A Tale of two Rennes
Rennes are currently 10th in the Ligue Un table, which is a position that belies their better nature.
Rennes started the season in terrible form. Under manager Sabri Lamouchi Rennes won just 6 of their opening 20 matches. That included a home streak between September 23rd and December 2nd in which they lost 4 and drew 2. Lamouchi was fired after losing 4-1 to Strasbourg on December 2nd.
Julien Stephan was appointed first interim manager and then permanent manager. Since he took over, Rennes have lost just four times. His record so far is W13 D3 L4 in all competitions.
The first thing Stephan did was shore up the defense. Since he took over, Rennes have only conceded 1 League goal at home (in 6 matches). They have an expected goals against of just 4 in that same time and are 2nd in expected points (at home, since December 2nd).
In the Europa League, however, they have had some bumps. They gave up 3 home goals to Real Betis in the first leg and then came back to win 3-1 in Seville to get to this stage.
That first match against Betis was a bit reminiscent of the earlier collapses and and faults. Rennes took a two goal lead in the first 10 minutes and then tried to sit back for 80 minutes and see the contest out. They took a total of 3 shots in the final 80+ minutes of football, one of which was assisted by the referee (penalty).
Stephan could be accused of coaching naivete in that first leg but not the second. Going to Seville, they once again took an early two-goal lead and once again sat back, soaking up pressure. But this time, Stephan made two changes on the 75th minute and unleashed his wing players, Niang and Sarr, to dribble at the tired Betis defense. It worked. Niang scored a third goal late (assisted by Hatem ben Arfa) and Rennes won 3-1.
Rennes and Arsenal are both high pressing teams in the Europa League. In both legs against Betis Rennes made 19 defensive actions in the opposition half and Arsenal 25 (against BATE). I would expect pressure from Rennes certainly at the start, though how long they will keep up their pressure is the real question. Across both legs against Betis, Rennes only made 3 defensive actions in the opposition half in the final 20 minutes of each game (40 minutes total).
Rennes love to attack early in matches. They have scored 11 of their Ligue Un goals in the first 15 minutes of matches. That is 2nd best behind PSG.
Rennes, however, also concede a lot of goals in the second half. They have given up 11 goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Rennes like to create chances from crosses - they are not necessarily a set play team, they aren’t a corner team, and they aren’t a header team. They do, however, like to get the crosses in. This is a problem for Arsenal who like to create with their wingbacks. Curious to see how Unai Emery solves this.
Pressing high early is no revelation. Most teams try that. What is unusual is that they come back out in the second half of games unfocused. This mental weakness continues for the entire 2nd half. They have conceded 23 goals in the 2nd half of Ligue Un matches and just 11 in the first half.
Defensively they aren’t any more or less error-prone than Arsenal but overall they are far less proactive (tackling, intercepting, blocking passes) than I expect from a team that is 10th in Ligue Un. They are last in attempted tackles in their league and not significantly better in Europe.
As far as I can tell, they were just very poor under their old manager and conceded a lot more shots. Now that they have a new manager, they seem to have firmed up a bit.
Lovem or Hatem, ben Arfa is their best player. Jokes aside, ben Arfa leads Rennes in dribbles with 4.6 per game (out of 8.1 per game). That stat is Ligue Un only, but it is important to know that 8.1 attempted dribbles per game is more than any player in Europe’s top five Leagues. And what’s incredible is that in the Europa League, HbA’s dribbles dry up to 0.9 successful of 2.1 per game. It’s very clear that he has the ability to take on opponents but why he’s not doing that in the Europa League is a mystery. The simple answer is that the defenses are better. But I’m not sure that’s entirely true considering the opponents that they have faced.
It looks more like tactical choices. Stephan seems to prefer his wide players (Sarr and Niang) to attack with the ball. This could be a big problem for Arsenal, who need to get the fullbacks in to generate offense. Niang plays on Rennes’ left where Emery has something of a selection headache with first choice Bellerin still out. But it’s Ismaila Sarr on Rennes right that will almost certainly be a handful. This ridiculously fast 21 year old, loves to run in behind defenders and if Arsenal insist on getting Kolasinac up the pitch for overalps, he could find himself in a ton of space. Sarr was linked to Arsenal last summer, so naturally that means he will have a Messi-anic performance tonight.
Sources: whoscored.com, sofascore.com