AS Monaco – Paris Saint-Germain: Monaco Maintain Their Momentum Against Makeshift PSG (3-1)
Monaco’s early lead helped set the narrative and pattern for the remainder of the match. The home side controlled the game, predominantly without the ball, but were at times, just as comfortable controlling with it too.
Tactical analysis and match report by Nick Smoothy.
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AS Monaco came into this game on a seven match unbeaten run. They also held a slight psychological advantage over their opponents, having beaten them in the league at the Stade Louis II in the previous two seasons.
Manager Philippe Clement made two changes to the side which beat Clermont Foot a week prior. Captain Wissam Ben Yedder came back into the team and he was joined in attack by the returning Ligue 1 January Young Player of the Month, Eliesse Ben Seghir. The rest of the side was made up of; Ruben Aguilar, Axel Disasi, Guillermo Maripán and Caio Henrique in defense. Youssouf Fofana, Mohamed Camara, Krépin Diatta and Aleksandr Golovin in midfield. The home side lined up in an interchangeable 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2 formation, both in and out possession.
PSG visited the Principality not only with an injury and, reportedly, virus hit squad, but also on the back of a mid-week elimination in the Coupe de France. The away side had also lost two of their three league away games in 2023 and would have to contest this match without Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Marco Verratti.
In a much-changed side, last season’s champions started in a 5-3-2 formation without the ball which transitioned into a 3-5-2 in possession. The backline of five was made up of Timothée Pembélé, Danilo Pereira, Marquinhos, El Chadaille Bitshiabu and Juan Bernat. Carlos Soler, Vitinha and Warren Zaire-Emery formed the midfield, with Hugo Ekitike and Neymar in their forward line.
Monaco take advantage
Monaco started the game with the look of a team intent on taking advantage of PSG’s depleted side. The hosts were going to be very active, yet highly organized, without the ball. Vertical and horizontal compactness was evident in their defensive shape, whether in a high, medium or low block.
In their 4-4-2 high block, the home side engaged the PSG backline and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in their own third. The objectives being to ideally win possession high, but also force the visitors back towards their own goal and/or rush them into a forwards pass.
In the opening minutes, this high pressure had the desired effect, with Donnarumma twice being forced into making longer passes into midfield areas. Due to Monaco’s compact shape and superior physical presence in midfield areas, these relatively aimless and poor quality passes, enabled the home side to win first contact and/or second balls, to force turnovers and regain possession.
Monaco players appeared quicker, sharper and stronger, on and off the ball, in the opening stages of the game. This was highly evident in the lead up to the first goal, after four minutes. The home side had a throw-in deep in the PSG half, and from here their players were fastest to react to all subsequent actions, with Golovin eventually firing home from six yards out to make it 1-0.
Organization and familiarity the key
When PSG had possession in the middle or final third, the home side maintained their 4-4-2 shape, but often with the energetic Ben Seghir dropping deeper to stay in close proximity to Vitinha and Ben Yedder positioning himself higher, near the PSG last man, to offer an effective target / outlet following regains.
Monaco medium block formation when PSG had possession in the middle third.
Whilst PSG transitioned into a 3-5-2 shape in possession, the away side tended to try and play through central areas despite the space being out wide. But these central passing lanes were limited due to Monaco maintaining a compact shape and aiming to force the visitors towards the flanks, where their defensive unit would then shift across to engage the ball.
Monaco’s organization and familiarity with their teammates not only benefited them out of possession but also in their fluid 4-2-3-1 shape in possession. A key attacking tactic appeared to be accessing a player between the PSG midfield and defensive lines in the halfspaces, typically Ben Seghir, Golovin or Ben Yedder.
24th minute: Monaco build sequence. Here, Camara has dropped between the two center-backs causing disruption to the PSG midfield and forward lines. Ben Yedder drops deeper into the halfspace and Disasi finds him with a pass into feet.
In buildup, when playing out from the back, a recurring feature of Monaco’s play was Camara dropping between the two center-backs, helping create a three versus two overload against the PSG frontline of Ekitike and Neymar.
This base of three allowed the fullbacks, Aguilar and Henrique, to advance higher and offer width in the middle third, and over and underlapping runs in the final third. Working in tandem with the fullbacks would be Diatta and Golovin, with the former tending to hold the width on the right-hand side and the latter inverting in the halfspace on the left-hand side.
Due to PSG’s narrow midfield of three, the positioning of Monaco’s advanced fullbacks also helped draw out an opponent from their defensive position – with either the ball-side midfielder or wing-back moving out wide or pushing up from the backline respectively – for the home side to exploit the vacated space.
In the 18th minute, a combination of all Monaco’s aforementioned in and out of possession tactics helped contribute to their second goal. Goalkeeper Alexander Nübel played out to Aguilar from a goal kick and this drew out PSG’s left wing-back, Bernat. Following a pass inside to Camara, the home side looked to exploit the space in the opposition backline with a first-time pass in behind, but the inaccurate pass got intercepted and cleared by Marquinhos.
However, this clearance only found its way back to a Monaco player who then again looked to exploit the same gap in the PSG backline. Despite Bitshiabu getting to the ball first, he was facing towards his own goal with Diatta applying pressure from behind. Whether through inexperience, not trusting Donnarumma with the ball at his feet, Marquinhos vacating his central defensive position to offer a passing angle out wide, or most likely, a combination of all three, the young center-back dwelt on the ball before getting dispossessed. A free Ben Yedder then seized upon the loose ball to clinically put his side two goals ahead.
The comeback is short-lived
After thirty minutes, Christophe Galtier decided to make a tactical tweak. He opted to go like-for-like with Monaco, switching to a 4-4-2 formation, with Danilo pushed up into central midfield.
In addition to this tactical tweak – giving PSG more of a physical presence in central areas to compete – it also slightly disrupted Monaco’s high marking and pressing scheme, with now an additional midfielder to contend with. And this slight confusion helped PSG momentarily get back into the game in the 39th minute. PSG played out from a goal kick and were able to find Danilo in space with a forward pass, with neither the two forwards blocking passes into him nor Diatta narrow enough to cover.
After receiving the ball, the Portuguese international made a further forward pass into Ekitike, who was making a channel run. Following a combination, PSG were able to create an overload on their left-hand side with Soler finding an overlapping Bernat, who then sent in a low cross to the Monaco area to somehow find Zaire-Emery completely unmarked at the far post to tap in.
The comeback, however, was short-lived. Only six minutes later, on the stroke of half-time, Monaco made it 3-1. PSG had pushed players forward for a freekick in the final third and some of them, namely Marquinhos, decided to stay advanced from a subsequent throw-in. However, after Danilo attempted an especially ambitious long range shot, Monaco were on the counterattack and PSG were a player down in defense.
The home side worked the attack up via their left flank and then found Ben Seghir in space, between the lines. Bitshiabu, who had a first half to forget (or learn upon if you prefer), neither went to go and engage nor drop back to help cover an already depleted backline. Ben Yedder therefore exploited this vacated space with a run in behind, before sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to score off the post.
All ball but no bite
At the interval, PSG sent on the experienced Sergio Ramos for the inexperienced Bitshiabu. However, as the xG plot map below indicates, up until the 75th minute mark, there were very few attempts on goal from either side.
Monaco were content to sit in more of a passive medium block, only engaging when the ball approached their own third. This meant that PSG had more comfortable and prolonged spells of possession but without creating much (more accurately, any) threat.
PSG’s only attempt on goal in the second half, came in the 54th minute. Again, they found success with an overload on their left-hand side with Bernat. Despite making a further four substitutions, including bringing on Hakimi at right fullback, PSG could not find a way through Monaco’s low block.
And whilst Monaco were attempting to exploit the spaces the PSG fullbacks were vacating in transition, the home side were also limited to one attempt on goal. However, that all changed after a double substitution on the 72nd minute when they replaced their two forwards with the fresh legs of Breel Embolo and Takumi Minamino.
This new energy in their forward line benefitted Monaco, both with and without the ball. Without the ball, the home side were able to dial back up their intensity, causing more turnovers against an increasingly disillusioned PSG.
And with the ball, an eagerness to impress and more gaps to exploit, gave a new impetus to their counterattacks. In the eighteen minutes, plus stoppage time, these two players were on the pitch, Monaco had a further seven attempts on goal with both Embolo and Minamino having two attempts apiece. But a further goal was not found nor needed.
The most optimistic of PSG supporters will excuse this defeat on the basis of their injuries, a reported virus and an eye on Bayern Munich in mid-week. And whilst all of that may be true, they cannot deny, nor take anything away from Monaco’s performance and deserved victory.
Monaco temporarily went into second place in Ligue 1 following this win, but regardless of position, it reduced the points deficit from their opponents to seven points. With the home side now unbeaten in eight and looking such a well-drilled and cohesive team, PSG may need to get their eyes back onto domestic matters sooner rather than later.
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