Paris Saint-Germain – OGC Nice: Galtier’s Gall Dethrones Parisians (0-0, 5-6 After Penalties)

Mauricio Pochettino might be warring his way to winning French hegemony, but Christophe’s kryptonite can still take the odd battle. On the road at Paris, his men’s organization kept their illustrious hosts at bay before a double agent showed up at the death to secure a stunning result.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

Not much is new in the French capital. Cruising to a 4-0 win over Reims last time out, Paris Saint-Germain reestablished a double digit lead at the top of the table. The Ligue 1 leaders are in a perfect spot to take back their crown, turning their attention to their bid for a domestic double. Fitting, then, that this cup clash would pit the Parisians in a duel again with the mastermind behind their downfall.

Christophe Galtier’s stock is still on the rise. Guiding Lille to league title glory in 2021, he departed at the end of a magical season to try his hand at managing OGC Nice. Brooding clouds hang over his old club in the north of France, but brighter prospects have followed him to the south. On a five match winning streak, the away team are the best of the rest, sitting only ten points short of last campaign’s haul. A Ligue 1 title charge is out of the question, but could Galtier usurp the Parisians once again?

PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino again dipped into the depth of his squad for this fixture. AFCON and national duties forced him to select a youthful bench. However, the outfit that he picked from the off was familiar. Lionel Messi made his way back from COVID-19 isolation, and between the posts, Gianluigi Donnarumma could finally return to the fold off the back of a period out with a calf issue.

Conversely, Galtier only faced a couple of late absentees. Summer buy Calvin Stengs missed out on the game with an ankle sprain while Pablo Rosario picked up a thigh injury. So, Morgan Schneiderlin stepped into the middle of the park, and Justin Kluivert featured as a left winger. Elsewhere, in search of a fourth victory in the new year, the lineup was the same as that which beat Metz 2-0 last weekend.

A disciplined block

The home team were willing to sit off in their half, giving up the fight for the ball to Parisians. No problem for a Galtier team. His men lined up in a compact 4-4-2 medium block: the hallmark of that league winning Lille outfit from the 2020/21 season. The strength of their approach soon mapped out.

21st minute: defensive sequence from Nice, showcasing a typical pressing trap from the first half. Kluivert closes down Colin Dagba, prompting the right back to turn backward. Amine Gouiri shadows Danilo Pereira, while Kasper Dolberg splits forward to cover Thilo Kehrer. Notice the inward movement of Hicham Boudaoui, briefly marking Kimpembe to force play to Donnarumma.

The front two covered the room Marco Verratti stood in, cutting the central lane for the central defenders. A narrow, ball-oriented chain of four in the midfield controlled the middle of the pitch while the wingers made vertical runs if they pressed forward to stop access into the halfspaces.

From here, the double width from the ball near fullback or the winger was a basis to defend the flanks in a simple yet effective manner. The pair could either quickly communicate to hand over the ball carrier on the touchline or mark up with a 1-to-1 allocation if two men drifted outward. One of the strikers would then keep a tight connection to the midfield, offering extra cover in these zones.

Mauricio’s musing yet to reach a solution

Pochettino’s experimentation has taken him from one formation to another in a search for systemic balance. However, more time has not crystallized his plans with this squad. Nothing has given the manager a way to connect his star men, and it was all too obvious in the face of an outfit like Nice.

In the new year, he has reverted to a 4-3-3 formation, picking that setup for this game. Verratti sat at the base of the midfield, and Pereira was more conservative to his right. Indeed, little progression came down the right flank, so Messi turned his attention to the middle of the field. Nice were at home defending the flanks but a tight block of six equally stymied the Argentine from the center. Déjà vu.

Multidimensional competence

Moreover, the visitors carried a snappy threat on the break, buttressing their rearguard. If they fell back into a low block, Gouiri dropped off much further than Dolberg. He covered the room in front of the midfield quartet, tucking in compactly to shadow the space on the edge of the penalty area. Apart from the stability that this measure added to the shape, the striker was the primary outlet in transition. Whether spinning away from markers or acting as a wall player for teammates to set up a break into Parisian territory, the forward’s technique with his back to the oppositional goal was up to the task.

16th minute: offensive transition from Nice. Kluivert intercepts a through ball from Dagba, passing the play onto Khéphren Thuram. Gouiri scans, twists away from the advancing Pereira, and dribbles into the room on his left, where the away side prepare to consolidate their control of the possession.

If Nice kept the ball for longer stretches, they again executed a clear plan that brought to the fore many skillsets. Kluivert’s introduction on the left flank came with the intent of generating a trickier, more dynamic 1-on-1 threat from the wing. Gouiri was still instrumental in between the lines while Thuram’s calm demeanor let him venture on several marauding runs with the ball. The contrast of the two collectives was stark, so how could Pochettino make the most of his individuals after the break?

Second half stalemate

Ahead of the second half, the PSG manager made a substitution. Leandro Paredes replaced Herrera, operating from the center of the three in the midfield. In turn, Verratti moved over to the left. This adjustment then gave the Parisians a stronger emphasis on breaking lines from this side of the pitch.

Nuno Mendes could move up the flank to pin the back four while Verratti pulled out to the sideline, where he would dribble forward in a more ball dominant role. Alternatively, Paredes might drop in the left halfspace or between the central defenders, Verratti could link the play, and Pereira moved in front of the defensive midfielder. These patterns from the back allowed the hosts to make clean headway through Nice’s block more often than in the first half, but a goal was not forthcoming.

Therefore, Pochettino turned to the bench. Though Kylian Mbappé was nursing discomfort before kickoff, in the 64th minute, he came on for Mauro Icardi. A goalmouth flurry from the Parisians ensued in the dying embers, but Galtier’s men held on to take the contest to a penalty shootout.

How is your nerve?

The first man to falter from twelve yards was Paredes. Marcin Bułka telegraphed his effort low to his right, handing Nice a golden chance to extend their lead by two. But Andy Delort immediately missed their next strike, allowing the Parisians to draw level. So, in the end, the first ten penalties could not separate the two outfits, racking up a 4-4 scoreline. This penalty shootout would go to sudden death.

Eventually, central defender Dante stepped forwards. Running to the spot, he urged Donnarumma to dive prematurely. An impudent Panenka down the center of the net put the guests 6-5 up. Substitute Xavi Simons now had to slot home his shot, but Bułka parried away the effort from his midriff. The loanee had conspired against his parent club to send Nice into the final eight of the Coupe de France.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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