FC Nantes who finished 9th in the Ligue 1 2018/2019 under Claudio Ranieri, have made several changes designed to forget last season’s disappointment.
The Italian manager and the French club decided to part ways in May after a tough season. Nantes President Waldemar Kita, believed that hiring a world-renowned coach would bring back the club to the top. Things started well as Nantes sat in the top 5 in pole position for European qualification just before the winter break. Playing very defensive football, allowing the opponent forward with the ball in order to prise them open on counter attacks using a 4-2-3-1 formation, fans were dreaming of a remake of the Leicester’s saga in France.
But Ranieri’s defensive tactics could not secure Nantes a European place at the end of the campaign, as they finished 9th after a very disappointing second part of the season, with only four wins out of nineteen games. The manager’s tactics were clearly been pointed out by the fans and the media as a source of frustration, the football sometimes pain-staking to watch. Nantes’ football was qualified as “boring”, which proves justified by the only thirty six goals scored in thirty eight games.
Ranieri gone, the spot was quickly taken by Miguel Cardoso. This reminded the fans of the club’s last Portuguese manager, Sergio Conceição, who enjoyed a great, albeit brief time at the club. The new manager from Rio Ave has a lot to do to make this team successful. His arrival has marked the end of the goalkeeper’s booting the ball, low possession-based football and short-lived spells of possession. Cardoso prefers offensive football, and is using a 4-2-3-1 to deploy his philosophy.
He wants his defenders to hold a high line, and requires that his players press immediately, in order to get the ball back very quickly not matter where on the field the ball has been lost. Offensively, Cardoso has so far insisted on short passing combinations and one-twos, keeping the ball on the ground for as long as possible. Players need to make the most use of the space.
Kita has trusted in Cardoso regarding the signing of new players. Nantes have brought in two defenders: Fabio from Middlesbrough and Matt Miazga on loan from Chelsea, one player with considerable experience and the other one looking to gain some. It is however in attacking midfield where the most changes have been made, with the arrivals of Lucas Evangelista, Gabriel Boschilia and Anthony Limbombé.
Finally, striker Majeed Waris joined the squad. The majority of the players signed are young, which plays to Cardoso’s strengths, always so far preferring to work with younger footballers, as evidenced by his successful three years spent managing the Shakhtar Donetsk U21s. These new signings also points to the club’s ambition to trust young talents and to play entertaining football with offensive players.
The season started with a match against Monaco at home. A real test for Cardoso’s men. Nantes lost 3-1 after a tough game, but where several positives could be taken. A marked difference from last season was immediately apparent, with sharp, refined attacking plays built from the back of the pitch to the opposition’s penalty box regularly leading Nantes to doing everything, except finishing, right.
However the midfielders tended to play wide a lot, which resulted in three goals on counter attacks for Monaco. Defensively there were spaces in key channels too often left for their Principality opponents, with Cardoso’s desire to see his defenders well-intentioned, but they were ultimately, regularly outpaced. Similar warning signs occurred against Dijon, where Nantes lost 2-0, despite aesthetically midfield build-up.
The following match against Caen was more defensively impressive. While retaining an attacking philosophy, Cardoso changed system to a 3-6-1, where the defensive midfielder is required to sit in front of the central defenders. This provided wide-men or attacking-minded players to float positionally with more freedom, like Waris and Evangelista.
The assessment so far after three games makes for dire reading on paper. Two defeats and one draw. However it takes time for a manager and new players to adapt to the division and their surroundings. Nantes are undoubtedly playing a more enjoyable brand of football compared to Ranieri’s tenure. Retaining possession is a key aspect of Cardoso’s tactics and the numbers prove that this particular facet of his game-plan is working, with an average 62% of possession over the last three games. Looking at the passing it is a 80% success rate, even if the attacking polish is yet to arrive.
In other words, the revolution is on in Nantes and Cardoso needs some time to prove himself. 35 more games Miguel! Good luck!