Stade Rennais – Paris-Saint-Germain: Rennes Teach PSG A Lesson And Make Them Suffer Their First Defeat In The Season (2-1)

Once again, Rennes left the field victorious after a match against PSG. In a game of tactics and intensity, Julien Stéphan’s men confirmed they are one of the most challenging teams PSG has had to face in 2019. Rennes’ performance was quality, but questions should be raised about PSG’s current shape, tactics and attitude. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Simon Piotr

Long time no see, or not. 

After the final of the French National Cup and the French Supercup, it was the third time in a few months wherein PSG faced Rennes. The French Supercup in China, played earlier this month, showed a very defensive Rennes beaten after an exquisite Ángel Di María cameo in the second half. Both teams had started their Ligue 1 seasons with a win, since the hosts had beaten Montpellier and PSG had won 3-0 against Nîmes a week ago. 

Rennes lined up in the same 5-3-2 formation they started the season with. It could have been expected to see a similar defensive game plan to the Supercup match. However, this time, Rennes played with a much more aggressive and audacious approach tactically. 

Without Neymar – who is still waiting for his future to be decided – PSG’s starting eleven was composed of: Alphonse Aréola, Abou Diallo, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Thomas Meunier, Juan Bernat, Marco Verratti, Julian Draxler, Di María and Cavani. Having started the season in a 4-3-3 system, manager Thomas Tuchel switched it up here. PSG’s system resembled something closer to a 3-1-4-2 shape, depending on Marquinhos’ positioning, which was flexible – as it is often the case with the Brazilian defender.

An unexpected battle for ball possession won by PSG

Unlike the Supercup, when PSG were in possession almost all the time, there was a real fight for the ball this time around. Paris had “only” 54% of the ball in the first half.

PSG organized their build-up in a 3-1-4-2 shape, with Verratti as holding midfielder. This could quickly morph into another formation, as Marquinhos would be likely to play both in central defense and midfield. The Parisians were definitely not having a great night and ball progression was a real issue tactically. Whereas the 4-3-3 formation allowed PSG to combine on the wings in the previous games, this new system did not allow the same fluidity. Indeed, having Verratti in a central position and Marquinhos all over the place could not create the possession triangles PSG used before. 

PSG’s 3-1-4-2 / 3-5-2 system against Rennes compact 5-3-2.

The buildup was somewhat decent, yet the main problem for PSG was to create actual danger. Rennes defended in their 5-3-2 shape and were very compact and aggressive. They held on to a somewhat higher defensive block A defensive block is the compact group of defenders that defends a particular zone, either their own half in a medium defensive block, or the zone around their own box in a deep defensive block. than during the Supercup, even using a high press at times, and they literally allowed Parisians no time on the ball. 

As a consequence, PSG seemed very inferior physically and were not able to put tempo in their possession. Uncharacteristically, the passing was very sloppy too, even from reliable players like Verratti. Exploiting the space between the lines was very complicated, with Di María being too chaotic and Draxler absolutely unable to receive and carry the ball properly. 

The only PSG was able to get into dangerous positions on the ball was was to use Mbappé’s movements in depth. The first opportunity for PSG, unsurprisingly, did not came from open play, but after a set-piece in minute 13, with Cavani heading the ball on the post. 

As for Stade Rennais, they had drawn the lesson from their previous encounter with Tuchel’s side and they came prepared. Clément Grenier, their central midfielder, commented on this after the game: “we were too defensive the other time, we wanted to spend more on the ball and we knew how to find space behind Di Maria and Draxler with short passing”. 

Indeed, Rennes were way more ambitious, not only they had a decent possession, but they also had the same passing success as PSG, a decent 88% in the first half.

They built patiently with short passing – the 16-year-old midfielder Camavinga completed 98% of his passes in the game – yet they were pretty vertical in the opposition’s half to use free spaces left by PSG. 

Mirrored systems:  Rennes 5-3-2 formation against PSG’s .. 5-3-2 formation.

Rennes attacked with Grenier and Bourigeaud pushing forward to catch Draxler and Di María out of position, which was a successful process to a certain extent. After ten minutes, where PSG seemed confused about their organisation, they made a switch and decided to defend in a 5-3-2 shape that mirrored Rennes’ system. This allowed numerical superiority in defense, but the structure definitely lacked compactness. Too often, it was hard to tell whether PSG wanted to press or hold a medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. because of the large distances between players. 

Players were also slow to intervene and the clearest situation to score for Rennes occurred after Di María, Silva and Marquinhos were out of position, giving a potential one-versus-one to Castillo well saved by Diallo’s tackle. 

A locked game .. but goals came anyway

The game went on, as no side was able to create chances with shots on target. But on a goal-kick was played too short in the 36th minute, Rennes’ centerback Da Silva and his keeper Salin did not quite understand each other. The ball was directly passed to Cavani who could score the opening goal. First shot on target and 0-1 for PSG through individual errors by the opponent. 

After the goal, Rennes did not sink and reacted very well. Rennes went on to rack up 55% possession until half-time, and managed to score right before the interval. As PSG’s captain Thiagol Silva said after the match, PSG lost their focus; the equalizer was the perfect example of that. On an action reminiscent of the goal Rennes scored in the Supercup, Bernat failed to defend on the crosser, both Marquinhos and Thiago Silva showed passive defending, as Niang scored a lovely goal. 

Rennes keep the momentum and PSG fail to score

As if the break had not existed, Rennes returned on the field with the same intentions, whereas PSG were still somewhere in the dressing room. The hosts took the initiative and in minute 48, they scored the second goal, with another cross coming from the right. Midfielders Grenier and Bourigeaud both have great right feet and genuine crossers / deadball specialists, yet here, it was the young Camavinga who delivered a subtle pinched ball for Castillo’s header inside the box. Meunier was nowhere to be seen in the marking, and Aréola remained on his feet and watched the ball gently hit the back of the net. 

After going up, for the first time in the match, Rennes fell back in a very defensive 5-3-2 organization. Time and time again, PSG failed to get in between the lines, let alone in the box. Physically and technically Paris did not have the resources to hit the opposition harder. 

Usually, those situations are kept under control by Neymar’s brilliance, as he can unlock any low block. But without Neymar – and with Mbappé not in his best day – PSG could not rely on individual exploits to save the day. Both teams had five attempts after the score was 2-1, two on target for Paris, and Rennes went close to scoring the third in minute 63 after hitting the post on a corner-kick situation. Not only did PSG had trouble attacking, but they also had trouble to defend against Rennes energy on transitions due to a bad counterpress. After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. This led to several yellow cards, among others for Verratti or Meunier.

Eventually, the Parisians besieged Rennes box and crossed eighteen times in the second half, especially after Sarabia replaced Di María in attack. Not nearly enough to equalize. The amount of expected goals created The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. speaks volumes about PSG’s issues, only 0.93 xG generated, probably the worst in a very long time. 


After a 3-0 victory in the first league game of the season, PSG was already taught a lesson in humility with this defeat. It is actually the first time in eight years that PSG suffered a defeat in the first two Ligue 1 games.

As usual with this 3-1-4-2 formation, PSG did not concede many chances, yet offensively, we can also wonder why Tuchel did not go back to the 4-3-3 shape used previously, when he saw his team could not create chances. We can also wonder why he left the corpse of Draxler on the field for 78 minutes and why he did not try Paredes before, who is a very interesting player against defensive blocks because of his killer passes and long shots. To his defense, it is obvious that the team has trouble recovering from the summer preparation and we can hope that the shape of the team improves after paying a toll for a few games. 

On Rennes’ side, they might not be the best team to play against oppositions of their level or lower. But the personality, the tactical preparation and the energy the team shows against stronger sides is absolutely striking, and all credit goes to the young French coach Stéphan.
Now let’s see if they can improve to make better than a 10th place in Ligue 1 as Stéphan starts his first full season as Rennes’ manager. 

All match plots are presented below. 

Tactical and video analysis on Youtube. [ View all posts ]


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