Maybe he will not repeat the Leicester miracle but FC Nantes started thinking that Claudio Ranieri’s way is the right one. They can’t do otherwise as Les Canaris, with not hyped, high-recognisable names on their roster, currently sit third in Ligue 1.
Huge credit goes to Ranieri as the Italian gaffer built a strong defensive around Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu in goal. It became a great unit that frustrated opponents by allowing just two goals in their last seven games. Not a surprise given how Ranieri’s sides usually operate but still a great result as Nantes showed more stability and better defending than their more hyped counterparts of Marseille, Lyon, St-Étienne and Bordeaux.
Nantes are a small club – despite the eight league titles they won – and the fact they have been able to bring on at the Stade de la Beaujoire a coach with so many titles under his belt as Ranieri was still surprising.
That said, despite his allure, the Italian manager has been parachuted in a tough situation in Western France. In fact, Ranieri was called to replace former Nantes manager Sergio Conceição. Thanks to the Portuguese, Nantes became an effective offensive side flourished under the 4-4-2 that Conceição installed over there. Former Portugal International put strong emphasis on pressing and speed and some argue that Ranieri could’ve face troubles perpetuating Conceição’s success.
Instead, Ranieri left unchanged Nantes’ attacking while added some pragmatic defensive solidity. The Italian clearly announced his favor for a more balanced side during his introductory press conference: “A good balance is not to concede a goal and to score. I prefer to win 1- 0 that 5-4. I am Italian.”
And foemr Leicester City boss followed this path. Opener against LOSC aside, Nantes defence looked bright and smart, and they also posted some notable clean sheets.
Former Serie A netminder Tatarusanu – who became expendable at Fiorentina – proved himself as one of the best Ligue 1’s keepers and was a clear upgrade on former erratic No.1 Rémy Riou.
Tatarusanu showed to have been a nice addition.
The 30-years old Nicolas Pallois – a summer signing from Bordeaux – showed glimpses of class at centre back, playing alongside Diego Carlos. The central pair of Pallois and Carlos provided stability in an area that was a major concern for Nantes last campaign. They produced 6.2 and 3 clearances per game, respectively. Above all, they gave Les Canaris a needed composure when out of possession, a must for a defensive oriented side that produced an average of 42.6 on ball possession – the worst Ligue 1 side.
Compactness is the first mandate at the Stade de la Beaujoire: for those that followed Leicester City under Ranieri that’s not a surprise. Ranieri built a compact side looking to close the middle of the pitch and shuffle from side to side when the ball is in wider areas while they rely on quick transitions with the ball at their feet. in to the attack. It means as the work of Pallois and Carlos is so important.
Nantes is suited to defend deep in their own territory as showed by the average offsides they produced per game (just 1.8). Obviously, although this column is focused on Nantes’ backline, you can’t underrate the midfield’s contribution to Ranieri’s side defensive stability. The presence of Valentin Rongier – when not absent through injury – and Abdoulaye Touré in the midfield made Ranieri able to build a kind of defensive wall protecting the four-man backline. And tis had an impact on shouting the doors to opponents’ attacks.
FC Nantes two banks of four.
On the flanks, the unquestionably talent of both Koffi Djidji and Léo Dubois highly contributed to build a very solid defensive bloc. The 23-years old Dubois produced 1.5 tackles, 2 interceptions and 3 clearances per game while the Ivorian netted 1.7 tackles, 1.1 interceptions and 2.7 clearances. Dubois also gave prove of himself on the offensive side as he scored one goal and confirmed to be one of the top full back prospects in France.
From a tactical viewpoint, Ranieri’s 4-4-2 at Nantes is centred on a man-marking oriented system in which any defenders are charged to stay close to the opponent placed into their space. That’s not a rigid man-marking system as if the opponent leaves the defender space without receiving the ball, the Nantes’ back regains his original position in the line. This could look as a compromise between zonal and man-to-man marking but it is more a modern version of the old man-marking in a zonal marking dominated Era.
The CB broke th eline following the forward while the RB close the opposite’s winger cutting inside movement by following him.
Nantes’ Ranieri is lined up in order to stay in a compact shape, to avoid opponents exploiting depth. It means Nantes’ backs are allowed to break the line when it needed but they have to be ready to regain their defensive spot in the way to don’t leave holes in the backline. This is a highly demanding system as Ranieri asks his defenders to pay attention to both the ball and the opponent.
When well-executed, a man- marking oriented system allows a team to maintain control of the opponents in the zone where the ball is. Sure, this system can show a lack of compactness with team-mates often too far away to protect each other but it was rarely the case at Nantes.
This aggressive man-oriented shape usually made hard for opponent to find a free man to get the ball progressing high up. Playing this way Nantes’ backline has been effective on reducing the influence of rivals’ key players also tightening the spaces in which they can operate. This system also put the ball carrier under constant pressure.
Ranieri knew the French football since his two seasons gig at Monaco, when the Italian led them up from Ligue 2 to a second Ligue 1 place in 2014. Ranieri used this French football knowledge to build a tactical wise team that, in a no tactically sophisticated Ligue 1, seems to be good enough to get interesting results. Probably the highs Ranieri hit at Leicester as far to be reached but, unquestionably, Nantes manager showed the same tactical acumen he successfully deployed in England.
Nantes defensive orientation didn’t prevent them to be efficient up front: in fact, as their last game against Metz proved, Ranieri’s side is a team that don’t need many scoring chances to win as highlighted by the difference between their expected goals (2.4) and the goals Nantes scored (one) .
So, should this form continue through the season, Ranieri could add another big story to his resume and an European spot for Nantes could also be not out of question.