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Tuesday, 26 August 2014 20:59

FC Porto 2-0 Lille tactical breakdown

Dragons claim their place in Europe's top tier

FCP_LIL_Line_ups.jpgFC Porto have progressed to the group phase of the Champions League, successfully raising the number of Portuguese participants to three, after eliminating LOSC Lille over two legs.
Starting line-ups
The match at the Dragão between Portugal and France's third-best teams from last season was a touch more one-dimensional than expected, with Lille favouring a more reactive approach, despite trailing by a one-goal margin from the first leg.
There was some curiosity as to whether coach René Girard would remain faithful to the 4x3x3 formation he tends to deploy in the tougher matches or whether he would instruct his players to be more proactive with and without the ball. FC Porto coach, in turn, fielded the exact same starting XI he had presented last Wednesday in France.

Matching formations do not mean matching dynamics

One of football's greatest truisms is that games are not won on paper, which is usually a fair point when supporters and commentators discuss the virtues and flaws of the tactical arrangement of any given team. Case in point, both FC Porto and Lille took to the pitch organised in a 4x3x3, but the way went about it couldn't have been more different.
While Les Dogues kept allowing FC Porto time on the ball and (sometimes too) patiently waited for their opponents to get caught in possession - which almost came to fruition when starlet Rúben Neves underhit a pass, forcing Maicon to a desperate last-ditch effort - the Dragons stayed the course they have undertaken under Lopetegui and offered a very fluid display during the first 20 minutes.
Indeed, FC Porto's long(ish) spells of possession were followed by quick switches of play in an attempt to find vulnerabilities down Lille's weak side (the flank the ball is not on) and making the most of the excellent Brahimi and Óliver Torres. Despite being nominally stationed on the wings, both these players tended to drift inside and allow full-backs Danilo and Alex Sandro to motor forward.

Man-marking often equals vulnerabilities

Hector Herrera did not have the easiest or most successful season last term, but his particular traits allow him to shine on specific circumstances (as shown at the latest World Cup). Here he was able to take advantage of Lille's vulnerabilities in midfield. The gaping holes that kept surfacing all over the centre of the pitch were a direct result of the team's man-marking in midfield. 
All it took was for Óliver or Brahimi to come inside to drag Balmont and Gueye out of position, which allowed Herrera to sprint in behind (usually at Gueye's expense), particularly down Lille's right side. Lille midfielders could be seen swapping man-marking duties on the pitch, instead of approaching the challenges in zonal fashion.

Marked improvement, but still work to do

When compared to last season, there are significant enhancements as far as FC Porto are concerned. With more men closer to the ball when in possession, the Dragons are often better equipped to react to giving the ball away, usually being fast at keeping their opponents from transitioning into attack. The few times that it didn't happen, Lille were unable to make the most of it because they invariably looked to the wings to provide crosses, allowing FC Porto defenders precious time to retreat into their positions.
On the other hand, it was already possible to see distinct moving and passing patterns, the concern seeming to be to offer several passing options to the player with the ball (for instance, if the centre-back has the ball at his feet, it's quite likely the full-back will offer width, the winger will come inside to offer a passing option and the midfielder on that side will sprint in behind on the wing).
Nevertheless, there were some periods during which Lopetegui's charges were not in total control of matters and where, against stronger opposition, slip-ups could have been punished. The team seemed somewhat surprised when the coach asked them to retreat after Brahimi's beauty of a first goal from a direct kick and Lille could have effectively got back into the match.

Evandro brings stability, Souaré kills all hopes

Four wins in four matches with no goals conceded is way too short to offer any kind of perspective, but Lopetegui should at least be praised for giving the team a solid identity (something the side lacked throughout all of last season) and for sticking to 17-year-old Rúben Neves on such demanding matches. The Portuguese midfielder eventually ran out of steam, making way for Evandro, who brought some much-needed stability to a midfield that was clearly coming short by the middle of the second half.
A couple of good chances for Lille ended up yielding nothing and it would actually be one of Les Dogues to kill the tie: left-back Pape Souaré's poor pass offered Brahimi the possibility to run at Lille's defence and play Jackson Martínez in with a perfectly weighed pass. The tie was definitely over.


A very positive result for both FC Porto and Portuguese football. The Dragons' expensively assembled team needed to make sure they were in the Champions League to justify the huge investment made and the weapons at their disposal make them clear favourites for the Portuguese title (even though one can't help but feel this is the club's swansong as far as high-profile signing are concerned in a desperate attempt to wrestle the title from the hands of Benfica).
There already seem to be some good routines and patterns in the squad, and the positive results will surely help the players believe their coach's ideas. Still, this possession-based approach has its drawbacks, namely when the centre-backs are called upon to start out attacks or when opponents remain compact and patient.

by Vasco Mota Pereira
Comments (11)
how sad
11 Thursday, 28 August 2014 02:57
Can you really consider FC Porto a Portuguese team. Only one player from porto was from Portugal, pathetic. No wonder our National team is on the decline. No national pride or oppurtunties.
Add Ons
10 Thursday, 28 August 2014 01:17
Jorge, I've never mentioned Maicon.
But, is he now the greatest? We're the previous managers wrong for not playing him more? Was the Mangala transfer a win win?
Not every player is the greatest after a good match and/or spell. Let's wait and see. Sometimes they're not full time players for a reason.

The best case scenario has happened in the CL Qualifiers.
Porto defeat Lille and Bilbao defeat Napoli.
Both France and Italy now have only two clubs in the CL.

Let's hope draw is favorable.
Reply to Andre
9 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 23:10
Andre, I don't think my comment is that far-fetched. He is a top-quality defender and the facts back my statement. Aside from my objective reference from "whoscored.com", which is a very credible stats resource, how does this read?


UEFA Europa League: 2010–11
Portuguese League: 2010–11, 2011–12, 2012–13
Portuguese Cup: 2009–10, 2010–11
Portuguese Supercup: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
UEFA Super Cup: Runner-up 2011
Portuguese League Cup: Runner-up 2009–10, 2012–13

And he's only 25. He was a starter every year except last, when he was out for most of the year with a major injury. Do those seem like a mediocre 25 year old's accomplishments? As for Garay and Mangala, those guys are top quality, no question. But, you are not using context as part of your argument.

Mangala was highly sought because he managed to break into the French national team and because he is a very physical player. Garay for his part, broke into the Argentine national team starting lineup. Think that's not a big deal? What did we all think of Rojo before this summer? Mediocre, right? Now he's a Man U player valued at $20 million.

Also, and perhaps MOST important, Mangala and Garay have the same management team. Would you like to know who else is a client of this team? Ok:

Ronaldo, James, Falcao, Di Maria, Diego Costa, Pepe, Nani, Ricardo Carvalho, and Deco, to name but a few. Maicon's management? They also handle Fernando, Rafa Silva and a few bartenders. So, is this any coincidence? One team has ALL the highest transfer valued players of the last 5 years. The other has some good players.

Also, Garay, despite your "props" went for a measley $6 million. So, there's that. Which doesn't exactly boost your argument. What's my point? There are more factors that decide how much a player is sought after or valued, other than just how good they are.

Maicon is excellent, and has been for a long time. I will be sad on the day Porto sell him, but I will take solace in the fact that if they sell him for $6,000,000.01, he will have been sold for more money than Garay, and therefore (by your own flawless logic), a better player than him.
8 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 22:46
Porto, a Portuguese team, with 1 Portuguese player [Ruben Neves] on the field. Sorry not interested in watching that crap or cheering for that crap. later
7 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 21:05
Take it easy amigo, when did i say I "hate Maicon"? That's your assumption, it's not the reality. I don't hate any football player for a start, how could I hate someone I don't even know?

What I'm saying is your comment that he's "better than most CBs in Europe" is an absolute laugh, and it's ironic because you're telling me to be objective when your comment is the total opposite of objectivity, you're clearly saying/believing that because he happens to play for your team and you like him.

I'm not even saying he isn't a good CB, but simply reacting to your far-fetched and totally subjective comment. If he really is "better than most CBs in Europe" then why has he never been capped by Brasil (and most likely never will)? And why hasn't he been bought up by one of the rich clubs of Europe, the way for e.g Mangala and Garay were, and players of our respective clubs always are? I think it's you who needs to be a little more objective my friend.
@ Andre
6 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 16:03
I try to always be respectful, but if you are amused at my comment, good for you. Maicon is and has always been an excellent defender for Porto. The stats back up my claims. He has a historical rating of 7.16-7.25 for Porto as rated by Whoscored.

To put that in perspective, Luisao, who was easily the best CB in the Liga last year, 7.04 in 2013-14. I know most Benfas like Andre hate him because he scored the offside goal that won Porto the 2011-12 Liga, but please be objective. If you have seen the Porto games this season, you would easily see that the biggest reason for Porto not allowing a single goal are Fabiano and Maicon.

You want to be petty Andre, that's your issue. As I said, Luisao was exceptional last year, and is still one of the best in the Liga. Maicon is also up there for me.
5 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 15:21
Jorge, London
NJ, it's funny to see you calling Maicon one of Porto's weakest links considering he's been one of Porto's best players these last 4 games we've played, not to mention his brilliant performance against Lille in both legs. It's even funnier to mention you criticising him considering what centre backs do Benfica have? Jardel and Sidnei? Mate, you wish you had Maicon in your squad.
4 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 14:18
Andrew Finn / UK
Very good performance by Porto, bar the ten minute spell in the first half. But it's hard to maintain intensity for a whole 90 minutes, so they're allowed the odd 'bad spell' in a game.

Brahimi looks fantastic. A goal and an assist in very good and he has surely nailed a starting place.

I also thought Alex Sandro was outstanding before he hobbled off injured.

Shoutout to Casemiro, Herrera, Oliver... what the hell, a shoutout to all the players. Everyone played their part, and it's good to see such performances in big and important games.

Now we have three teams in the group stages of the Champions League, and judging by the teams that possibly/are representing the Liga in the Europa League - it's going to be down to the Três Grandes to gain Coefficient points, because Estoril don't look good this season at all and I doubt either Nacional or Rio Ave are capable of doing much in the Europa League, should they progress tomorrow.
Good work
3 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 13:17
Best case scenario for Portuguese futebol. Three Portuguese clubs in the Champions League while knocking out a French club leaving only two Ligue 1 clubs in the CL.

The Big 3 will have to adjust and star playing much better then they've been, especially Benfica. But hopefully they'll now have some time to do just that.
The CL draw will go a long way in providing hope for advancement, but Portuguese clubs have been poor in event CL campaigns.
2 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 12:47
Good for the Portuguese Liga that we have 3 teams in the CL again. And as France are a direct rival, the fact that Porto beat a French team is good for the coefficient. I don't see any of the 3 really challenging for the CL, but I can see at least 2 of the 3 at least getting out of the groups.

Chris, your comment about Maicon being "better than most CBs in Europe" made me laugh, I have to say. Seriously? No chance mate! I actually think him and Fabiano in goal are the weak points for Porto, and better attacks than Lille will expose them both. Well done to Porto though, and let's see who the big 3 get in the big draw on Wednesday.
Fantastic work, great for Portuguese futebol
1 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 04:25
Aside from some really bad team cohesion from the 30-45 minute mark of the first half, it was a composed and confident showing from a growing team. I am thrilled to see Ruben Neves starting every game. He, Herrera and Casemiro really work well together, closing down, gaining and retaining possession, and moving around each other (though Casemiro was not great today).

Brahimi was also exceptional, showing up on both wings, dribbling like a magician around defenders, setting up goals and scoring a beauty of a free-kick.

But the real man of the season so far for me has been Maicon. He does not have the same rugged tackling and physicality of Mangala, but he is also less prone to poor challenges and giving away free kicks. What he does offer though, is a calmness and positional sense that make him better than most CB's in Europe. He was fantastic again today, holding possession at the back, starting key passes forward and making superb last-ditch tackles to save the day as he did against Gueye.

On this last point, I have to correct this article: it was Casemiro that made the poor pass that lead to Lille's best chance, NOT Ruben Neves, who tried in vain to run the pass down and get the ball. Casemiro and Torres were, for me, the weak links of the team. Casemiro is good defensively, but he failed to drop back and start attacks, meaning Maicon was often scowering up the field to try and make the right pass as his DM was also up in the opposition's half.

Torres went unnoticed for most of the match, was slow, lost the ball many times, and was generally a spectator. I know he is touted as a Spanish wunderkind, but he has not impressed very much in his first 2 games for Porto. I would take Quaresma on the wings over this kid any day.

Great article and breakdown, as always Vasco. I thought Lilles did extremely well when they pressed high (a la the Porto of Villas Boas), though the midfield-attacking link-up was very poor for them. Also, I was surprised to see no mention of the very early subbing off of Sandro for Reyes, which seemed unorthodox and rash, but actually brought a good balance to the Porto backline. I know Alex was supposedly hurt, but there was no real confirmation of this during the game. It seemed the coach wanted to re-structure. I'd like to know your thoughts on that Vasco.

Porto deserve to go through and let's hope we can see all 3 Portuguese teams go deep in the CL.

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