Paris Saint-Germain – Montpellier: Galtier’s Grand Plan Is Off To A Flyer (5-2)
PSG’s latest victory in Ligue 1 turned out to be the formality that many expected. But their new leader has introduced a refreshing set of ideas that have afforded one star name a second wind.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
A new figure has settled into the hot seat at PSG. Too good for the rest in Ligue 1, attaining their eighth title in the last ten years, the Parisians are no closer to crowning the Qatari project. Mauricio Pochettino duly met the chopping block. The reins are now in the hands of Christophe Galtier: a man that eclipsed his predecessor with Lille in 2021 to top the league. His stock has gradually grown in France thanks to a robust body of work, but can he scale the next rung of the managerial ladder?
Montpellier’s prospects of stunting the Parisians were remote. The away team endured a dismal end to the last campaign. They lost seven and drew two of their final nine matches to wind up mired in the mediocrity of the middle of the league standings. Furthermore, add in the final score of their contest last week, and they have let in 23 goals in their previous ten Ligue 1 fixtures. Such a leaky rearguard does not bode well for an outfit whose journey to the capital is in aspiration more than expectation.
Ditching the back four, Galtier sought to refine a 3-4-1-2 system in the preseason. In this formation, he picked ten of the eleven men that coasted to a 5-0 win on the road at Clermont Foot last week. At long last, Sergio Ramos has worked his way back to full fitness, operating on the right of the back three. Further afield, Pablo Sarabia has supported Lionel Messi and Neymar within the final third. Here, he dropped to the bench, making way for Kylian Mbappé to reunite a star-studded trident.
Montpellier’s left winger Stephy Mavididi missed out with a thigh injury. So, their manager, Olivier Dall’Oglio, went for a new shape off the back of the victory over Troyes last time out. Jordan Ferri took his place, bringing a third central midfielder into the lineup as part of a 4-1-4-1 block. Mamadou Sakho did not have the chance to feature against his old club PSG from the back. He initially watched the proceedings from the bench while Nicolas Cozza joined Falaye Sacko at the heart of the defense.
Neymar sparkles again
PSG faced a low block, demanding solutions to make the most of little space and time. Ahead of the back three, Galtier assigned the members of the double pivot different roles that pointed to his answer.
Marco Verratti operated on the right but drifted from the center. As the deeper of the two sixes, he set the structure of attacks from the back. His line breaking passes, or even the threat of such actions, and typical dropping movements between Ramos and Marquinhos kept the game ticking. If Wahbi Khazri edged to him too much, he released Marquinhos to step into the midfield and manipulate white shirts.
On the other hand, Vitinha acted as an eight from the left. If Neymar dropped in front of the block to pick up the ball, he balanced the roaming of the Brazilian. Or he moved even higher between the lines to pin a member of the back four and counter similar actions from Mbappé. Overloads and options for combinations were common in the left halfspace, where Neymar profited from the narrow front three.
3rd minute: combination play from PSG. Faitout Maouassa drops off to cover Mendes, and Ferri is tight to Neymar, allowing the left wing-back to feed a pass back to Presnel Kimpembe. The defender drives inward diagonally, exploiting the room in front of the midfield to generate better connections to his teammates. Vitinha is in between the lines, stopping Chotard from jumping out to Mbappé. The central forward can receive, then accesses the midfielder, who lays off the ball to Neymar instantly.
Twenty minutes into the game, he nearly squeezed a pass into the feet of Ramos at the far post, where Théo Sainte-Luce punted away the danger. The ball then dropped onto the arm of Ferri, who gave away a penalty. Mbappé stepped up from twelve yards, but Jonas Omlin was equal to the strike.
Montpellier’s mistakes rack up
Nearing the end of the first half, precision in the final action was still elusive from the hosts. To their fortune, old habits die hard among Montpellier’s defenders, who capitulated. Téji Savanier sold short Elye Wahi with a pass, inviting Hakimi to pile on the pressure. Mbappé then received, drilling the ball along the face of the box. Neymar was not in sight, yet Sacko diverted it into the back of his own net.
PSG’s work off the ball came to the fore at this stage. Thanks to their fifth man at the back, the home team could send forward a wing-back to shut down the fullback on the ball near side. The other four defenders still held a numerical superiority against Montpellier’s front three, smoothing over errors from the front three. Mbappé and Neymar covered the center-backs, while Messi marked the deepest midfielder, mostly the lone pivot Joris Chotard, and could swap duties with Vitinha to stay in position.
The visitors remained their worst enemy. Neymar and Messi slammed shut a pressing trap to strip possession from Sacko. Omlin again denied their fellow star, but another handball— from the central defender— rewarded the forwards’ diligent work with a second penalty on the evening. Neymar did what Mbappé could not, casually rolling the ball home. Suddenly, the Ligue 1 holders were at ease.
41st minute: pressing trap from PSG before Neymar’s first goal. Mendes closes down Tchato Mbiayi, forcing him back into his own third. Neymar initially covered Sacko, then moved higher once he read the pressure from the left wing-back to block access to Omlin. Hence, the right back passes to Sacko. Messi bolts out at the central defender in a slight arc to force him away from Chotard. Neymar drops back aggressively to seize control of the ball, exploiting the loose dribble, and switches to Mbappé.
PSG in cruise control till the final whistle
They smelt blood once more in the 51st minute. A central pressing trap from Mbappé and Neymar snared Omlin, whose clipped pass bounced off Mbappé to set away Hakimi, breaching the back four to enter the box. Neymar pounced, throwing himself in front of the goalkeeper to double his tally.
The goals continued to flow. Khazri registered his name on the scoresheet just before the game hit the hour mark. PSG sharply asserted their dominance again. Progress down the left flank earned a corner, from which Mbappé atoned for his earlier miss. Three goals to the good, the three points were secure.
Galtier granted a brief rest to three more of his key players. Sarabia came on for Mbappé, while Nordi Mukiele replaced Hakimi on the right of the back five. The last substitute, Renato Sanches, who took the place of Verratti, added a fifth goal for good measure. One and a half minutes into his debut, he crept through the blindside of the midfielders. Connecting with a cutback from Mendes, he hit the net. Tchato Mbiayi would bag a second for Montpellier at the death, but it was a case of too little, too late.
Matches 1️⃣— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) August 13, 2022
What a start to Renato Sanches' PSG career 👏 pic.twitter.com/91ARaCr0Jx
Two wins, six points, and ten goals make for splendid reading at the start of Galtier’s reign. Indeed, the title of Ligue 1 champions should remain in Paris for another year, so the verdict on his work will center on performance in the Champions League. However, especially for a new leader, the signs and synergies forging on the pitch can be telling of what is to come. Neymar has been in the most stellar form out of all the stars, but fixtures against Lille and Monaco ought to better show where this side is.
In light of PSG’s verve, Montpellier needed to excel themselves to get anything out of this match. The final score was not quite a walkover, owing to Omlin’s heroics and a dogged display for the first third of the game. But as soon as the floodgates opened in the 39th minute, mistakes cascaded in a decisive phase where errors in the buildup let the home team pull clear. Clean sheets seem few and far between in the long run, but the visit of Auxerre next week is an opportunity to get back to winning ways.
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