16 points out of a possible 18 taken in Ligue 1, a series of four league wins: everything is going well for OM, thank you for him. The start of the season for the Marseille club swept away a good part of the doubts surrounding the management of Tudor, who had quickly raised the temperature internally after his arrival. But – and this is normal – not all questions have been answered. And one of them concerns the viability of OM’s playing system at the highest level.
This famous 3-4-3 system and its animation, which contrasts radically with what Jorge Sampaoli’s OM proposed, have not yet been really challenged. Without insulting Reims, Brest, Nantes, Nice (in total reconstruction) Clermont and Auxerre, Marseille has not yet faced an opponent of its size in the league, even if it was hooked by the Breton club. Tudor (and his system), he has European experience only 8 group matches of the Europa League, excluding play-offs.
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For this new-look OM, its coach and its 3-4-3, Wednesday’s trip to Tottenham will therefore be the first real test of the season. And what a test. The Olympian club will not only face a Premier League big fish in London, with the intensity that implies. He will be opposed to a formation accustomed to regularly using a three-man defense since 2016, under Mauricio Pochettino first, then sparingly under José Mourinho. And to a coach, Antonio Conte, who has evolved tactically to make this organization his specialty, not without some variations.
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The stakes will therefore be multiple in this 3-4-3 match, starting with the entertainment. Where Conte lines up two defensive midfielders and a real line of three attackers made up of Heung-min Son, Harry Kane and Dejan Kulusevski, Tudor’s OM never play with more than one “real” attacker. It was Arkadiusz Milik at the start. It is now Alexis Sanchez, with Luis Suarez to shoot, which should be the case on Wednesday since the Chilean will be suspended while Bamba Dieng and Cédric Bakambu have not been selected.
How to defend?
Tudor’s 3-4-3 is therefore more precisely a 3-4-2-1, with two players in support of the attacker. Among these two supports, there is always at least one “pure” midfielder – Gerson or Matteo Guendouzi, when it is not both – accompanied by an attacking midfielder or winger profile, like Dimitri Payet or Cengiz Ünder. OM can therefore possibly find themselves in numerical superiority in the midfield, Guendouzi or Gerson being able to come down to work alongside Valentin Rongier, Jordan Veretout or Pape Gueye in the defensive phase.
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Not luxury in the face of two problems that Spurs could pose in this part of the green rectangle: the physical challenge imposed, first, with in particular the large volume of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. But also and above all the stalls of Harry Kane, sometimes to play in support-relief, often to turn around and throw his partners like a number 10. This implies giving more leeway to the three opposing centrals when reviving. But those of Tottenham, unless Clément Lenglet were to start, are not necessarily known to be specialists in the exercise.
Conversely, the three attackers could go and press the three opposing centrals. A more risky option which had been chosen against Clermont, the only team to have modeled its system on that of OM so far. Guendouzi and Payet thus accompanied Sanchez to the dry cleaners, Gueye followed Johan Gastien, the opposing sentry, when the latter picked up. And inevitably, all this little world left spaces behind him. The kind of spaces Kane loves. The first challenge is therefore there: adapting your system to a superior opponent.
An advantage in the corridors?
Another obviously important point in this diagram: the animation of the corridors. Job specialist Jonathan Clauss and a fit Nuno Tavares will be in charge. They are both part of the major forces of OM at the start of the season. And they have a good chance of facing their toughest counterpart of this start to the season.
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The former Lensois will be opposed to Ryan Sessegnon, with an attacking side profile, or Ivan Perisic, vice-world champion in title and also accustomed to this role of piston, which he had held very well at Inter with that same Conte during the title season. The Portuguese should have Emerson Royal in front of him. The young Brazilian, passed by Betis and Barça, is the indisputable holder of the London right lane. Capable of the best and the worst, he still has a great ability to repeat races, like the player on loan from Arsenal. It will be who gets tired last.
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From these corridors will depend a good part of the offensive animation of the two teams, which also have several points in common when they have the ball. Starting with their tendency to fix their opponent on one side to reverse on the other. But also the fact that they operate as much as possible in quick forward transitions, with straight play.
It remains to be seen who will do best in front of his mirror which is, ultimately, only from afar. But individually, Tottenham leaves with a big head start with a Kane-Son duo, who knows each other perfectly, and a Kulusevski who is very well grafted to it. Without counting on the contribution of Richarlison during the match.
On paper, OM are much less armed offensively, especially without Sanchez. He will come above all to hinder his opponent, who is moreover on the outside. And it is in this, too, that this meeting serves as a test. Opposed for the first time to a team that is supposedly superior to it, it is on its strength, its collective coherence, that the Marseille club will first be expected. And so on his system.
Nuno Tavares and Igor Tudor during the friendly match between Marseille and AC Milan, July 31, 2022 in a friendly
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