Paris Saint-Germain – Toulouse: Paris Saint-Germain Do Enough To Secure The Trophy (2-0)
The Trophée des Champions pitted league winners, Paris Saint-Germain, against first-time Coupe de France champions, Toulouse. Normally, with a final there would be the suggestion of parity before the first whistle but this was a match that would see 1st in the league up against 16th.
Tactical analysis and match report by Nick Hartland.
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After two years abroad, the Trophée des Champions made its way back to France, as sponsorship problems caused organizational chaos. The match was scheduled to take place in Bangkok during August as a curtain-raiser for the return of league football but instead was delayed until the midseason break.
This was going to be more than just a home game in name for PSG as the Parc des Princes was chosen as the venue for the final; an advantage that Toulouse was acutely aware of. PSG have not always excelled this season but their home form has been a very different story, Les Parisiens have only lost once in their stadium across all competitions.
Regardless of the nature in which they won their first Coupe de France, it felt like Toulouse would need some good fortune coming into this game. Their season, despite solid results in the Europa League, has been dreadful. The club have gone ten games without a win in the league and now sit in the relegation play-off spot. The decision to fire manager, Philippe Montanier, at the start of the season and replace him with the inexperienced Carles Martínez Novell appears to have backfired.
Luis Enrique went with a 4-3-3 formation. In goal, Gianluigi Donnarumma, and the back four of Lucas Hernandez, Milan Škriniar, Marquinhos, and Achraf Hakimi. At the base of midfield Vitinha with Lee Kang-In and Warren Zaïre-Emery as number eights. On the wings, Bradley Barcola and Ousmane Dembélé, with Kylian Mbappé as the number nine.
Martínez Novell mirrored his opposition’s shape. Guillaume Restes as the goalkeeper behind Gabriel Suazo, Moussa Diarra, Rasmus Nicolaisen, and Christian Mawissa. In the anchor role, Stijn Spierings with the number eights Cristian Cásseres Jr. and Vincent Sierro. Thijs Dalinga as the lone striker who was flanked by César Gelabert and Aron Dønnum.
Prosecco football from Les Parisiens
It only took two minutes for PSG to find the net in a beautiful movement that saw Vitinha combine from deep with Dembélé. The midfielder found the winger in the halfspace moving towards the byline and with a cutback to the edge of the box found Lee whose shot dribbled home to open the scoring.
What followed was not quite champagne football from the capital club as they swirled around the pitch with these fast one or two-touch passes. These passages of play would often find themselves drawn towards the right-hand side of the pitch, as Mbappé and Dembélé drifted towards each other and created little combinations that dragged the Toulouse shape in any which way they desired.
This possessional dominance was partly brought about by the new box shape that Luis Enrique has drilled into his side. The in-possession formation allowed for the team to have greater control and more options when they built attacks through their midfield.
However, largely this was helped by the fact that Toulouse were obliging guests against this early onslaught, as their defensive shape left much to be desired when very minor positional rotations created chaos within the Toulouse low block.
Toulouse attempted to respond to the threat down their left-hand side by having both their eights, Sierro and Cásseres, shift to the wing and attempt to deny PSG space through the center. Yet, the lines between the players were pulled apart with ease as a few passes would move each midfielder out of shape.
13th minute: Hakimi and Dembélé move into midfield to form the box shape while Zaïre-Emery rotates wide. Sierro and Suazo move forward to block Dembélé’s options but create space for Zaïre-Emery to drift. Hakimi adds a layer of chaos with a dummy run that loses Cásseres. A fairly minor rotation from PSG but it is enough to provide a sweeping movement from the defensive line to the forward line.
The fact that PSG did not capitalize further on their dominance might have provided Toulouse with a lifeline as the visitors supposedly in name began to slowly grow into the match. Dalinga came close to leveling the scores but Donnarumma (often criticized for what he cannot do) demonstrated his skillset, with an exceptional reflex save.
Still, despite their growing efforts, it was the usual suspect that scored to put an end to the first half. Mbappé picked the ball up outside of the box and then dribbled past five defenders all desperately attempting to wrestle the ball off him. Their efforts in vain as he caused enough separation from the flailing pack to shoot towards the near post and past the outstretched keeper.
There was very little change to the feeling of the game as the second half began, a point emphasized by neither side making an alteration to their lineup. PSG controlled both possession and the tempo of the game, while Toulouse attempted to use fast breaks to catch their nominal hosts out.
Toulouse did somewhat change their defensive approach as they utilized a passive press to try and force more mistakes from Les Parisiens and thereby create more attacking opportunities. Largely, how this operates was not wildly different from their first-half approach, other than the man on the ball would now be challenged by the closest Toulouse player.
How effective this was at disrupting PSG was questionable. Toulouse did create more opportunities in the second half and as the game wore on looked the more likely to score. However, whether this was because of the change in approach or because PSG did what they usually do during games this season, and dropped their intensity, was up for debate.
The substitution of Škriniar who departed early due to an injury brought about perhaps the most exciting moment in the match for the neutral stadium, as new signing Lucas Beraldo was introduced. His every touch was met with a thunderous olé from the obviously non-partisan crowd… in no way was it a home game.
Toulouse applied more pressure as the second half reached its end and part fortune and part defensive efforts from the PSG backline and goalkeeper kept the scoreline unchanged. Regardless, it felt like too little too late for the Coupe de France champions as the trophy for the tenth time in eleven years was delivered to PSG.
Both teams learned very little from this game. The trappings of a final could not hide the difference in status between these two sides, as occasion gave way to routine.
PSG were no different from the team that they have so often been this season. Provided moments where they looked absolutely impervious, and played football that was scintillating and fast. However, this was also a team that struggled to turn dominance into goals and showed once more that it lacked a ruthless edge to kill off matches. Which of these two sides will come to determine this season will yet to be seen.
This Toulouse team were a very different side from the one that stormed the Coupe de France final last season. They’re now the youngest squad in the league after losing an experienced core, and this inexperience has often reared its ugly head throughout the season. They would not have expected to have won this game, but it could have provided some impetus for them going forward as the league returns next week and their relegation battle resumes.