Mohamed Mohamed looks at five individuals who have undergone a course correction in terms of positions on the pitch in Ligue 1 this season, and the varying degrees of success that they have achieved with these changes.
Jeremy Morel & Rod Fanni – Olympique de Marseille
When you think about Marseille’s 2014-2015 season, many words come to mind: intoxicating, volatile and stubbornness to name but a few. Another word that would fit well on this list would be “anemic” when describing Marseille’s defence, especially of late. Marseille’s defence this campaign was tied on 9th most goals conceded before last weekend’s action, a stunningly poor return for a team that was as recently as Week 20 on top of Ligue 1.
A portion of the blame for these failings must be placed on Jérémy Morel and Rod Fanni’s shoulders. Natural fullbacks by trade, the experienced pair have been largely converted to central defenders this season at Bielsa’s discretion. This shift, in part caused by injuries and squad imbalance but also in part down to Bielsa believing that this pair should be considered as strong choices to play at centre back has led to countless times this season where the opposition have taken advantage of Morel and Fanni’s poor positioning through the medium of goals.
Some sympathy has to be had for the duo. Not only do they not possess the ideal physical capacities to play at the centre of a team vying for the Ligue 1 title’s defence but Bielsa’s machinations have meant that he judges the pair as simply too slow to play as the attacking full-backs that he likes to deploy. Furthermore, adaptation to a new position is easier at the beginning of your career than towards its latter stages, simply because you have a more ably malleable physique. While the duo have made their own errors this season they have also had to deal with a system that is prone to six or eight teammates being deployed in the opposition’s final third at any one time, making a central defender’s job naturally more difficult anyway.
Marseille’s season had relied on their makeshift CB pairing doing enough of a job to keep the defence from being a total liability, but the demands of Bielsa’s system plus the limitations of Morel and Fanni has contributed to the demise of a previously storybook season.
Jordan Veretout – FC Nantes
One of the under-the-radar Ligue 1 subplots this season has been Nantes manger Michel Der Zakarian’s tactical tinkering vis-a-vis his best central midfielder, Jordan Veretout. Nantes have altered between playing a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 which has required considerable versatility from Nantes’ central players. Veretout has been deployed in various positions this season: as an attacking midfielder, a traditional central midfielder and even on occasion has been part played one of the deep-lying defensive midfield roles facilitated by a 4-2-3-1.
On the one hand, it is commendable to see a manager have enough confidence in both his job security and in the player to test the limits of Veretout’s tactical and physical capabilities by allowing him to receive game-time in the three main midfield areas. Veretout has done a commendable job as a box -to-box midfielder and as a defensive midfielder, which illustrates not only that he has the incisiveness and technical ability to score goals and carve out opportunities in the more advanced areas of the pitch but also that he accompanies this ability with more machine-like, disruptive defensive midfield qualities.
On the other hand, sometimes the right answer is the most obvious one. A player like Veretout is arare commodity for the current Nantes team who struggle desperately to score goals week in, week out. Had Veretout been deployed behind a main striker consistently this season, then FCN might be enjoying a little more success than their current position of low-mid-table mediocrity.
Jordan Veretout’s future remains as bright as ever and while he has not shone as obviously as he did last season, this campaign might be one at which he looks back on as his greatest 12-month spell of progression in his career. One would guess that at some point he will be given the full reigns as the number 10, but der Zakarian has done him a massive favour this season for the long-term.
Raphael Guerreiro – FC Lorient
One of the more common player position conversions in the modern game is the progression up the field of full-backs into wingers. Gareth Bale the most obvious example of this change, one which enabled his career to propel into another stratosphere several years ago. Perhaps to a lesser, but considerable extreme, a similar situation is unravelling for Lorient’s Raphael Guerreiro.
Overall, it has been a chaotic season for Lorient as they have battled relegation throughout the season but undoubtedly one of the few highlights of this campaign has been the success of moving Guerreiro into a more advanced position. He has scored seven goals this season, assisted on four other occasions and created around 40 “chances”, with that figure varying depending on which statisticians’ information you seek. These are vastly improved numbers from his first season when he played more as a traditional left back. Equally as impressive has been the fact that Guerreiro has not sacrificed the defensive side of his game despite his conversion into a left sided midfielder.
His success earned him a call up Portuguese national team earlier in the season, a huge portrayal of faith by one of Europe’s most successful international setups in an individual who was only embarking upon his second campaign in Ligue 1. If Lorient survive the drop, it will be mutually beneficial for club and player for Raphael Guerreiro to spend another season at the Stade du Moustoir because he will be guaranteed playing time and continue to expand his ever growing talent.
Claudio Beauvue – EA Guingamp
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire Ligue 1 season has been the emergence of Claudio Beauvue as a striker. Out of nowhere this season, Claudio Beauvue has become the main man for Guingamp as his 15 goals in Ligue 1 rank him 4th behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Alexandre Lacazette.
The French striker had previously rarely played as an out and out forward, but rather in a myriad of different formations that often ended with him playing as a wide midfielder hugging the touchlines. He only made two appearances as a striker last season but since the 5-1 victory versus Caen on December 3rd, Guingamp manager Jocelyn Gourvennec has played Beauvue as either a lone striker or as part of a two striker system with Christophe Mandanne, scoring 12 of his 15 goals along the way. The alteration has catapulted Guingamp into their current mid table position. Since the game against Caen, Guingamp have accumulated the 6th most points in Ligue 1.
With his past experiences as a wide midfielder, Beauvue’s transition into the centre of the park has been seamless. He is quick, can either drift wide when playing in a striker partnership or run in between the CBs as the main striker. He is also one of the most able players in the league when it comes to headers as only Gignac has scored more with his head this season in Ligue 1.
Claudio Beauvue will not be with Guingamp next season as he is set to leave the Brittany club with his next stop possibly being in the English Premier League. Playing as a forward has taken Beauvue’s career to new heights and if he can play the same position for his new club, they should expect another season of solid productivity.