PSG Tuchel tactics

OGC Nice – Paris Saint-Germain: Di María’s Stellar Performance Leaves Brave Hosts For Dead (1-4)

Unlike most teams in Ligue 1, Nice chose to press PSG high up the field and paid a heavy toll for that. Led by Di María, PSG dominated an eventful game of football.

Tactical analysis and match report by Simon Piotr

After being bought last summer by the company Ineos – directed by the British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe – OGC Nice started a new project to become one of the richest powerhouses in French Football. Ratcliffe, who found a very healthy club after seasons under Puel, Favre and Vieira, has higher ambitions for the club, which was immediately proved by the signing of Kasper Dolberg (Ajax striker), Alexis Claude-Maurice (most promising talent in Ligue 2) and also by keeping their world-class fullback, Youcef Atal. 

In order to receive PSG, Patrick Vieira decided to line his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Claude-Maurice as number ten behind Dolberg, along with Ignatius Ganago and Pierre Lees-Melou on the wings. Atal could not play this game, as he was suspended. 

Paris Saint-Germain, still weakened by injuries, started the game without Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Idrissa Gueye, Marco Verratti or Kylian Mbappé. Still, manager Thomas Tuchel decided to keep the 4-3-3 system used since the victory against Real Madrid in the Champions League with Leandro Paredes, Ander Herrera and Pablo Sarabia in midfield, supporting Ángel Di María, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Mauro Icardi upfront.

Nice’s interesting, yet presumptuous high pressing

PSG could have taken the lead directly after kick-off as Walter Benitez, the Argentinian goalkeeper, had to make a triple save after a set-piece taken by his fellow Argentinian Di María. After that spectacular opening , game plans appeared to reveal Nice’s high pressing organisation.

Organized in a 4-2-3-1 system off the ball, Vieira’s side would hold a medium-high block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. A high block refers to a team that regularly leaves their own half out of possession, to disrupt their opponents far into the attacking half. A medium-high block is well… in between these two variants. with a wing-oriented press. Dolberg would cut off the connection between the center-backs to drive PSG’s possession towards the wing. Then, when the first pass was delivered, players would step out and man-mark every player on the side of the ball, making sure the wingers could not turn around after receiving the ball.

Nice’s 4-2-3-1 organisation matching PSG’s 4-3-3 system in possession, with wing oriented press and a high level of aggressiveness. (Sixteen tackles attempted and eight fouls in the first half).

Despite the large amount of Parisian  ball possession, Nice’s audacious approach considering their current position on the table (ninth) neutralized PSG for a while before showing some weaknesses. 

With the fullbacks in such high positioning to control the wingers, exploitable space was left behind them, and a good combination or long ball could take them out of position, with no one left to cover the central defense. 

After fifteen minutes, both Sarr and Dante stepped to Mauro Icardi at the same time, the striker on loan from Inter Milan could then find Di María absolutely free around the halfway line with a one touch pass, then Di María rushed to the goal and left Benitez no chance with a lovely left foot finish. 

Nice almost didn’t have time to react as five minutes later, Meunier would find Di María again exploiting the space behind the adventurous left back Malang Sarr and he chipped the ball over the keeper with the outside of the left boot in an impossible angle, probably one of the goals of the season already, not only in Ligue 1, but in the entire world.

It was cruel to see that Nice were orienting their press especially on the left – in the zone of Choupo-Moting or Diallo – and when Di María had three situations on the right, it turned into two goals and a chance created by a cross in the space of twenty minutes.  

PSG were efficient in attack, but also had a good pressing in a 4-2-3-1 shape (Sarabia as number ten) matching Nice flexible 4-3-3 in possession, which led to easy and quick ball recoveries. The hosts could seldom find their forwards with passes and managed to shoot only four times with their small 36% possession of the ball in the first half. 

After half an hour of play, Vieira made a tactical adjustment to improve the defensive balance of his team, and switched to a 3-5-2 shape, supposedly to avoid the one-versus-one situations Di María and Choupo-Moting frequently enjoyed on the wings with the initial plan. It did not change a lot to the dynamic of the game before the first half to be completely fair. 

Nice reaction before the double red card

Coming back from the dressing room, Nice changed their system again to a 4-3-3 formation, with Maurice as left winger and Lees-Melou in the midfield three. This change was not the only, but one of the reasons why Nice were more balanced in possession and had more possession at the beginning of the second act (around 45%). They had the possession, but the biggest attacking moments were still Parisian. With an animation based on attacking through the wings, PSG earned many corner kicks (13!) and as a result of one of those, in the 55th minute, Marquinhos’ header hit the crossbar. 

Just Nice were actually weakening physically, Ganago scored, in the 66th minute, after a series of mistakes (or dubious actions) inside the Parisian defense that clearly demonstrated a lack of focus as fatigue started to come into the equation for both teams. 

We thought the end of the game might be a crazy race for the comeback. However, a few minutes after Nice scored, Paredes had two opponents expelled for a little foul he actually committed. 

How to sum this up? Well, Paredes pushed Cyprien, who became mad at the referee because he had wrongly judged the situation, second yellow for protest, sent off. Meanwhile, Herelle slapped Paredes in frustration, which led the ref to show another red card after VAR review. Outlandish stuff in true Argentinian fashion. 

This meant the end of the game for Nice, who just witnessed Mbappé score five minutes after he replaced Sarabia for his Ligue 1 comeback. Icardi finished the job with a trademark tap-in after Di Maria created the situation and Mbappé assisted him. 


All in all, it was a really entertaining game to watch. High pressure plans always bring dynamism and events to a game and this was no exception. With their ambitious plan, Nice offered a roller coaster ride to everyone in the stands or in front of their television, but at the same time they were punished twice pretty early in the game after dubious actions resulting from the risky game plan. 

PSG put up a great performance and didn’t let the international break disturb their dominance. They are now the leaders of Ligue 1 five points ahead of Nantes before their game against Metz on Saturday evening. 

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