Paris Saint-Germain – Olympique Lyonnais: Super Mauro Spares Mauricio’s Blushes (2-1)

If three elite attackers could not blow their opponents to pieces, PSG fans may have hoped the addition of a fourth would do the trick. But few have seen the flaws of reliance on individual brilliance more than in Paris, where the home team’s struggles gave way to a hard-fought win.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

In a duel between two of the heavyweights of Ligue 1, PSG and Lyon find themselves striving to find one crucial ideal: balance.

For the Parisians, the ultimate question is how to make the most of the options in their squad. A 1-1 draw to Club Brugge in midweek was a case in point. The fearsome trident of Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Kylian Mbappé took to the field for the first time, but they failed to shine in an underwhelming display. The pressure is on for this talented outfit to click into gear sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Lyon manager Peter Bosz hopes familiar narratives will not cut short his time in France. His approach has not been without flaws, which have placed a ceiling on his teams in the past. Would it be different this time around? Winless in the first three games of the new campaign, he has since overseen three victories in a row. Another three points here could truly kick Lyon’s season into life.

PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino went for a 4-2-3-1 system. Nuno Mendes made his first start for the club at left back, while Thilo Kehrer played on the right of the back four, and Idrissa Gueye joined Ander Herrera in the midfield. But all eyes were on the attack. The trident had now become a quartet as Ángel di María joined the front three that played last time out, starting on the right wing.

Bosz lined up the away team in a 4-2-3-1 shape, moving away from the 4-3-3 formation he used last time out. The manager also made one change to the side that beat Rangers 2-0 in midweek. Houssem Aouar dropped to the bench, making way for summer signing Xherdan Shaqiri, who played on the right of the three behind striker Islam Slimani.

Lyon go man for man

Lyon defended in a 4-3-3 shape that showed many elements of Bosz’s philosophy. The front three lined up on the edge of the box from goal kicks, where one winger was higher than the other. Karl Toko Ekambi stood near Kehrer while Shaqiri covered Presnel Kimpembe. The midfield then went man-for-man, often tightly tracking their direct opponent if PSG played through the initial pressure.

Lyon’s pressing scheme from goal kicks

Direct duels in midfield forced the back four to step out and engage. When pressing high, Malo Gusto would move forward behind Shaqiri to cover Mendes, pushing up to PSG’s box from time to time. In a medium block, the young right back also aggressively advanced to close down Neymar off the front.

Quickfire danger in behind

The Parisians built play from the back in a 4-2-3-1 formation. In front of the back four, Gueye made several contributions to his side’s ball-retention. Explosively shuttling into open spaces or drifting off the back of his marker, he repeatedly offered an ideal third man option to secure control of the ball. 

Herrera played a little further up the field, integrating Messi into the play. He would often involve himself in brief one-two combinations with the Argentine, who roamed deeper than the rest of the attackers in the right halfspace. From here, Neymar emerged as an option to switch the point of the attack mainly through a lofted pass across the field. The Parisians also developed an asymmetry in the back four allowing the left winger to roam more centrally. Mendes would push a little higher up the wing to his outside, leaving Kehrer and the two central defenders to form more of a back three.

PSG’s offensive structure in the final third

Overall, PSG hardly settled into a rhythm, but Bosz’s men did not defend without their faults. A typically high offside line with little to no cover for the back four gave PSG acres of space to exploit. Indeed, around half an hour into the game, two of their stars combined to create the team’s best chance before the break.

Messi drifted laterally into the left halfspace, forcing Gusto or Maxence Caqueret to step forward and close him down. The pair could not decide who should do what, while the central defenders covered Mbappé centrally. So Messi dinked a pass into Neymar, who drove into the box before rolling the ball back into his teammate. The Argentine beat Antony Lopes between the posts, but his trailing left leg sent the strike wide of the post, denying the summer signing his first goal for the club.

Dubious defensive configuration

Another problem for Pochettino would be deciding how his team should setup off the ball. Here, PSG organized themselves in a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 block. Mbappé played slightly ahead of Messi, who started mainly in the right halfspace. Neymar and di María then lined up to either side of the double pivot.

For the first ten minutes of the game, PSG shifted to this setup to press Lyon’s buildup structure. One of the central midfielders pushed into the space behind the front two while the other covered the room in front of the back four with the help of a central defender: usually Kimpembe. Over time, the visitors pushed their way into the final third, testing the defensive resolve of a star-studded lineup.

Pochettino’s men limited their guests to efforts from the edge of the box. Yet the lack of pressure on their goal did not mean the defensive block was entirely secure. Messi’s low work rate off the ball was no shock, but an inconsistently compact midfield could not always compensate for him. Half time arrived with the two teams at a stalemate, leaving PSG with much work to do in the second half.

Goalmouth action sets the contest alight

However, matters would soon go from bad to worse for the hosts. Ten minutes after the restart, Lyon broke their high press, as Bruno Guimarães switched the play out to Toko Ekambi on the left flank. The winger then picked out Paquetà, whose first time shot beat Gianluigi Donnarumma and hit the back of the net. Bosz’s men had stolen a march on the favorites.

The goal made little difference to the Parisians, who still looked short of fluidity. Meanwhile, Messi became even less of a presence in the final third, but where one star may struggle, another one can pick up the slack. So it proved in the 63rd minute.

Messi finally picked up the ball between the lines, finding Neymar to his left on the edge of the box. His teammate dribbled at Gusto, cutting to the outside of the right back before looking to threaten at Lyon’s goal. Tangling himself up with the defender, Neymar fell to the ground inside the penalty area and earned a lifeline in the form of a penalty. He steadied himself, took the shot from twelve yards, and rolled the ball past the goalkeeper to bring PSG level.

Super sub makes the difference

With a quarter of an hour left to go, Pochettino made his first substitution of the game. Achraf Hakimi entered the fray, taking the place of Messi. However, this change did not lead to a shift in formation as Hakimi played on the right of the midfield, pushing di María into the frontline. Di María eventually made way for Mauro Icardi, while a straight swap in the middle of the park saw Georginio Wijnaldum feature for the last five minutes of the allotted ninety.

Lyon seemed to have earned a point for their troubles, but a crucial intervention would deny them that gift. In injury time, Mbappé drifted out to the left flank, where he picked up the ball from Mendes and whipped a cross to the far post. There, Icardi stood free, powering a header past Lopes into the back of the net. The fox in the box had lived up to his reputation, handing the Parisians a win at the death.


The three points put PSG five points ahead of the chasing pack in Ligue 1, but the display was far from convincing. Without adequate organization, individual talent has only taken this side so far in the past, placing the onus on Pochettino to bring order to this outfit. They will need to improve if they are to rise to tougher challenges that are on the horizon.

On the other hand, Lyon will feel aggrieved given the nature of this loss but can comfort themselves with the reality of having rivaled PSG for much of the match. A clash with Troyes awaits in midweek, where they should take hope of returning to winning ways.


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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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