LOSC Lille – Paris-Saint Germain: Lille Demolish PSG Thanks To Early Red Card And Counterattacking (5-1)
Sunday’s match saw a battle between the two most attack minded clubs in Ligue 1, with attacking cores which are capable of scoring goals in buckets. What unfolded certainly lived up to its billing, as Lille produced a shock result and made PSG put their title celebrations on hold, after coming up with a scintillating second half display to take advantage of PSG’s slip-ups.
Tactical match report and analysis by Carl Carpenter.
Entering Sunday evening’s match, Paris Saint-Germain only required a solitary point to confirm their sixth straight Ligue 1 title. Lille, the second-placed club in France, only had pride to fight for. The pride in denying PSG the title for another weekend. And, of course, keeping Lyon off their backs.
Noticeable absentees such as Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Marquinhos, Ángel Di María and Adrien Rabiot left PSG manager Thomas Tuchel with a number of dilemmas in regards to how to approach the match. The German opted for a 3-5-2 shape, which is not uncommon this season, although the formation came with some wrinkles. Dani Alves played in the midfield three, Colin Dagba slotted into center-back and Julian Draxler (nominally a wide or central attacking player) joined Kylian Mbappé up top.
Lille on the other hand had few injuries and suspensions to deal with, and as a result, fielded a full strength eleven. Jonathan Bamba, Loïc Rémy, and Nicolas Pépé formed what has been one of the strongest attacking units this season for Christophe Galtier: Xeka and Thiago Mendes sitting deep in the center of midfield to provide balance and cover whenever their teammates expressed themselves going forward. Against a side like PSG who would look to monopolize possession, this approach would likely prove essential.
Wild first half
If there were any reservations about how both teams would approach the first half, those fears were assuaged right from the very off. Lille, keen on delaying PSG’s inevitable title win, defended in a classic 4-4-2 shape with Jonathan Ikoné joining Loïc Rémy up front. The wide players of the home side sat fairly narrow to compress the spaces between their lines, but fired out (alongside a stepping fullback) to make life difficult for the wing-backs of PSG. This strategy could have proved null and void within two minutes, but Kylian Mbappé’s early finish from a Thomas Meunier cross was adjudged to have been offside.
Lille sat in a 4-4-2 and remained compact, as mentioned in the paragraph above.
In possession, Lille looked to spread the pitch as wide as possible: often leaving the center of the pitch empty. The defenders of the team would often drive forwards with the ball, drawing in a PSG player, and find a flattened out fullback or winger in attempts to get around. To further disrupt PSG’s shape, the pacey and dangerous Nicolas Pépé operated in a seemingly free role, appearing in pockets of space. Their most direct and immediate threat though would be quick counters through their attacking trident whenever PSG would commit numbers forward.
Lille’s opener would come from a wide position, albeit after a catastrophic mix-up from Meunier, who sliced a cross into his own net. This meant Lille took the lead after seven minutes. PSG’s quality quickly shone through however, as they found the equalizer through the sheer individual brilliance of Kylian Mbappé: his improvised cross was put in goal by left wing-back Juan Bernat, who arrived late at the back post and put it in the back of the net.
Order had been seemingly restored in the match, but approaching half-time, things would rapidly change. First, PSG were forced into two substitutions with Thiago Silva and Thomas Meunier injuring themselves. Next, the away side’s goal scorer Bernat was sent off for fouling Pépé, as a long ball over the top of the defense forced the Spaniard to bring down the Lille player as he raced in towards goal. Two events that would hugely affect the match, as it turned out.
While much of the match had followed a pattern of PSG asserting territorial domination and Lille looking to capitalize quickly on moments they regained possession, a one man advantage served to completely change the complexion in the second half.
The Eleven Men of Lille Emphatically Put the Champagne on Ice
As mentioned previously, the eleven-versus-ten advantage Lille held in the match would serve to irrevocably alter the story of the match. Despite this, what would come in the second half was something even the most optimistic Lille supporter could never have dreamed.
In response to the sending off, Tuchel set his side up in a 4-4-1 shape mirroring the approach of Lille when they defended (albeit with Mbappé up front on his own). With the ball, the away side were noticeably more hesitant in pushing high and wide as they had done previously. Despite this more measured approach, it gave Lille the incentive to further press the Parisiens whenever a member of their defense was attempting to play out: less space utilized made them easier to defend, alongside the obvious man-advantage they held whenever Marco Verratti or Leandro Paredes came short to pick the ball up in possession.
Lille’s modus operandi was still very much based on the pace and brilliance of their attacking players, however, and the brilliant Nicolas Pépé got the second half goal-scoring rolling. The Lille forward benefitted from a quick counterattack, as het bursted through on goal and slid the ball home under PSG’s goalkeeper Alphonse Aréola five minutes after the break. As noted previously, while PSG were less aggressive in attacking the home side than the first half, Lille were all too happy to continue to cede possession and force on errors for themselves to exploit the other way. Thanks to this approach, PSG remained ineffectual in terms of their attempts to draw level and confirm themselves as champions of France.
The home side were brilliant in how they managed the second half, however, and succeeded in pulling apart the Parisiens from the comfort of their shape. The fluidity of Rémy, Pépé, Ikone, and Jonathan Bamba to switch positions at will, make overlapping and quick runs in behind, were a constant thorn in the side for Tuchel’s side.
As the goals continued to go in to the sheer delight of the home side, Lille remained consistent in their approach of stifling PSG’s possession and making it as unpredictable as possible. While it would be unfair to not bring up the notion of luck for how PSG lost the game so emphatically (injuries and an early red card), Lille and Galtier should be lauded for how they managed to entertain the supporters on Sunday.
While the final score will obviously jump off the pages from this weekend’s fixtures, Lille’s win will only serve as a minor kick in the teeth for PSG. Losing in such a fashion will not deny them their eventual league winner’s medals, but it will raise further questions about the future of Thomas Tuchel heading into next season.
A horrible exit from the Champions League and the domestic cup will have many of the high-ranking officials at the club questioning whether or not the German is the man to continue to take the club forward, as harsh as that sounds. At the end of the day, this game was the sheer definition of a one off: PSG’s injuries and suspensions, mixed with Lille’s performance combined to make it simply a bad day at the office for PSG. But club officials with deep pockets don’t always go for rational thinking.
Lille and Galtier got exactly what they wanted from the result: kudos from the footballing world for thrashing the soon-to-be champions. As the summer break approaches, the biggest thing Lille will have on their mind is how to build on this impressive campaign, and whether or not they can keep players such as Nicolas Pépé and what sort of star power they can attract with Champions League football.
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