Montpellier HSC – Paris Saint-Germain: Double-Faced Neymar Gives PSG Victory In Extremely Difficult Game (1-3)
PSG confirmed how difficult the Mosson stadium can be for them. After trailing for over thirty minutes, they turned the tables in the second half after a red card and a display of Neymar’s ludicrous talent.
Tactical analysis and match report by Simon Piotr.
Renowned in Ligue 1 for their defensive knowhow and currently at the eighth position in the table, Montpellier started in their traditional 5-3-2 formation. They actually were one of the first teams to use that organization on a regular basis in a country historically allergic to back three systems.
With the veteran Vitorino Hilton in defense (42 years old), Téji Savanier in midfield and the striker duo Andy Delort and Gaëtan Laborde, Montpellier’s coach’s Michel Der Zakarian could count on his best players for this game.
After playing every game in a 4-3-3 system for four months – despite a few game adjustments here and there – this formation reached some obvious limits after the game in Madrid. PSG manager Thomas Tuchel therefore chose to try something else on a very hostile pitch. As a result, the German coach tried a 4-4-2 formation. Without Marquinhos, occupied with becoming a father, and Verratti and Herrera out injured, Tuchel lined up Idrissa Gueye and Leandro Paredes as the central midfield duo; it is worth mentioning that the latter was starting for the first time in five weeks. Neymar played as left winger while Kylian Mbappé and Icardi were the strikers.
Montpellier win the fight of the first half
Unsurprisingly, PSG had the majority of the ball possession (more than 60%) and were the first to create danger with a shot from Sarabia after a few seconds. However, the first half was very poor offensively for the visitors. Because the 4-4-2 formation does not automatically position players between the lines, Neymar was responsible for this offensive role in possession, and had to face a very tough treatment from Montpellier’s players. The first foul he suffered after two minutes looked more like a wrestling choke or something used in judo than a football challenge (for which the referee gave no booking).
PSG’s animation looking more like a 4-2-2-2 shape, Paredes as main organizer, Neymar was the first victim of Montpellier’s 5-2-1-2 formation, with Mendes individually marking him. The right wing with Sarabia and Meunier was completely dysfunctional and unproductive.
Of course Montpellier would not host PSG with some random defensive plan. They came prepared in every aspect. Tactically, they would not press very high as a team but the wing-backs would step out to press on the wings. Some nuances are to be mentioned though; on the left, Oyongo would be very careful with his positioning to control both Mbappé and Sarabia, while on the right Souquet would press Bernat, Mendes would man-mark Neymar with the help of Tallec.
Physically and mentally, they were intense and very aggressive. As soon as PSG would cross the halfway line, some runs were made to keep players around the ball under control with very tough challenges. Both teams committed many fouls in the first half (17 for MHSC and 18 for PSG) but it could have been way more if the referee had been less tolerant with violent challenges, towards Neymar in particular.
It was difficult to create long sequences of play with such a high number of fouls and duels, leading to a very unproductive first half offensively. Neymar for example did not have a single successful take-on in the opposition’s half in the first 45 minutes. It is worth mentioning that PSG most dangerous shots came after playing long to get past the midfield chaos.
Moreover, with Kimpembe and Gueye injured very early in the game, Tuchel had to make changes (17-year-old Kouassi in midfield, Diallo in defense) which made PSG looked a bit confused at times.
Montpellier’s plan on the ball was pretty limited, with the emphasis put on quick transitions without creating much, yet they were the one opening the scoring.
A few minutes before half-time, during a corner-kick, they confirmed their physical domination with Congré heading the ball to the arm of Paredes who deflected it in his own net. Still waiting for his first Parisian goal, the Argentine midfield probably expected better than an own goal to start his record. This was in fact the first goal PSG conceded on a set-piiece situation this season, meaning every team in European top five leagues have now conceded a goal through a deadball.
Montpellier’s plan in possession was clear.
Second half: a lightning named Neymar
Seeking to pick up the score, the Parisians needed to put way more pace into their play. Despite Neymar raising his level after a very complicated first half, PSG’s attack remained shut with only one attempt before minute 72. On an umpteenth tackle, Neymar was victim, during the act of breaking between the lines like a knife though butter. Defender Pedro Mendes got sent off (second yellow card). Neymar hit the earned free kick in the top corner to score a stunning equalizer.
Then the Brazilian number ten was unleashed. Two minutes after the goal, Mbappé, who was nowhere to be seen up until that point, scored a lovely goal assisted by .. Neymar. PSG had taken the lead; it was clear to see how relieved the team was about this; Tuchel entering the pitch to celebrate the second goal was a blatant example of this.
A few moments later, Neymar hit the crossbar on another free kick. But the party was not over as minute 81, Neymar found Mbappé in space, the young world champion delivered a lovely cross from the outside of the boot which Icardi volleyed in the back of the net.
In nine minutes, PSG had turned the table completely, and the free kick from Neymar kickstarted this storm over Montpellier as the hosts were not even given the chance to defend their advance while being one man down. The end of the game was calmer with Paris mainly doing defensive possession, the third and last change was Choupo-Moting replacing Mbappé in the extra time.
In front of their audience, Montpellier wanted to create a very difficult context for a PSG visibly diminished on the physical side. The plan was successful for seventy minutes but the excessive level of aggressiveness comes with some risks, the first being having a player sent off.
As for Paris, they struggled again but could count on Neymar’s talent and personality to solve the game. With two more major players injured the week the press reported some internal problems between the medical staff and the head of the physical preparation, we will have to keep an eye on PSG’s future games to see how the situation evolves.
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