Paulo Fonseca has been the trendiest coach in France recently. Along with Will Still and Igor Tudor, he is the man who has shone tactically over the 2022-2023 season, transforming a moribund LOSC under Jocelyn Gourvennec into a seductive, attacking machine. While it is becoming increasingly difficult these days to pinpoint a coach’s tactical schema, Paulo Fonseca has established himself as an aesthete, interested above all in providing an attacking game that is pleasing to the eye.
After a disappointing season overall, despite reaching the last 16 of the Champion’s League, Olivier Létang, the head of LOSC, decided to sack Jocelyn Gourvennec, who had failed to replace Christophe Galtier, and appoint Portuguese coach Paulo Fonseca.
The Lusitanian technician is coming off a season’s sabbatical after a mixed experience at the helm of AS Roma. While everyone was expecting him to move to the Premier League, where he attracted interest from a variety of quarters throughout the season (Tottenham at the start of the season, Newcastle after the Saudi takeover and Villa before Emery’s appointment), he bounced back to the north of France, almost to everyone’s surprise.
The best way to describe Paulo Fonseca is to quote his biggest fan here: JoseSoares, who has devoted several tactics to him.
The “Zorro” style is above all a philosophy rather than a simple tactic. And because Paulo Fonseca cannot conceive of football without it being played well, he asks his players to take the initiative, to have the ball, and to be an attacking team. Above all, he likes to have a feeling of dominance, to arrive at the match and impose his football, and to succeed in exciting the spectators who attend the matches. As proof of this, the thing he hates most in a player is to hide from the game, and not to take an active part in it. As he puts it, his primary objectives as a manager are “to ensure that every player dares to take the initiative, the courage to want the ball, and to take responsibility for the game”.
To understand Paulo Fonseca’s style of play, you need to distinguish between two things. How the team behaves in attacking and defensive phases. The team behaves completely differently in these phases.
The young coach wants his team to be vertically compact. The opposite flanker is constantly free with this laterally compact plan, but it remains difficult for opponents to reach the opposite player as the overcrowding on the carrier prevents him from finding a solution.
The pressing is certainly all-purpose, but it is carried out intelligently, as it takes place once the ball is on its side, forcing the majority of opponents to swing forward, unable to find short solutions.
The defensive lines were close together and each player was marked. The positioning prevents players from progressing, making it very difficult for opponents to build up an action.
Let’s take a closer look at Fonseca’s style of play, depending on whether the phase is offensive or defensive.
This is the formation we see most often because it is the one most often represented, particularly in Football Manager. In the defensive phase, Paulo Fonseca’s LOSC play a fairly classic 4-2-3-1 formation with a goalkeeper (no kidding :hoho: ), two full-backs, two centre-backs including a returner, a double pivot consisting of a scrummager and a playmaker at the back, two wingers, an attacking midfielder and a striker at the back.
The three attacking players are fundamental because, unlike PSG, for example, here they really are the first line of defence. Indeed, the lack of goals last season from Jo Bamba, Adam Ounas and Jonathan David is often attributed to their defensive withdrawal and the constant pressure they exert whenever the ball is lost. The aim of this high pressure was to recover the ball as quickly as possible. This was also a feature of Galtier’s LOSC under Luis Campos.
In attacking terms, Paulo Fonseca’s LOSC is close to what Fonseca proposed with Shakhtar Donetsk a few years ago. And I’m not just saying that because Ismaïly followed the Lusitanian coach to France. We have a radically different formation. I’ve used the numbering of Lille’s eleven on the diagram to illustrate my point.
You can see that Diakité slides into the centre as the right centre-back in a three-man defence. This makes it even easier to understand why he was recruited, having trained as a central midfielder at TFC. Ismaîly, on the other hand, has completely abandoned his position and is taking advantage of it to position himself as a left winger, often providing an extra attacking threat. This overstretch of his role also explains why Timothy Weah has coped so well with his move to full-back (which helped him secure a transfer to Juventus).
The double pivot is found a little further up the pitch with Benjamin André helping to build from the back and Angel or André Gomes using their full technical range to distil the play to one of the many attacking elements.
Following on from this, Jonathan Bamba refocused in the centre on the edge of the box like a second number 10 alongside Rémi Cabella, both supporting Jonathan David. On the right wing, Adam Ounas and Zhegrova brought on the extra men.
We therefore switched to a more attacking 3-2-4-1, which was based on the same principle as handball. The ball is moved around as much as possible in order to draw an opponent out of position and open up a gap. It is then that the team finds itself in a position to launch a shot.
Statistically, this means that LOSC are dominant, with possession among the best in the league just behind PSG (60.5%), a high number of passes (top 2 in progressive possession and progressive passes), and a huge number of dribbles and shots (top 5 and top 2). But they didn’t convert that many shots, particularly because their wingers were too ineffective and Jonathan David was a bit of a thief.
A TYPICAL PAULO FONSECA ACTION
Generally speaking, if you had to describe the way Fonseca builds up a play, the goalkeeper always throws the ball short to Fonte, who, with the ball at his feet, has the ability to find a way forward.
Paulo Fonseca’s other ability is to ask his players, in particular Djalo (then Alexsandro), to play directly forward, a variation of the game that is highly effective in surprising opponents and breaking down lines. In this way, the team progressed down the pitch while eliminating the opposition.
The ball carrier in the centre of the game always has several passing options in front of him, behind him or on the flanks. It’s the triangular positioning of the players and the fact that we have MJA wingers that mean we always have the upper hand in midfield, but also frees up space for the full-backs.
What’s more, when faced with teams that are tightly grouped in the middle, the full-backs stand out on the wings, always optimising the use of space.
The positioning of the attacking players between the lines is very intelligent, as the solutions offered to the playmaker make it possible to break up an opponent’s line
To produce the most effective passing combinations, the team is constantly on the move. Players move towards the ball and stand out to trap opposing players. So, in order to split the ball, the full-back dives into the space left free by the winger’s inbound run. That’s how the full-back finds himself in a position to cross towards the opposition’s goal, with a surplus of space created in the box.
Let’s try to adapt this in-game.
PAULO FONSECA’S 4-2-3-1
In FM, we present the defensive scheme in the dialler. So we find the 4-2-3-1 we announced. While Paulo Fonseca likes to play with a relatively playful keeper, here we have chosen a more traditional role for the keeper to reflect the season of Lucas Chevalier, who has not taken so many risks on the ball this year.
We’ll come back to the different roles later.
In Football Manager, we’re going to break this down into three types of action.
The result is a team that is neither purely axial nor systematically attacking out wide. As we said earlier, we ask the defence to come out quickly. Either we concentrate play on the wing between our full-back and his winger, or we bring our second winger into the middle to take advantage of the attacking qualities of our other full-back to create more space.
The team evolves with extremely short, multiplied passes while maintaining a slow but steady rhythm. The aim was to get into the box as much as possible and catch the defence off guard.
When the ball is lost, as we have seen, the team is constantly counter-pressing in order to get the ball out as quickly as possible and counter their opponents. The goalkeeper’s job is to throw the ball back to his centre-half as quickly as possible, always with the aim of unsettling his opponent.
In this way, all action starts from the back and sets up the game that is so characteristic of the game.
WITHOUT THE BALL
Once again, LOSC had a very tall team on the pitch, something they often paid for with José Fonte really feeling his age this year and Alexsandro a bit of a blunder at times. The attacking players often press hard to prevent their opponents from establishing themselves.
ROLES AND POSITIONS
The DEFENDING GOALKEEPER’s job is to clear balls from the edge of his area and provoke counter-attacks by sending balls straight back into the path of his team-mates. He will have a strong tendency to play short with his centre-backs.
The ATTACKING OFFENSIVE SIDE DEFENDER must be ready to take his opponents by surprise and make crosses along the goal line. With good dribbling skills, they also try to break down the flank to provide support for the forwards.
The COMPLETELY SUPPORTIVE OFFENSIVE LATERAL likes to attack, and although he is capable of carrying out his defensive duties, he tends to want to play in the last thirty metres. He will seek to combine his attacking instincts with certain defensive duties to bring balance to the team.
PS: This is not set in stone – you can totally reverse this if your right-back offers the most attacking guarantees.
Unlike traditional central defenders, the DEFENDER-RELANCEUR STOPPEUR is also responsible for sending long balls forward from defence to create counter-attacking opportunities. His passing ability and vision enable LOSC to move forward intelligently.
The DEFENDING CENTRAL DEFENDER’s main task is to stop opposing attackers and clear dangerous balls. In more aggressive tactics, he must also have the composure to help the team retain possession and make simple passes to more creative players.
The main task of the DEFENDING RECEIVER MIDFIEU is to press the opposing players and win balls in the centre of the pitch before passing them quickly to more creative players. In addition to his intelligent positioning, he needs to be technical in order to retain possession and create opportunities for attacking players.
The backup player operates between the defence and midfield. His role is to initiate attacking moves by making precise passes to teammates further up the pitch, not hesitating to destabilise opposing defences with more direct and risky forward play. And although he is first and foremost a creative player, he must also be capable of performing defensive duties.
The INSIDE FORWARD SUPPORT is instructed to return to the centre of the pitch and make runs into the heart of the opposing defence. These movements create space for his full-back, who is drawn forward, to split the ball and create danger.
“We have to take advantage of every moment to show that we are really good at what we do” PAULO FONSECA
The ADVANCED ATTACKING PLAYER seeks to position himself between the midfield and the opposing defence, making himself available in order to find spaces where he can be more effective. He either creates a gap for his full-back or finds himself in a position to shoot.
The role of the SUPPORTING OFFENDING MIDFIELDER is to create chances for himself and his partners in the last thirty metres. He positions himself between the lines and makes calls into the spaces to receive the ball and put the opposing defence out of position.
The ATTACKER IN SUPPORTING WITHDRAWAL stands in the spaces and keeps the ball before passing it back to his partners. If he has time to turn around, he will look to set up his team-mates before entering the box and finishing off the goal.
“We have to take advantage of every moment to show that we are really good at what we do” PAULO FONSECA
So tell us Groot, what’s the Paulo Fonseca style you’ve been working on with JoseSoares? Well, guys, we’re living up to expectations.
We’ve got a relatively attacking team that creates a lot of chances. We pass the ball a lot. We’re taking more shots than average and we’re creating a lot more expected goals. Defensively, we remain porous at times, with a defence that is clearly not LOSC’s strong point, with an ageing Fonte paying for his lack of pace and Alexsandro still a little tender. We won’t talk too much about Djalo and Yoro, who were disgusting in this FM (yes, it’s me who rates them though).
It’s worth noting that we finished third behind OM and yeah, no surprise Lens in FM :pepe:
But we’re right in line with Paulo’s principles!
POSSESSION: Top 2 behind Lyon with 60% average possession
EXPECTED GOALS: Top 2 behind Paris with 68.66 XG
CENTRES: Top 1 with 35 more than Paris
SUCCESSFUL PASSES: TOP 1 with 90% of passes completed, ahead of Lyon. More than 23,000 successful passes over the season.
OPPORTUNITIES CREATED: Top 2 behind Paris with 143 chances created.
SHOTS ON TARGET: TOP 2 with 596 shots, 40% on target
DRIBBLES: Top 1 with 956 dribbles attempted, or 25.16 per game. Well ahead of PSG with Neymar, Messi and Mbappé
HIGH-INTENSITY SPRINTS: TOP 1 with 5272 SHI ahead of Lorient and Paris.
PASSES IN THE LAST 30 METRES: Top 1, well ahead of Lyon, with 4,400 passes attempted (600 more than Lyon and 800 more than Paris).
Individual stats are nothing to be ashamed of either:
JONATHAN DAVID confirmed his form with 26 goals (including 23 in the league) and 7 assists.
RÉMY CABELLA had a surprisingly good season with 13 goals and 10 assists.
JONATHAN BAMBA is back with 11 goals and 12 assists. Spoiler: he ghosted us like IRL to sign for a middle club in England.
ADAM OUNAS: with 10 goals and 8 assists. He played all season and did slightly better than the Ounas – Zhegrova duo IRL. (It’s got to be a game after all :hoho: )
MOHAMED BAYO: who flopped with 2 goals (I told you that FM was the simulation in the world).
BAFODE DIAKITÉ AND ISMAÏLY who are having a great season with 6 assists each.