Paris Saint-Germain – Newcastle United: Late Drama Spares PSG’s Blushes (1-1)
Kylian Mbappé scored a controversial late penalty to deny Newcastle United a historic win in Paris. While Paris Saint-Germain controlled the majority of the game, they faced challenges in breaking down Newcastle’s defense until second-half substitutes changed the course of the game.
Tactical analysis and match report by Rahul Madhavan.
We decided to make this article free to read. If you want to support our work, consider taking a subscription.
Dubbed the “Group of Death” during the Champions League draw, Group F featuring Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and Newcastle United has certainly lived up to its reputation. With just two games left, all four teams have the potential to advance to the knockout stages. Consequently, the clash between Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle United became pivotal for these two teams separated by only two points.
Though Luis Enrique’s Paris Saint-Germain had a sluggish start to the season, they gained momentum in terms of their domestic form, winning six consecutive games, while reclaiming the top spot from Nice. The team appears to have established a clear identity, and there is an evident improvement over time.
However, the wounds will still be fresh when these two sides last met, as Newcastle United stunned Enrique’s men, prompting criticism of his approach despite a seemingly well-thought-out plan on paper. For Enrique and Paris Saint-Germain, this presented an opportunity to rectify past mistakes and take a crucial step towards securing a spot in the next round.
On the other hand, Newcastle United have faced a slew of injuries and suspensions in the past month, leading to inconsistent form in both domestic and continental performances. Eddie Howe is currently managing a thin squad, yet they appear to come to life when facing top-tier opponents, with recent victories against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea proving their mettle.
Enrique made three changes to the side following their emphatic victory over AS Monaco. Gianluigi Donnarumma remained in goal, while Archaf Hakimi, Milan Škriniar, Danilo Pereira, and Lucas Hernández formed the back four. In midfield, Manuel Ugarte was accompanied by Fabián Ruiz and Kang-in Lee, with the latter replacing Vitinha. Up front, Ousmane Dembélé and Kylian Mbappé flanked Randal Kolo Muani, who took the place of Gonçalo Ramos.
In their quest for a crucial victory to sustain qualification hopes, Newcastle opted to name the same starting lineup that secured a resounding 4-1 win over Chelsea. Nick Pope took his place in goal, supported by a back four consisting of Kieran Trippier, Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schär, and Valentino Livramento. The midfield trio featured Bruno Guimarães, Joelinton, and the impressive 17-year-old Lewis Miley, while Miguel Almirón and Antony Gordon flanked Alexander Isak.
Change of plans
When these two sides clashed at St. James’ Park, Enrique opted for a more direct approach. Initially setting up in what appeared to be a 4-2-4 shape, PSG, who have struggled against high-pressing opponents, looked to use the pace of Dembélé and Mbappé to avoid falling into Newcastle’s pressing trap.
In this encounter, Enrique made tactical adjustments by introducing an additional midfielder and dropping a forward. They still looked to invite Newcastle’s press but emphasized playing short passes, therefore steering away from a one-dimensional approach. This shift certainly appeared effective in the early phases of the game, as there was a marked improvement compared to their previous meeting.
Crucial to this success was the trio on the right flank—Hakimi, Ruiz, and Dembélé. Ruiz’s inclusion played a vital role, as PSG utilized the extra midfielder to lure Newcastle out, allowing Dembélé to exploit central areas left vacant by Newcastle’s midfield.
Minute 6: PSG’s offensive sequence on the right side. As Škriniar passes it to Hakimi, Joelinton vacates his position to press the full-back. This triggers a series of movements, with Ruiz shifting wide to offer an option, drawing Guimarães along. Subsequently, Dembélé occupied the space vacated by Ruiz, and Hakimi delivered the pass to him, as PSG beat Newcastle’s press.
While this method proved effective, PSG often resorted to their plan in the reverse fixture, which was to lure the press before finding the full-back, who would then look to find Dembélé and Mbappé’s runs. At times, the hosts also looked to use Kolo Muani as the target man to bring others into play, but this proved unsuccessful as the forward struggled in this role.
A factor contributing to PSG’s success was Newcastle deciding to pick their moments to press. Eddie Howe opted for a cautious approach, given that this was an away game and the limited bench options available. The visitors typically maintained a compact 4-5-1 medium block, pressing only when the center-backs attempted to carry the ball into midfield or played it out wide.
Newcastle’s goal changes the game state
PSG started the game well, but it is also fair to say that at times, Newcastle’s pressing got the better of them. Škriniar and Pereira found themselves dispossessed on a couple of occasions, leading to opportunities for the visiting team. Despite both sides having chances in the first quarter of the game, the match remained finely balanced.
Part of PSG’s early success was also down to their approach out of possession. Enrique opted for a thorough man-marking approach, particularly in the midfield, where the focus was on swiftly closing down Guimarães to prevent him from receiving the ball.
PSG’s press. As Schär receives the ball, Mbappé gets tight to him. The ball-sided center-back (Škriniar) engaged with Joelinton, while the far-sided winger (Lee) moved to mark Miley. PSG, as a result, had a numerical advantage at the back (Pereira and Ruiz on Isak)
As the game progressed, Newcastle, following a challenging opening quarter, settled and began growing into it. They successfully countered PSG’s press through quick one or two-touch passing, particularly on the left side, where Gordon and Livramento consistently got the better of their markers.
Their efforts eventually paid dividends courtesy of impressive play by Lewis Miley and Livramento. While the goal stemmed from a mistake by Donnarumma that Isak capitalized on, it silenced the home fans, and Enrique would not have been pleased, considering it unraveled his team’s strong start. The goal changed the dynamics of the game, with PSG gaining momentum while the visitors opted to absorb the pressure, given the challenge of sustaining the high press with a severely limited bench.
Substitutes (or lack thereof) prove decisive
When Newcastle adopted a medium block, PSG had varied roles for their players on the right and left sides. On the left, Hernandez frequently tucked alongside the center-backs, while Lee and Mbappé rotated on the flanks. Enrique instructed Dembélé to be isolated on the right side, thus Hakimi was inverted, frequently making underlapping runs between the full-back and the center-back.
With little success, that dynamic soon changed in the second half, as Enrique now wanted his star players – Mbappé and Dembélé operating between the lines and closer to goal. Consequently, Hakimi adjusted by holding the width, while Ruiz shifted to the left side, where he alternated between moving wide and staying inside based on Mbappé’s positioning. Despite dominating possession and controlling territory, PSG had minimal success in breaking down Newcastle’s resolute and compact defensive block.
PSG’s zone 14 plot illustrates the number of sideways passes, underscoring Newcastle’s compact defensive structure and PSG’s struggle to break it down.
Around the hour mark, there was another change in the dynamics of the front five, but this proved effective in pinning back Newcastle. The visitors appeared fatigued, lacking a clear outlet. Enrique responded by bringing in Bradley Barcola, and with Dembélé back to his role of holding the width on the right flank, PSG shifted to deploying two wingers who hugged the touchlines and were a menace to defend against in one-versus-one situations.
As a result, PSG created several chances in the final quarter of the game but their inability to convert opportunities, combined with Newcastle’s resolute defense, kept them at bay until a late and controversial twist in stoppage time. Following a brief VAR check, the referee awarded a penalty for an alleged handball, a decision that appeared harsh on Newcastle. Mbappé stepped up, sparing Enrique and PSG’s blushes, and snatched away the three points from Newcastle’s grasp.
For Paris Saint-Germain, this performance marked a significant improvement from their previous encounter with the same opponents last month. Luis Enrique’s choice to field an additional midfielder instead of a forward proved effective, and despite benefiting from Newcastle United’s reluctance to press, they crafted numerous opportunities and arguably warranted securing all three points.
While Mbappé’s goal was surrounded by controversy, the penalty enhanced PSG’s prospects of qualification. A victory over Borussia Dortmund in the final game not only secures their qualification but also secures the top spot in the group.
In contrast, Newcastle United will feel extremely unfortunate by the referee’s decision. Eddie Howe’s approach was justified, given the number of injuries and absent players, but PSG’s individual quality proved challenging for them at times. With only a point against PSG, even a win against AC Milan on the final matchday does not ensure a spot in the knockout rounds.
Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.