Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace was formed in 1906 and has been a professional football club since 1933. The club has had quite a checkered history in recent times, being relegated to the fifth tier of French football after its liquidation.
The Blue and Whites rebuilt and gained promotion to Ligue 1 in 2017, where they have remained ever since. In May 2021, the club hired Julien Stéphan to take the reins of the first team and since then they have gone from strength to strength.
Considered by many to be a perpetual yo-yo club, always favorites for relegation, Stephan has turned Strasbourg into a well-oiled machine that finds itself in fifth place after a season no one could have predicted.
Julien Stéphan was highly regarded during his tenure at Rennes, he led them to their first trophy in 48 years with victory over PSG in the 2019 Coup de France. The Rennes native gave plenty of first-team football to young starlets such as current Real Madrid midfielder Eduardo Camavinga and Raphinha (who is impressing Barcelona and Bayern Munich with his performances for Leeds United).
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He has also shown shrewd transfer business, signing Martin Terrier from Lyon being a prime example, after being told he had no future at OL, Rennes and Stephan rushed in with an offer of 12 million euros which was quickly accepted. Terrier has become a regular at Rennes, scoring 30 goals in 70 league appearances so far.
Throughout his time at Strasbourg, Stephan has generally opted to employ a 5-3-2 or a 3-5-2 depending on how you want to see it. The team usually lines up as follows:
Strasbourg’s three centre-backs provide great defensive stability, the full-backs will often drop back to form a mid-block 5 back in the defensive phase of the game. The full-backs are there to provide attacking width and find themselves very often as the outlet for the transition to attack.
The central midfield player three (usually Prcić or Bellegarde depending on staff) will sit deeper and act as a single pivot who protects the back three and plays progressive passes during transition. The other two midfielders can then join the attacking phase of play and support the two forwards.
The formation can be seen in the game below, with the wingers highlighted to demonstrate the breadth they provide and the central midfield player three (in this image Bellegarde) stepping back to act as a single pivot.
The flat back five is seen below. This allows Strasbourg to stay compact and keep up with all off-ball runners. They have faced 271 shots this season, which is one of the lowest numbers of shots faced (only Rennes and Marseille have less). This translates to 10.7 shots faced per 90 against the league average of 11.8 with Strasbourg facing 3.30 shots on target per 90 compared to the Ligue 1 average of 4.23 according to soccerment.
These stats show how solid Strasbourg’s defensive performance has been, not allowing opponents to create shooting opportunities. In terms of expected goals against, Julien Stéphan’s side have an open play xGA of 30.2, having conceded 28 goals, while Strasbourg’s xGA from set pieces is 9.4, with 6 conceded .
They don’t usually press high when pressing centre-backs, but instead like to press wide and into midfield, as demonstrated below. At home they will press slightly higher, with wanting to enjoy home advantage and the confidence of the fans likely being key elements as to why Les Bleu et Blanc are pressing more at home.
Strasbourg have a fairly low number of assists per defensive action at 12.2, which has led to 359 forced turnovers, which is the highest in the league. 56 of these turnovers resulted in a shot, including 7 with a goal. It’s a good demonstration of how Strasbourg effectively presses and then uses it as a weapon of attack.
Pressing Strasbourg 2021/22, successful presses – blue. Unsuccessful presses – red.
Statistically, this translates to 1,687 interceptions made throughout the season, below average, with most of them coming in the defensive third. Strasbourg’s typical central defensive trio of Nyamsi, Djiku and Perrin have made a combined total of 549 interceptions this season.
This is a good indication that the Strasbourg defenders are not going to the ground and committing reckless fouls, giving the opponents chances. Stéphan’s mid block allows them to see the game in front of them and anticipate when to make an interception to stop the opposing attack.
Interceptions by Gervino Nyamsi, Alexander Djiku and Lucas Perrin:
In attack, a common theme of Strasbourg attacks is overloading one side of the pitch which creates space on the opposing wing. This then allows the winger on that side to receive the ball with enough time to assess whether to run towards the defense or attempt a cross.
Aston Villa right-back on loan, Frederic Guilbert leads the club rankings in chances created per 90 while left-back Dimitri Lienard is second. It’s a clear demonstration of how Strasbourg use wingers to create attacking opportunities.
As the full-backs push up, it’s the central midfield three player who stays deeper to provide defensive cover, as seen in the image above. Sanjin Prcic who is usually deployed in this role leads the number of ball recoveries made by 90 with 7.5.
Sanjin Prcic: Ball recoveries – blue. Intercepts – purple. Free ball pickups – orange.
Strasbourg have used a very intuitive movement off the ball this season, which Rennes have also done well under Stephan. In the image below, Kevin Gameiro can be seen heading for the ball, allowing Ludovic Ajorque to run behind.
Alternatively, Ajorque’s height of 197cm means that very often he will be the one to fall deep and look to give a running boost to Gameiro and Adrien Thomasson, as his heatmap shows below.
Ludovic Ajorque’s heat map
In possession, Strasbourg typically have a streak time of 8.59 seconds, which is the lowest of the top six teams and one of the lowest in Ligue 1. With an average passes per streak of 3.31, it’s fair to say that they often opt for medium or long passing to attack quickly and effectively rather than a short pass build-up game across the lines.
The team has an xG of 39.8, having actually scored 37 goals, although this shows a slight underperformance, it’s not drastic enough to warrant a full investigation into this.
Julien Stéphan made excellent use of set pieces, his team scored 13 times in these situations, which is the second highest in the league. The graphs below show that Strasbourg mainly use corner attacks or position attacks to create shooting opportunities.
Overall this season has been a perfect storm for Strasbourg, teams such as last season’s champions Lille have vastly underperformed, Peter Bosz’s Lyon have struggled all season and although PSG have won the title, it’s fair to say he wasn’t at his best. Julien Stéphan assured that his team was primed and ready to take advantage.
Rather than forcing his players to play in a specific way that doesn’t work for them, Stephan has carefully crafted a player-friendly system he inherited that allows them all to play to their strengths. Strasbourg are an incredibly fluid team, able to adapt to different situations using intuitive and efficient movements off the ball and quick transitions into the attacking phase of the game.
There is no real player who stands out at Strasbourg, they operate as a cohesive unit who are all ready to work hard for the team and the manager. Their success this season testifies to their tenacity and their willingness to follow the direction of Julien Stéphan.
Featured image: @GabFoligno / Hugo Pfeiffer / Icon Sport