Tactics: Lyon paralysed by chance of a lifetime

With 53 minutes to play and their opponent a man down in last night’s Champions League semi-final first leg in Munich, Lyon spurned the chance of a lifetime simply by failing to react. Franck Ribéry’s dismissal handed the visitors the initiative in a huge and unignorable way, but rather than reacting, Claude Puel’s side froze.

Ribéry’s sending off ultimately served only to highlight Lyon’s lack of tactical flexibility. Set up to be compact and strike on the counter-attack, as they did so magnificently against Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bordeaux earlier in the competition, when initiative and imagination were required they were found lacking.

Puel failed to do anything to exploit Ribéry’s absence. When Lyon returned to the field after the interval they did so in the same 4-1-4-1 they had adopted at the start of the match, with Lisandro López and the wide players César Delgado and Ederson working hard but with no-one taking a grip of the game in the middle of the pitch. Miralem Pjanić made some tentative forward forays but just nine minutes into the second half Jérémy Toulalan, unfortunately, saw red and the chance was gone.

Bayern, spared, sensed the momentum swinging back in their favour and they, crucially, capitalised by making changes. With Anatoliy Tymoshchuk anchoring the midfield after coming on for Ivica Olić, Bastian Schweinsteiger took it upon himself to push forward in support of Thomas Müller and Louis van Gaal profited from the change in tempo by introducing Mario Gómez to provide a focal point for the Bayern attack.

Forced to drop Maxime Gonalons back into central defence for Toulalan and with two wide players still on the pitch, Lyon allowed themselves to be forced back by Schweinsteiger’s forward raids through the middle and the goal seemed almost inevitable. That it came from Arjen Robben easily shrugging off Delgado, cutting onto his left foot and shooting from distance – as he has done time and time and time again in his career – was equally predictable. That Gonalons should duck beneath the flight of the ball rather than try to block it was inexplicable.

Bayern won because when they got the momentum they used it and because Schweinsteiger (31) had the bravery – and the faith in Tymoshchuk (44) - to take the game to the opposition. The hosts’ shape in the second half was a purposeful 4-2-3 (left), the visitors’ an aimless, hollow 4-4-1:

More damning even than Puel’s failure to react was the fact Lyon managed just a single shot on goal to Bayern’s 11 in the second half and conceded the initiative to their opponents to such a comprehensive extent that they enjoyed just 27 percent of possession despite the huge golden carrot of an away goal dangling above Hans-Jörg Butt’s goal.

“When both sides had the same number of players we’d already run an awful lot in the first half and we couldn’t hold onto the ball high enough up the pitch,” said Puel. “At that point we didn’t have enough skill to threaten them. We tried to be courageous and keep the score as it was. Bayern applied pressure from the beginning and controlled things very well.

“I did not think that we would win 1-0 with Ribéry getting a red card,” was van Gaal’s perhaps slightly incredulous assessment. ”But even when we were a man down we were the dominant side. We created more chances when we had ten men against 11. When it was then ten against ten I sent on Mario Gómez to score a goal quickly. We created many chances and, although we only scored one goal, that is good.”

The curious consolation for the vanquished is that, of the four Lyon teams that have made it to the Champions League quarter-finals, this is without doubt the weakest. It is inconceivable that a team containing players such as Mahamadou Diarra, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Juninho and Karim Benzema would have retreated so meekly in similar circumstances. Aside from a world-class goalkeeper and centre forward, Lyon 2010 boast little more than industry on the flanks, diligence in defence and promise (Gonalons is 21, Pjanić 20) in central midfield.

They were not helped by the injuries (to Jean-Alain Boumsong and Mathieu Bodmer) that forced Toulalan to step into central defence, nor by the zealous refereeing that saw him receive a yellow card for a fairly innocuous foul on Schweinsteiger, but they did not help themselves either by leaving Michel Bastos and Sidney Govou on the bench at a time when they were crying out for pace and directness.

Qualifying for the last four for the first time in their history was a memorable watershed moment and at 1-0, the tie is still in the balance. Puel will know, however, that it could have been very different.

Postscript: Speaking two days after the match, Lisandro criticised Lyon for their defensive mindset.

“It’s clear. The team must change their attitude and their mentality for the next match on Tuesday,” he said. “We didn’t play enough when we had the ball. We were waiting in our own half too much. At 11 against 11 we had chances to attack more but we didn’t hurt our opponent enough and definitely not at 10 against 11. You saw a team that played too defensively. We have to correct the tactics and show a more positive spirit to go for victory.”

9 Responses to “Tactics: Lyon paralysed by chance of a lifetime”

  • Matt:

    great article, great site. Just found it linked on zonalmarking.net. Keep up the good work!

  • [...] Tactics: Lyon paralysed by chance of a lifetime “With 53 minutes to play and their opponent a man down in last night’s Champions League semi-final first leg in Munich, Lyon spurned the chance of a lifetime simply by failing to react. Franck Ribéry’s dismissal handed the visitors the initiative in a huge and unignorable way, but rather than reacting, Claude Puel’s side froze.” (Football Further) [...]

  • Thanks for directing me here!

    I agree with most of your points. Puel is a conservative guy, and even against small L1 teams he never allows his players to take any risks. It’s too bad because guys like Cissokho and Bastos could do a lot more if they weren’t held by a leash.

    On the other hand, I do admire the work ethic he demands from his players. It’s nice to see everyone help out in defense (and if you’re Cris, in attack), But that can be a strength as well as a weakness.

    Lyon’s hard work and fortitude have brought them this far in the tournament, not imagination and brilliance. But the latter qualities are not always a necessity, because for every Barcelona, there is a Liverpool.

    Which is why I don’t think Lyon’s counterattacking approach was wrong – had things gone to plan, it would have worked brilliant, even against Bayern. Toulalan’s red card changed things around, as without him on the pitch, Robben had more space that he had in the first half.

    But Puel does need to ease up on his desire to control everything. He needs to trust his players to make the right decisions and not micromanage every play. Given the array of Lyon’s attacking talent (maybe not as formidable as Bayern’s, but not too shabby either), no doubt some of the players were just itching to go forward. Had they been allowed to, perhaps things would have been different.

    That being said, Lyon have nothing to lose in the next leg. A draw won’t be enough, Puel has to go for the win. So I hope that he will take a lesson from all this and let his players do something else besides defend. A one goal deficit can be overcome, and Lyon can take confidence from their home record.

    At least that’s what I’ll be hoping for!

    Thanks again for an insightful analysis!

  • This is what I’ve said on Zonal Marking which is basically a lot of the points you made (and I must say your analysis is better!):

    And Van Gaal was clever to take advantage of Lyon’s tiredness (Puel said they covered too much ground in the first half to make an impact in the second) and narrowness. The red-crad meant Lyon could not cover the flanks as well (because of less men and even mor work to do) so van Gaal played 4-2-3, with Muller drifting from left to centre.

    They were then able to switch play very seamlesly and Lyon couldn’t cope, especially when it reached Robben.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by ChrisMann24: Excellent analysis of last night’s semi-final by @tomwfootball – http://tinyurl.com/2843y86

  • [...] Tactics: Lyon paralysed by chance of a lifetime « Football Further "Bayern won because when they got the momentum they used it and because Schweinsteiger (31) had the bravery – and the faith in Tymoshchuk (44) – to take the game to the opposition." [via @probek] (tags: lyon bayern championsleauge taktik analyse) [...]

  • [...] Prior to the match, Lyon had vowed to take the game to Bayern by pressing them high up the pitch but in attempting to do so they were obliged to hold a dangerously high line and Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller and Ivica Olić were quick to take advantage by galloping onto balls down the channels and the flanks. Forced to retreat by the frailty of their defence against such pace in key areas and physically dominated in midfield by Mark van Bommel and the all-action Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lyon became as helplessly trapped inside their own half as they had been at the Allianz Arena. [...]

  • [...] from the side who’s rapid interchange of the ball from left to right – with ten men – brutally tired Lyon into submission in the semi-finals. “The only way to beat Inter was to attack them at speed – by that I don’t just mean physical [...]

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