LOSC Lille – Paris Saint-Germain: Meek Mastiffs Usher In A Changing Of The Guard (1-5)
As reigning champions faced the champions elect, the former had one final chance to show why they upset the apple cart last campaign. However, their guests had decided it was their day to affirm their class. Putting Lille to the sword, PSG upset the odds themselves with the tenets of a commanding display that could be the catalyst to change the outlook of a season defining tie.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
Lille have fallen woefully short of the mark as far as valiant league title defenses go. An unbeaten run of form stretching back to their trip to Paris came to an end at the hands of Brest in a 2-0 defeat. A 21 point deficit to the top of the table and eleventh placed standing make for bleak reading. Yet, they still only sat five points adrift of fifth placed Rennes before kickoff: the European places remain in reach.
PSG might be on the way to taking Lille’s crown, but this feat has been far from a marker of evident progress. Their exit from the Coupe de France has compounded scrutiny upon Mauricio Pochettino, whose search for balance has riddled this outfit from the outset of the season. In the midst of endless sagas of discontent, defeat to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League could render his role in the dugout untenable. Some positive preparation in a safe space could not go amiss.
Lille manager Jocelyn Gourvennec turned to rotation as a means of getting back to winning ways. He swapped both of the fullbacks, so Zeki Çelik and Gabriel Gudmundsson operated on the right and left of the back four. Renato Sanches, ruled out of the contest with a thigh injury, made way for Amadou Onana in the middle of the park, while Hatem Ben Arfa partnered Jonathan David in the front two.
Pochettino sent out his men in a 4-3-3 system. He made five alterations to the side that lost in the cup at the start of the week. Among those were two welcome returns from international duty at the back. Marquinhos led the visitors from the rearguard while Achraf Hakimi reclaimed his spot at right back. Upfront, Ángel di María featured as a right winger, and Kylian Mbappé was fit to play from kickoff.
Parisians in their pomp
But possibly the most significant change was in the middle of the park. Leandro Paredes came in for Ander Herrera, sitting at the base of midfield to push Marco Verratti out to the left. This configuration helped PSG force after the break against Nice in the cup and offered continuity from the off in this tie.
PSG’s 4-3-3 offensive structure from the first half.
The Parisians made familiar movements from their 4-3-3 offensive structure to play around Lille’s 4-4-2 medium block. Paredes usually dropped back between the two central defenders to form a back three while Verratti and Pereira roamed deeper in the halfspaces. Of the two eights, the Italian on the left of the three pushed higher between the lines. Pereira mainly filled Paredes’ spot if he dropped into the first line of play. But both men gave the fullbacks the license to offer width higher up the flank.
A second prominent aspect of their attack was the asymmetry of the two wingers. Mbappé held the width on the left in the first two thirds of the field. However, once the play reached the final third, he pulled into the center of the pitch, offering depth behind the back four of the home team or a line breaking option to split Lille’s double pivot. This presence manifested thanks to Messi roaming out to the right halfspace from his nominal role as a striker. His interaction with an overlapping Hakimi and balancing di María from out wide acted as a basis from the flank for neat phases of combination play.
19th minute: offensive combination from PSG. Mbappé drives diagonally inward while Mendes pins Çelik. He releases the ball to Verratti, in turn finding Messi, while darting into Lille’s block. Onana now must split his attention between Pereira and the forward, who plays a sharp one-two with Messi.
Finding more clarity in their structure, the Parisians went into the lead in the space of a mere ten minutes. Mendes danced away from Çelik on the left flank, driving a cross into the box. Ivo Grbić ought to have smothered the delivery, but the goalkeeper committed an egregious error. He managed to spill the ball towards his goal line, where Pereira pounced first, tapping home into an empty net.
Lille let themselves down
Pochettino’s men likewise excelled off the ball in the opening stages of the contest. From their initial 4-1-4-1 block, Verratti typically moved higher while Paredes filled the open room behind him. The hosts ended up facing and losing multiple aerial duels, limiting their threat in the first 20 minutes.
However, once they probed PSG’s medium block from the midway point of the first half, danger was imminent on Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal. In the 27th minute, an attack down the left flank drew a corner for Ben Arfa to exploit. Recalibrating for his second attempted cross, the forward hit the mark. Skipping away from di María, his cutback found Sven Botman, contorting to steer the ball goalward. Donnarumma placed a firm palm on his strike, but it was not enough to hold onto a clean sheet.
Lille might have lost but Ben Arfa is forever pic.twitter.com/aewL9SvHyI— Zito (@_Zeets) February 7, 2022
However, no sooner as they had drawn level, Lille slipped behind once more. A miscued back pass from Gudmundsson gave up a cheap corner to the Parisians. To compound this mistake, Grbić could only grasp at thin air, letting Kimpembe redirect the ball into the roof of the net. PSG would not make the same error twice, briskly adding a third. Lille once more conspired to be their own worst enemy.
The Parisians might not have dominated the ball at the end of the half in the same way they began it, but their brutal quality in transition could come to the fore. Along with slack counterpressing, Lille’s chink in their armor was the right side of their attack where Mbappé ran into free space behind Çelik.
In the 38th minute, he broke away from the left towards the center, where bodies crowded him out. But thanks to a skewed clearance from Sven Botman, Messi popped up in the penalty area with a 1-on-1. An impudent dink finished the job to give the Argentine his second Ligue 1 goal of a testing campaign: his first since November. More to the point, nearing half time, this contest was all but over.
Di María’s injury was no problem for the Parisians. In minutes, his replacement Julian Draxler nearly teed up Messi for a fourth goal. Grbić repelled a shot, and swept up to deny Verratti, but the onslaught continued. Pereira’s long range shot nicked off Onana, veering his strike past the goalkeeper: 4-1.
For good measure, Mbappé rounded off the scoring spree. In the 67th minute, Messi dropped off to the center circle, spinning away from José Fonte before breaking the lines to access Verratti. Motoring forward, he set away Mbappé on the left. His teammate separated from Çelik, slotting a sumptuous swerved strike into the net. Gourvennec had refrained from using any substitutes, but he now reacted.
The Lille manager made a double substitution in the 70th minute. Domagoj Bradarić came on for Weah, filling in at left back. So, Gudmundsson lined up ahead of him, and Bamba moved over to the right flank. Pochettino seized the chance to make two changes of his own from the other dugout.
A straight swap took place between Thilo Kehrer and Kimpembe before Xavi Simons entered the fray in place of Paredes. His introduction permitted a brief switch to a 4-4-2 shape where he and Draxler flanked Verratti and Pereira. Yet, these acts were inconsequential in a duel PSG had long wrapped up.
Lille have taken a backward step at the worse possible point. Whether or not the team end up in the top five at the end of the campaign, an underwhelming title defense speaks to how much the best outfits in Ligue 1 have to lose in a league whose middle class is tactically developing year on year. Back to back defeats cannot signal another slump, turning the trip to Montpellier into a critical fixture.
The weekend could hardly have gone any better for the Parisians on the domestic front. Now thirteen points clear at the end of the weekend, they have laid down a starting point from which they can grow. The visit of Rennes marks their final game before the first leg in the Round of 16 of the Champions League; offer another strong showing, and everything might be coming together at the ideal moment.
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