Paris Saint-Germain – LOSC Lille: PSG’s First Half Efficiency Enough To Secure Victory (2-0)
Despite Neymar’s return to competition after a lengthy injury, it was actually the Argentine forward duo Icardi and Di María that made the difference for PSG against Lille.
Tactical analysis and match report by Simon Piotr.
After the international break and right before mid-week Champions League action, this Friday night matchup was the biggest game Ligue 1 had to offer this weekend. Indeed, Christophe Galtier’s side ended up second in Ligue 1 behind the almighty PSG in the 2018-19 season. The last time both clubs met, a Nicolas Pépé-led Lille crushed PSG 5-1. Therefore, there was some revenge in the air for the Parisians.
With the return of Julian Draxler and Neymar, manager Thomas Tuchel chose to line up a classic 4-3-3 formation with Marquinhos, Gana Gueye and Draxler in midfield. Nominal starter Marco Verratti was absent because of a muscle injury, and Mbappé, sick during the international break, started on the bench, leaving Neymar, Angel Di María and Mauro Icardi up front.
Lille came to the Parc Des Princes with their current back five formation, but with Victor Osimhen injured, Galtier started with the young French international Jonathan Ikoné and Luis Araujo forward, suggesting the experienced coach wanted a lot of dynamism in attack.
PSG facing and solving a tactical problem early in the game
Paris started the game with a higher level of possession than their opponents, as expected, but it was very difficult for them to move the ball correctly for a big part of the night. Lille were not pressing very high, but were very aggressive and careful to control passing options almost everywhere on the pitch.
Lille’s 5-3-2 defense controlling options naturally against the 4-3-3 shape. The strikers were quite zonally oriented, in order to keep Marquinhos under control. If he was higher on the pitch, Soumaré would mark him.
Like almost every time they have to face a tactical challenge without Verratti in midfield, it took some time for PSG to put together efficient spells of possession. Indeed, each time the Italian midfielder does not start a game since 2013, it means a slower possession and a lack of progressive passing and dribbling in midfield. Especially in this match, with Lille being very compact and leaving almost no space between the lines.
In the first and second half alike, PSG had only 58% possession, which is a relatively big amount, yet it is also the least PSG have had in Ligue 1 this season, but explicable by the absence of Verratti and Lille’s good tactical plan.
Before the lack of ball movement in midfield, PSG would play a bit more vertical than usual, attempting to find Neymar between the lines. However, being out of shape and facing many opponents in his zone, it was very difficult for him to shine – overall he lost the ball over twenty times and completed only 66% of his passes.
After the 15th minute, Marquinhos started to drop between the center-backs to create a numerical superiority in the buildup. This helped stabilizing things, and PSG started to win meters on the ball. As a direct consequence, the first time PSG got in the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. with a good action, Di María found Gueye, who crossed to Icardi. This was enough for the Argentine striker to open the scoring. It’s worth mentioning that this was the first shot in the game from the Parisian side.
This really was the kick-off to PSG’s offensive game, as two minutes after the goal, on a similar action, Gueye nearly scored, and the pace of the game increased as Lille had to pick up the score.
As for the visitors, they mainly tried to attack vertically, without rushing forward. As mentioned, they were the French side having the most possession against PSG this season. Intermittently, PSG would press high, but overall Lille were more or less allowed to build their actions with some patience. Their offensive actions mainly relied on the mere talent of Ikoné, who can unbalance any defensive line when he is in shape. Unsurprisingly, the defender defending in his zone did not feel comfortable and Kimpembe got booked after a foul on Ikoné after twenty minutes As a consequence, for a good part of the first half, Tuchel asked his center-backs to switch their positions, placing Thiago Silva in the zone of Ikoné.
Another solution for Lille to attack was to play though the wings, especially in the zone of Meunier, who had a terrible night (meaning he was the first substitution in the second half). Apart from two chances at the very beginning of the game which surprised PSG, LIlle’s shots were not very dangerous or well located. PSG defended aggressively around their box, conceding some free kicks and (interesting fact, PSG are the only team in the top five leagues to have not conceded a goal on a set-piece this season.) One big factor explaining this resistance is the stellar level of Thiago Silva so far, being the main defender inside the box against Lille again.
On a counterattack after one of those set-pieces in minute 31, Di María scored with his ever so classic curled left foot shot from the right, meaning PSG had a two goal lead after three attempts on target.
Second half: tactical change and score management for PSG
Coming back from the dressing room, Tuchel made a system change and went from the main 4-3-3 shape to a new 4-2-3-1 system. Changing the formation is usual from the German coach – even though he usually waits until the first substitutions to adjust the system. This twist gave much more importance to Draxler, who could finally play in his best position – left winger – as Neymar played in a number ten role.
The 4-2-3-1 shape with Gueye and Marquinhos in midfield, Marquinhos was in charge of dropping between the center-backs; Draxler’s offensive position brought him back to life. The defensive shape was a 4-4-1-1 system with Di María and Draxler on the wings, and the Neymar-Icardi duo upfront.
The hosts were still in control of the possession, and Draxler did not wait too long until showing up. Minute 54, after an excellent collective buildup and a smart offside-onside run, the German winger had a one-versus-one against Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan, but unfortunately, he missed. A few minutes later he nearly scored after another great action and a brilliant back heel from Icardi, proving he can bring a technical touch despite almost never being involved in his team’s buildup. In a last attempt to score from the edge of the box in minute 82, Draxler hit the post and did not see his effort awarded.
After an hour of play, Mbappé came in for Neymar, without much success, despite using his pace against the somewhat Lille’s slow defenders. Overall, the tempo of the game diminished, and we could clearly feel that PSG were managing their lead in order to preserve energy, having to face Real Madrid the week after.
Lille were still brave enough to assault PSG’s box in the second half. This game actually was the first time PSG conceded more shots than the opposition this season, with a remarkable 13 shot record from the visitors. The eight shots on target were not dangerous enough to bother Keylor Navas, who has brought serenity after years of struggle between the Parisian posts. Eventually Lille had a smallish 1.1 expected goal, The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. for a very high volume of shots.
Despite a solid plan and the will to hit PSG, there was really nothing Lille could do against the Parisians being that efficient in both boxes – where it matters the most, mind you.
Returning from the international break and lining up this team for the first time, PSG did not have the most intense or fluid performance in the season, yet their talent and their concentration was enough to secure.
The problematic issue for Tuchel is now to choose a team for the Madrid trip in the Champions League. Indeed, even if Icardi is well ahead of Cavani in the hierarchy, who will compose the rest of the offensive line with him? Neymar in poor shape? Mbappé returning from injury? Benching Di Maria might be the most « politically correct » option given his different status, despite being PSG’s best forward by far this season.
Or will Tuchel trade his 4-3-3 shape for a new four forward system like he did last season? Let’s see.
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