep ran in behind.

  • Gignac's well taken brace ended the contest in the second half of the game before Alessandrini's first goal in OM colors, bending a free kick into the top corner against his former team (for the narrative)

Bielsa's system relies on a high pressing game to recover the ball high up the field.

Bielsa applies the spare man rule at the back and adapts during games. Back 4 if opponent fields one lone striker, back three if opponents has two out and out strikers.

Bielsa does not want his team to prepare attacks for too long, he encourages vertical attacking football;

Hence the feeling that the team is sometimes cut in two parts:

  • a base of 3 players at the back (Morel, Nkoulou and Romao),
  • 4 attackers roaming, running and looking for space (Payet, Thauvin, Gignac and Ayew),
  • two wing backs providing width and linking up with wide players (Dja Djedje and Mendy)
  • the lone Imbula creating the link in between the two blocks (dribbling his way out from defensive third)



General observations on the set-up of Bielsa's OM:

  • Marseille is exposed when opposing teams play direct football above the first pressing wave (such at what Bastia did on opening day) or manage to play their way through (such at what Rennes did on occasions).
  • Space behind the full backs is an area targeted by opposing teams looking to hit quickly in transition considering the fact that many OM players will be subsequently caught out of position
  • Right and left CB are expected to cover in behind wing-backs when ball is played there, when OM features a back 3.
  • When OM features a back 4, the process to defend such situations relying on a communication process isn't fully functional right now. As CB is dragged wide, DM fills his position in central defence but fails to receive support from either Imbula or Payet to keep the area ahead of the penalty box in control.
  • More generally, OM's expansive gameplan means that it commits bodies forward to attack as well as to counter-press, this puts even more emphasis on the outcome of 1 vs 1 at the back.
  • If a player is 1. on the wrong side of a defensive 1 vs 1 or/and 2. fails to receive support from a team mate on the second ball of a clearance and possession is turned over, Marseille is under threat in his defensive third
  • Bielsa is said to be unhappy with the club's activity on the transfer market, especially in defensive positions. Has tried several options at the back: Romao, Nkoulou and the much maligned and formerly side defender (not fullback) Jeremy Morel converted into a CB. Even inexperienced youngster (yet aerially dominant) Stephane Sparagna got a chance on opening day at Bastia. It is to be seen whether new signing Doria can grow into a key player for OM at the back
  • Ultimately, Marseille haven't faced any of Ligue 1's heavyweights yet. Results have been good, long spans during games have been pretty entertaining (players say they're working hard during the week to enjoy the weekend game)
  • Marseille has had the ability to convert momentum into goals, especially through opening the scoring. OM is on a 5 game (winning) streak in which they scored first, Gignac scoring 4 of those (out of his 8 league goals).