Tactical analysis Paris Saint-Germain Olympique Marseille 3-1 Ligue 1

Paris Saint-Germain – Olympique Marseille: Individual Brilliance From Ángel Di María Wins Le Classique (3-1)

In a surprisingly cagey Le Classique, Paris Saint-Germain triumphed thanks to a brilliant performance from Ángel Di María. The Argentinian had an opener chalked off after consultation of the Video Assistant Referee, before assisting the first goal, scoring the other two and enforcing Steve Mandanda’s sending off. Olympique Marseille manager Rudy Garcia got his tactics right but eventually had to leave Parc des Princes empty handed.

Tactical analysis and match report by Cem Soylu.

Thomas Tuchel made two changes compared to the 4-0 away win last weekend in Dijon, with Dani Alves returning from suspension to replace Christopher Nkunku in an unaccustomed midfield role, while Leandro Paredes returned from injury and replaced Juan Bernat. PSG fielded a 3-5-2 formation which was used often in recent weeks.

Rudi Garcia’s Marseille side was unchanged from the 1-0 win against Nice, high on confidence after winning five and drawing one in their last six games in a late charge for a Champions League spot. Garcia kept the same 4-4-2 formation in the last four games; ten out of eleven players from the lineup started all previous four.

PSG's 3-5-2 formation in possession against Marseille's 4-4-2 in defense.

Marseille’s tweak in their defensive shape when PSG has possession turned them into more of a 5-3-2 shape off the ball.

Garcia’s slight tweak in defensive shape nullifies PSG

A 4-4-2 formation has structural issues against a 3-5-2 – no spare man at the back against the two strikers. The two banks of four have a natural tendency of playing narrow to deny space in the middle, which allows space for wingbacks, and the opponent has a spare man to defend the two strikers.

Rudi Garcia had an answer to the former two issues – he used Lucas Ocampos in a hybrid role that saw him play as a left wingback when PSG had the ball, marking Thomas Meunier, which allowed left back Hiroki Sakai to tuck in as a third center-back against the duo of Mbappé & Di María.

This worked to great effect defensively – since PSG fields two deep-lying playmakers in Marco Verratti and Leandro Paredes along with three center-backs in a 3-2 buildup, PSG’s possession play mostly occurred far from goal and they lacked a solution to break Marseille’s 5-3-2 defensive setup. Marseille occasionally pressed high, with Thauvin – Germain – Balotelli pushing onto the three center-backs, thanks to the wingbacks being covered by Ocampos and Sarr.

Passmap PSG - Olympique Marseille 3-1 Ligue 1

Valere Germain, who is an ideal player to have in a front two with his very high work rate, tactical discipline and good link-up play, had a good game here by joining pressure, and then dropping on to Paredes to occupy him in the defensive phase, while grabbing the only Marseille goal at the other end from a very difficult angle.

Overall, it was a near-perfect defensive plan to stop PSG, shown by a mere 0.31 expected goals The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. created by PSG in open play. On the flip side though, Marseille also did not create anything throughout the game and PSG’s back three found it easy to deal with Marseille’s front two.

Defining tactical aspect – rare PSG transitions

Marseille was perfectly equipped to neutralize PSG’s threat from possession play. However, since Garcia used a hybrid formation that changed back to 4-4-2 shape when Marseille had possession, they had to be very careful not to lose the ball in dangerous areas and get caught high up against the scintillating pace of Mbappé and Di María. Marseille’s approach was not negative in possession per se – they wanted to keep their distances close and play a passing game so the defence did push higher. However, since PSG often had the ball we saw this threat only rarely during the game.

In the fifteenth minute, Paredes won the ball in the midfield from Sanson with a brilliant tackle, Verratti immediately played Di María through on goal and the Argentinian scored, but the goal was chalked off due to offside thanks to the VAR. PSG’s first shot on target came in 25th minute, in another transition moment when Ocampos was caught high up, Dani Alves played in Meunier who was free on the right and his shot was saved by Mandanda.

PSG’s opener came in cruel fashion for Marseille in the injury time of the first half and marked the excellent performance that Di María had. Marseille took a corner kick and after the rebound fell to Di María outside the box, no less than three players applied pressure on him. Since it really looked like PSG would lose the ball, Marseille players got drawn to the ball and stayed up, only to see Di María dribble brilliantly through the press and get the ball to Verratti. Di María immediately sprinted forward, received a through ball from Kehrer into the very exposed back line, and set up Mbappé for 1-0.

Instant reply from Marseille, followed by further Di Maria brilliance

Marseille immediately equalized after second half kicked off. There is not much to analyze on the goal – Ocampos received a long ball, dribbled at the defender and Germain scored from a very unlikely angle from Ocampos’ deflected pass. After that, it was similar patterns and the same tactical setup. PSG had to make two straight swaps in the first half due to injuries – Dagba for Dani Alves and Kehrer for Meunier – so Tuchel had little freedom to change the game in PSG’s favor. However, Di María was determined to win this game for PSG, and he came up with another goal out of nothing. In the 55th minute he took on three Marseille players, combined with Kehrer and scored from a tight angle.

Passmap PSG - Olympique Marseille 3-1 Ligue 1

Now Marseille had to push higher up, and they increased the pressure on PSG’s buildup by pressing the center-backs more often. The breaking point of the game occurred when they were doing exactly that, with an interesting small tactical detail contributing to it. Marseille had the aforementioned Thauvin – Germain – Balotelli trio pressing high against the center-backs, and Lopez – Sanson pressing Verratti – Paredes during PSG buildup.

Thiago Silva played the ball towards the right under pressure, and Ocampos, who was specifically tasked to occupy PSG’s right wingback but was positioned on Dagba in this instance, incorrectly anticipated that the ball was going to be aimed there and took a few steps towards Kehrer, only to realize the ball was heading to Dagba. When Dagba received the ball, Mbappé and Di Maria were two-versus-two against Marseille’s center-backs, who got caught high and a simple lobbed through ball saw the duo heading freely towards the goal, which led to Mandanda’s sending off. To add to Marseille’s woes, Di María converted the resulting free kick with a brilliant strike to kill the game.

Marseille's 4-4-2 high press against PSG in defense.

The occasion that brought the breaking point of the game – Marseille pressed high, Thiago Silva’s cutting through ball found Dagba with Ocampos dumbfounded, Sakai stepped up but Dagba’s quick lobbed through ball sent Di Maria and Mbappé through.

Garcia removed Balotelli for his substitute goalkeeper Pele, and played a 4-4-1 formation with ten men. The remainder of the game was rather uneventful, except for Mbappé’s missed penalty kick in injury time.


I believe this was a good example by Rudi Garcia of opposition analysis and taking tactical precaution without completely changing his own side. With a slight tweak to his favored 4-4-2 formation, his side completely nullified a very strong PSG team. His side was eventually punished by a combination of rare mistakes which allowed PSG’s devastating attackers to hurt them in transition, and a tremendous individual performance by Ángel Di María.

PSG is at a low point in their season. Injuries to Neymar and Cavani hurt their attacking prowess a lot, and the breakdown against Manchester United effectively ended their season barring the Coupe de France, since the domestic title is all but sealed already. In a game that their ultras boycotted the first fifteen minutes as a reaction, they were nowhere near their best but still managed to win the biggest game in France, thanks to a solid setup at the back and Di María’s individual brilliance.

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