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Jorge Sampaoli - Master Tactician - Tactical Analysis and FM Tactics

So far, Jorge Sampaoli has led Marseille to an unbeaten start with two wins in the opening 3 Ligue 1 games, carrying on from the sides' decent form towards the end of last season. Since his arrival to Marseille back in March, they have displayed some exciting tactics, with Sampaoli introducing his playing philosophy, making Marseille a very intriguing side to watch. Every footballing site has Marseille's formation as a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 but, there is so much more to it.

In this tactical analysis, we will mainly look at some key elements from their most recent game against Saint-Etienne, the elements that have remained since his arrival last season, and how they have worked so far. Furthermore, of course, the Football Manager 2021 Jorge Sampaoli tactic based on this analysis.



Their formation alone is a fascinating one. As said before, footballing sites have Marseille down in a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 whilst other platforms, for the most recent game, have Marseille's formation as a 4-4-2. Against Saint-Etienne, it is understandable why sites have Marseille in different formations as they are very tactically fluid. The formation, in this case, is certainly debatable, and spectators will for sure have different opinions depending on what they see. During specific game scenarios, such as opposition goal-kicks and Marseille's lengthy spells without possession, a 4-4-2 shape was in place, as we can see below.

Four examples from their most recent game against Saint-Etienne.

However, this 4-4-2 shape was rarely seen on the pitch during Marseille's possession of the ball. Even starting positions such as kick-off or a goal-kick for Marseille, there were three at the back, with Alvaro Gonzalez in between William Saliba and Luan Peres in their most recent game. Rongier, positioned as RB in the back four images, spent most of the time roaming around central midfield, partnered with Mateo Guendouzi and Kamara, who also was roaming around and rotating positions, never before sticking to one area on the field.

The wingers in this system remain high and wide whenever Marseille had the ball, often stretching the opponents' backline to create gaps for central runners, and with Milik out injured, Dimitri Payet has been deployed as a central forward who was, according to Wyscout, partnered up front with Gerson and at times created a four-man attacking line with the wingers. The two forwards were dropping between lines, and neither took on the role of a traditional striker.

Teamsheet from the most recent game and with an image of the four-man attacking line formed

In Possession

In their opening three games, Marseille have kept an average of 63% possession per 90, indicating that the system is possession-based and against Saint-Etienne, most of their 602 passes attempted were lateral between the three at the back, patiently building attacks and not forcing an attacking action. Though there are sides that play more progressive passes per 90 than Sampaoli's side, Marseille look to progress through central areas and using the forwards as their outlet. Gerson and/or Dimitri Payet tended to drop to collect the ball whilst a central midfielder would make a run dragging an opponent out of a central position to allow either forward to receive a progressive pass played through the lines. Quick passing and off-the-ball movement are key elements, as their opponents are often reactive and look to block central passing lanes to stop Marseille from creating an opportunity.

Example of breaking lines and finding a central pass through off-the-ball movement.

At the very early stage of their build-up, from goal-kicks, Marseille typically shape up with three defenders, and either central midfielder will drop deep to it in front of the back three. The wingers always stay wide, continuously stretching play throughout and with one of the strikers dropping into the midfield, giving Marseille a 3-4-3 look. However, as mentioned earlier, Sampaoli's side are very fluid tactically, and their shape could resemble more of a 3-3-4 or even start the early build-up stage with just two central defenders depending on how the opponents