Jean-Louis Gasset was appointed as manager of Girondins de Bordeaux in August 2020, replacing Paulo Sousa in somewhat controversial circumstances. He inherited a Bordeaux side that had been firmly sat in midtable (12th) when Ligue 1 was brought to an early end due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many others, the club finds itself enduring a difficult period of its rich history, with previous financial problems being compounded by the effects of the pandemic (especially in France where there has been a fiasco surrounding TV rights for games). However, despite any off-field difficulties, Bordeaux once again sit safely in midtable (11th), seven points off fifth and 10 points clear of the relegation play-off place (18th) with two-thirds of the season having already been played.
Their position is far from incredible and it would be a fair assessment to say they are performing roughly on par with their expectations, but during this challenging period for football clubs, safety and security in terms of their Ligue 1 status is a very valuable prize indeed. Bordeaux are a team that I have enjoyed watching at various points throughout this season, with an intriguing mix of youth and experience providing the neutral viewer with names from the past and of the future. Though consistency has been an issue, with runs of dreadful form bringing the side back down to earth at times.
In this article I will look to closer examine the way in which Bordeaux have set up and performed this season under Gasset, and where they could possibly look to strengthen in the future.
Les Girondins have utilised 25 different players thus far in the Ligue 1 2020/21 season, but with eight of those having played less than 500 league minutes this season, in reality Bordeaux have rotated an average amount. Here’s how their squad depth looks as it stands:
As can be seen here, Bordeaux have plenty of depth going forward and in midfield, with their main depth issues occurring in central defence, where they allowed Pablo to leave in January despite the Brazilian playing over 1000 minutes during the first half of the season. Mexer has made one start and Jovanović hasn’t featured at all in Ligue 1 so far this season, and neither appear to be in Gasset’s plans, whilst Koscielny and Baysse are both approaching the latter ends of their careers (though they remain very reliable options at the heart of the defence). At full back, Sabaly and Benito have been the first choice options at right and left back respectively, with Kwateng and Poundjé providing cover or alternative options should they be required.
In centre midfield, Bašić, Adli and Otávio have been the main options utilised by Gasset, though the latter sustaining a long term injury meant that Lacoux was promoted from the team’s youth ranks to provide cover, whilst Jean-Michel Seri was brought in on loan in January to further strengthen the midfield.
In Adli, Bašić and Otávio, Bordeaux have very good options in midfield who are all of a good age and add quality to the team, whilst Lacoux coming through the ranks will also be seen as promising. Adli has often been deployed further forward in his career, but following Otávio’s injury he was dropped deeper to accompany Bašić and the two struck up a decent partnership, though they do lack some defensive discipline between them, and Adli arguably remains a better asset when deployed higher up the pitch. Seri will add quality in midfield and has previously proven his quality in Ligue 1, but it would seem likely he is a temporary fix and will not be added permanently due to wage restrictions.
Out wide, all four of Bordeaux’s options are young and can be very lively, though the most accomplished is Remi Oudin, who the club signed from Stade Reims in January 2020 for a fee in the region of £9 million. Kalu is also quite well versed in senior football for a young player having plied his trade in Belgium prior to joining les Girondins, however, in stark contrast, Zerkane and Traore only have 775 minutes of senior league football between them thus far in their short careers. Nicolas de Préville, Hatem Ben Arfa and Hwang Ui-Jo have all also operated in wide areas at some point throughout the season, when Gasset has wished to call upon more experienced heads.
Hatem Ben Arfa has operated as the attacking midfielder, sharing the responsibility with de Préville, and the two have been in very contrasting form this season. Ben Arfa has proven he has the quality to be the life and soul of the Bordeaux attack, displaying his ability to regularly beat defenders and then find teammates or have a pop at goal with that wicked left foot he possesses. However, there remain question marks surrounding his attitude and commitment, and his decision making in the final third also leaves something to be desired at times. Meanwhile de Préville has yet to get off the mark for the season and has only registered one assist, leaving him very short of confidence and under increasing pressure from the fanbase.
Up front, the decision was made in January to let Josh Maja go out on loan to Fulham with an option to buy, after the Nigerian had only managed two goals in 17 appearances over the first half of the season. This leaves Bordeaux with veteran striker Jimmy Briand, 18 year old Bakwa who is yet to make a senior start, and the versatile Hwang Ui-Jo who struck a rich vein of form in the new year that saw him become the club’s top scorer this season with 6.
Out of Possession
Under Gasset, Bordeaux have been a formidable defensive force for periods, conceding 31 goals (making them the 7th best defence in the league) and keeping 12 clean sheets from 26 matches so far this season (3rd most behind PSG and Lille). There are multiple contributing factors to this defensive stability including: personnel, structure and organisation.
The experience of Baysse, Koscielny and Costil has been a key factor in the side’s defensive success. Certainly the two central defenders have struck up an excellent partnership in the middle of the back four, and seem to have a good understanding of how the other operates. They are effective in the air, command the backline very well, and are a bit of a homage to the old school defenders, willing to bravely put their bodies on the line to prevent the opposition from scoring.
As they reach the later years of their careers, they may have lost a yard or two of pace, but they are able to use their experience and game intelligence to either step up and play the offside trap effectively or to drop off and give themsleves enough breathing space to deal with the danger. Their organisation and solidity at the back provides an excellent base from which the team can build, whilst should they be bypassed, Costil has also proven that he has the quality to make game changing saves (though perhaps his consistency could be slightly improved upon, and he would do well to improve the areas into which he parries the ball when making a save in order to completely nullify the danger).
Generally Bordeaux sit in a mid-block in their defensive set-up, ensuring that they are not camped too deep and are able to apply pressure in midfield, but also that they aren’t caught too high and leave their slow centre backs too exposed. It is a fairly standard defensive tactic that plays to their strengths as much as possible. They do lack a bit of energy in the press at times, with the likes of Adli, Ben Arfa and Kalu rarely enjoying the defensive side of the game. On the other hand, Oudin puts in a lot of defensive work, always making sure to track the full back and support his teammates, consequently, whichever wing Oudin is operating on (he has been been used on both this season) always has a lot more defensive protection.
Here we can see the situations from which Bordeaux have conceded in the league this season:
Evidently, Bordeaux are often left vulnerable to the counter attack, this could be due to the lack of speed that the centre backs possess and their inability to keep up with the fast opposition wingers and strikers when breaking away. Whilst Baysse and Koscielny are very experienced and impressive defenders when sat deeper, they can be exposed to the counter attack, and it is something Bordeaux should be wary of. Furthermore, they have the occasional tendency to be very stretched, especially across midfield when the front line press and the back four fail to push up, and their cohesion when pressing as a unit could be better at times. This example displays Bordeaux trying to press but instead being caught out due to the midfield pressing too high, leaving gaps in front of the defence, this leaves thw defensive high line exposed to the counter attack.
They also tend to concede goals from their right back’s position (the attacking team’s left wing). Sabaly has been their primary right back this season, and can offer a good option going forward, but he can struggle defensively at times and this could be an indication of that, whilst Oudin may have been operating on the other side, therefore leaving Sabaly more exposed to overloads. The example below displays Sabaly’s failure to get out and close down the cross, standing off and giving the wide player time to put a ball in, furthermore, due to it coming in transition the defensive line is high, allowing the strikers to get a free run to attack the ball.
Finally, lapses in concentration in possession in dangerous areas have often lead to Bordeaux conceding this season. They have often been comfortable and hard to break down when sat in their defensive shape, but then have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot by immediately conceding possession in a dangerous area having just won it back. The main culprits of this are the side’s midfielders, with Adli often taking unnecessary risks, though in his defence he is an attacking midfield player who has been converted into a kind of deep lying playmaker and so it is in his nature to take risks when he’s on the ball.
Bordeaux have been able to maintain a relatively solid defensive record this season, but it could be even better should they make some minor adjustments. Finding adequate eventual replacements for Koscielny and Baysse must be a priority for the team due to their role in the defensive structure and organisation of the side.
Goals have been a rare commodity for Bordeaux this season, and as a result they find themselves with the 5th worst attacking record in the league (having scored 27 goals in 26 matches). Whilst their defensive stability has allowed them to pick up points without having to regularly threaten at the other end, they do struggle to pick up points when the opposition does find the back of the net (only picking up 7 points this season from games in which the opposition have scored at any time during the 90 minutes).
Les Girondins do seem to lack a focal point to their attack, which can cause them problems as the creative players and wingers have no-one to play off and interchange with when progressing through the thirds. With Jimmy Briand rapidly approaching the end of his career and with his skillset in decline, it is highly unlikely that the 35 year old is the answer to their problems, whilst Bordeaux made the decision to let Maja leave to Fulham (though whether their hand was forced by financial issues remains a possibility). The young Nigerian striker was never really able to fully get up and running in Ligue 1, and although he could be tidy in his link up play, he did seem to regularly go missing for long periods of the game. With Bakwa too inexperienced to lead the line, this left the responsibility with makeshift striker Hwang Ui-Jo.
The South Korean international hit good form in front of goal heading into the new year, but he has not proven to be a consistent goalscorer in his career, and it is worrying that Bordeaux are relying on him to provide the majority of the side’s goals. In terms of playing style, Hwang works very hard, has a good burst of acceleration and can put his weight about a bit if necessary (though it’s not his strong suit). He likes to drift into channels and make runs in behind, which have proven fruitful on occasion, however, this doesn’t solve the team’s issue of lacking a focal point as his play with back to goal is very average.
So where have Bordeaux’s goals come from this season?
As can be seen here, Bordeaux are very strong when attacking set pieces. In Koscielny, Baysse and Bašić they have three big units who are effective at attacking the ball and posing a threat in the opposition penalty area, whilst the likes of Hwang and Oudin have proven to be effective at latching onto second balls in the 18 yard box. Furthermore, the squad retains some quality set piece takers, with Ben Arfa, Oudin, Bašić and Adli all capable of posing a threat by delivering balls into dangerous areas.
They have been equally threatening from direct counter attacks this season, perhaps unsurprisingly due to the quality they possess in midfield and the pace they have at the top end of the pitch. Adli’s passing ability allows him to pick out difficult balls to teammates, whilst Ben Arfa and Kalu are able to beat opponents with the ball at their feet and drive at the defence very quickly when the game becomes stretched. Despite lacking a focal point, the front line is most threatening when making runs into space, and this can be effective due to the movement causing confusion amongst the opposition.
One of the issues with having Ben Arfa, Adli, Oudin and Kalu (who all like to have the ball at their feet) is that when left to their own devices they all tend to come short to look for the ball before trying to beat opponents, and as a result that leaves just Hwang to try and stretch the defence with runs. This makes it difficult for Bordeaux to break down low blocks due to their temptation to play everything in front of the defence. In order to overcome this problem and make the most of their impressive ball carriers, Bordeaux should be looking to move the ball quicker and make direct switches of play in an effort to isolate the likes of Ben Arfa and Kalu one v one against the defender.
In terms of build up play, as mentioned earlier, Adli has been converted into somewhat of a makeshift deep lying midfield player, and so is capable of picking out great passes, however, he does take a lot of risks that lead to losses in possession. If he was trying difficult passes higher up the pitch, it would be more effective and lead to less of an opposition threat from counter attacks, but instead should he lose the ball in vulnerable midfield areas it can leave his team exposed.
Both Baysse and Koscielny are comfortable on the ball, but aren’t the most progressive and as a result tend to restrict themselves to short passes. Toma Bašić is another player in the squad with the ability to drive with the ball from deep, and when the game is stretched he is able to do just that, but his passing range is fairly average in reality and as a result the team can seem a bit bereft of ideas at certain points.
The side possesses the players with sufficient individual quality to hurt teams, but they often lack cohesion in attack and could do with adding more variation to the ways in which they attempt to break down teams. The addition of a focal point would be a benefit to the squad, whilst they should also be looking to play at a higher tempo when in comfortable possession in order to better shift the opposition.
Areas to Strengthen
Looking forward, Girondins de Bordeaux don’t need to make any major drastic changes unless forced to due to financial reasons, and they have a decent spine to their squad that just needs strengthened rather than entirely replaced. If we take a look at the age of the squad and how the minutes have been shared out, we can see its strengths and weaknesses:
Ben Arfa, Koscielny, Costil, and Baysse are the main players who Bordeaux should be looking to replace over the next season or two due to age. Though as goalkeeper, Costil should still have plenty of time in terms of age, with the 33 year old providing a good level of experience between the sticks.
Baysse and Koscielny at 32 and 35 are the primary central defenders in the squad, and the sale of Pablo means that should either suffer an injury or be suspended, the team would be left very short in defence. Moreover, despite both being impressive this season, providing a solid base from Bordeaux to build from, and likely being good options for next season as well, eventually it feels that age may catch up with them and as a result, a centre back would likely be a priority for the club.
Hatem Ben Arfa has already proven to be a very good short term addition on a free transfer, with the skilful forward sometimes providing real drive and unpredictability to the Bordeaux attack, and adding a cutting edge to what has at times been a blunt attacking force. The only question marks really surround his attitude, with rumours swirling that he is not the most popular in the dressing room (but that is very much just speculation).
Ben Arfa is said to have an optional one year extension clause in his contract, so the activation of this would be little surprise given his influence upon the team’s attack. However, (as much as it pains me to say it as a Newcastle fan!), at 34, Ben Arfa’s career is likely nearing an end and as a result Bordeaux must seek a replacement for his creativity from either within the club or in the transfer market. Furthermore, with Nicolas de Préville’s contract also set to expire in the summer, the need for a creative attacking midfielder becomes even more urgent.
Of course, Adli could be deployed in the more advanced attacking midfield role (a more natural position for him and one from which I believe he would be more effective) and instead the club could be looking to bring in a deeper midfield player to add depth alongside Bašić and Otávio. Keeping a hold of their better young players should be a priority for Bordeaux should they wish to move forward as a team, and for me, the likes of Adli and Bašić fall firmly in that category.
Striker is another area in which Bordeaux should look to strengthen, with the team finding goals hard to come by this season. Veteran striker Jimmy Briand has only made one start this campaign and has one goal to his name and two assists, Bakwa has yet to make a senior start or score or assist, Josh Maja managed just nine goals in two years at the club before being loaned to Fulham, leaving Hwang Ui-Jo as the team’s main source of goals, who isn’t really a natural striker and been more filling a hole for Gasset.
Maja’s future remains in doubt, with Fulham having an option to buy him at the end of the season should they wish, Briand’s best days are behind him as he nears the end of his career, whilst Bakwa remains an unknown quantity but is certainly one for the future rather than the here and now. Therefore, a natural striker who could help to alleviate the goalscoring worries of the team for next season would be a very useful addition, and is a necessity should Bordeaux be looking to move up the table.
Finally, with Sabaly’s contract due to expire at the end of the season, the club must make a decision on whether to offer him an extension or look elsewhere for a replacement, as Kwateng can be an able deputy but whether he has the consistency and quality to be the teams starting right back remains to be seen. In addition, as mentioned earlier, Bordeaux have struggled at times with conceding from crosses from that side of the pitch, and so perhaps looking to strengthen that area (especially defensively) would be a wise move by Les Girondins.
Like the majority of French football clubs, Girondins de Bordeaux find themselves in a precarious financial position, and on the pitch they have a tendency to either blow very hot or very cold (unfortunately they are enduring a period of the latter as I write this). However, the squad has shown it has the capabilities to compete effectively at this level, and if the right additions can be brought in whilst getting the most of out of the current crop, I see little reason why Bordeaux can’t start to set their sights firmly on the top half of Ligue 1 next season.