Lyon Combine Pressing and Counter-Attacking to Outpoint Marseille

marinoLyon are an excellent counter-attacking team. They currently sit in 3rd place on the Ligue 1 table, and following the prodigous form of their two most advanced front men, No. 10 Nabil Fekir and striker Mariano, that’s absolutely where they deserve to be. More than that, though, they’re getting the best out of their attackers with a slick transition game. It’s one which is regularly based on sharpness and speed, and in their big match last weekend, played against fellow Ligue 1 front-runners Marseille, it again helped them out.

Early on, it was all about chance generation on the back of their pressing game. Lyon defend in a 4-4-2 shape without the ball, with the two central attackers leading the way. Fekir and Mariano are both happy to run hard, something which is especially true of the latter, and they use that effort to pressurise the opposition high up the pitch. Combine that with the support of a midfield unit who push up to help out, not to mention an advanced defensive line, and Lyon were always going to go hard at Marseille in the opening stages.

Take the 5th minute, for instance, when Marseille were trying to work the ball forward. They passed it around at the back, and when the ball eventually made its way out to right-back Jordan Amavi, Lyon turned their high positioning into an out-and-out press. Their right-winger, Maxwel Cornet, charged onto Amavi, and as that happened, Mariano and Fekir eased onto the opposition centre-backs. Central midfielders Tanguy Ndombele and Lucas Tousart followed suit, pushing onto their direct opponents in the middle of the pitch, and at that point, Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda had little in the way of options.

He subsequently launched a long ball as Fekir moved towards him, and when Lyon defender Marcelo headed it back into attack, Marseille midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa felt the need to intervene. He was, however, a little too keen, and perhaps due to Mariano’s position behind him, he used the top of his arm to bring the ball under control. That led to a freekick, about 35-yards out. Fekir stepped up in a bid to make it count, and although his effort appeared harmless, at least at first glance, it soon became less so.

The ball bounced just in front of Mandanda, skipping off the turf as it did so. That meant the Frenchman couldn’t get his body completely behind the shot. He tried to stop it, but once the ball bounced off his right arm, it was only going to end up in the back of the net. Fekir’s effort quickly settled up against the netting, and even though the goal itself had plenty to do with a goalkeeping error, Lyon’s high press had led to the freekick and, therefore, to the early goal.

Lyon continued to press from there, but they weren’t quite as aggressive after half-time. This was especially prevalent once they scored their second goal, but it still didn’t change the way they went about attacking. They wanted to create openings in transition, and they still wanted to use their attacking weapons. They didn’t, however, want to press as much, simply because sitting back and waiting for openings seemed like a better option than pressing and perhaps exposing themselves defensively.

During their counter-attacks, Lyon still liked to go through their wings. In terms of season statistics, Lyon attack each flank 39% of the time. That leaves only 22% of attacks to the middle of the pitch, so to say that they aim to generate their attacks from out wide would be an understatement. In fact, they rank 15th in Ligue 1 for attacking down the centre, according to WhoScored.com, and their leading assist man for the season, Memphis Depay (5 league assists), perhaps unsurprisingly populates the left-hand side.

One of their other leading assist-getters, Kenny Tete (4 league assists) plays at fullback, which further strengthens the argument that Lyon use the wings heavily when they enter attack. Against Marseille, this could be seen just a minute or two after the interval, when Mariano received a pass from Ndombele, who started in the defensive third, before giving it back to the man who gave it to him. This sparked a chance to break, and the young midfielder followed up by spraying a pass out wide, to left-sided winger Houssem Aouar. The versatile teenager couldn’t do more than bring the ball forward to win a corner, but Fekir’s delivery from the set-piece was so good that Lyon created a headed opportunity for Marcelo.

He didn’t score, but even though the rebound led to a goal that was ruled out for offside, that didn’t alter things too heavily. After all, a long-range counter-attack, just a couple of minutes later, would get Lyon into a position to create the pressure that ultimately led to their 2-0 advantage. It commenced with a move along the right-hand touchline, with right-back Marcal receiving a pass from Cornet. Between the two of them, they gained enough territory to ensure that, when they won a throw-in, it was right up near the byline. Lyon followed up with a freekick after the throw-in, and when that was cleared to safety, they switched the play out to the left-hand side where Cornet beat Hiroki Sakai to win another corner.

Fekir whipped it in and Mariano produced a shot at goal, and when Mandanda reacted brilliantly to save it, it looked like Marseille might be alright. Then the ball fell to Cornet, and with a wonderful short cross, which he prodded into the goalmouth with the outside of the right boot, he teed up Mariano’s 13th league goal of the season.

Again, it wasn’t always the counter-attacks, the wing play and the pressing that led directly to openings, but they all allowed Lyon to build pressure and win the freekicks that did lead to goals. Their method was brilliant, and Marseille, despite generating a number of decent chances themselves, were unable to come back into the contest.

With all of this considered, it’s not surprising to learn that Lyon top the league in goals scored from counter-attacks, with 5. That, combined with their organisation, pressing and electric attacking unit, make them one of France’s most dangerous teams. They sit level on points with Ligue 1’s second-place sitters, reigning champions Monaco, and their goal difference is an impressive +24.

Put simply, they are a strong unit, and following three straight league wins, including that massive result against Marseille, they have a strong platform to build upon.