2013-2014 tactics : Laurent Blanc’s PSG
A few weeks ago Paris Saint-Germain played by far its best game of the season against Bordeaux (0-2). That game allowed us to understand most of Blanc’s gameplan for the season to come and its advantages against teams trying to press PSG high-up the pitch.
Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Verratti :
The Bordeaux 4-2-3-1 started the game trying to play the same way Guingamp did: the two strikers (Rolan and Diabaté) had to track down Thiago Motta and Thiago Silva to prevent their first passes. At midfield, Poko and Nguemo had to do the same with Verratti and Matuidi.
The Italian may be the key-player against this kind of « pressing » teams. Most of the time, he drops back to be the third solution to the PSG distribution alongside Thiago Motta (center) and Thiago Silva (left).
In this way Verratti pulls one of the defensive midfielders out of position, creating spaces in the center of the pitch. With the support of Matuidi, Alex and the full-backs, both Verratti and Matuidi alongside Thiago Motta pass the ball until one of them is able to play infield, in the back of the out-of-position opponent.
Against Bordeaux this distribution allowed PSG to go very quickly from their surface to the Girondins’ last 30 meters. Bordeaux’s strikers and midfielders were quickly tired as they proved to be completely out of shape in the last 30 minutes of the game.
Ibrahimovic, Ongenda and Moura :
When finding enough space to play infield, Thiago Motta, Thiago Silva or Verratti try to link-up with one of their forwards dropping back at midfield. The first solution is obviously Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which holds-up play and then try to find his two teammates up-front, behind the back of the defenders or on the wings.
Edinson Cavani’s goal against Nantes demonstrates perfectly PSG’s circuit around Ibrahimovic. First Thiago Motta breaks Nantes’ midfield with one pass. Then Zlatan uses his skills to find separation with his opponent (Vizacarrondo) and serves the Uruguayan striker in the back of Cichero.
The second solution comes from the wingers’moves: against Bordeaux, Ongenda left his position on the left-wing to use spaces behind Nguemo or Poko who were pulled out of midfield by Matuidi or Verratti.
Going inside, Ongenda exploited spaces between the midfielders and the center-backs focused on the moves of Ibrahimovic. Against Monaco, Lavezzi tried to play the same way but wasn’t offered enough space by Monaco’s more defensive approach.
After a first pass inside – Thiago Motta, Thiago Silva, Verratti to Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi, Ongenda – the next move is to go on wide positions with wingers (Lucas Moura) or full-backs (Maxwell, Digne), if not directly behind the back of the defense (Cavani).
In Bordeaux, Lucas Moura had a great game playing against former Sudamericana’s opponent Lucas Orban. He had enough space and time to attack the Argentinian left-back thanks to the fast-breaks from midfield.
Wing- players are holding the ball and try to go one-on-one with their opponents. If there is no solution they play back inside to Ibrahimovic who finds separation with the defenders (20-30 meters of the goal).
When Zlatan is dropping back, his move is compensated by the run of the other winger – for example Ongenda against Bordeaux and Cavani against Olympiakos. The other solution to get inside the pitch is to give the ball back to Verratti or Thiago Motta (30-40 meters of the goal). Then the two Italians organize the play from behind with Thiago Silva.
Matuidi cuts inside to offer run-through the defense. The Frenchman is playing with his left-back: when one is going further ahead, the other stays back covering.
Getting the ball back:
It’s the other strength of the PSG three-player midfield. Despite a weak first line, Blanc’s team is very efficient getting the ball back thanks to the activity of Verratti and Matuidi. As they are covered by Thiago Motta, the two players can go press high-up the pitch to prevent the opponent’s first distribution.
Against Bordeaux they shut down Nguemo and Poko at first and then did the same against Monaco with Kondogbia and Obbadi. The only solution for the opponent is to find spaces to play wide on the full-backs in the back of the PSG wingers. Those passes force Verratti and Matuidi to get back alongside Thiago Motta to form a front-three in front of the defense which slides to block sides.
When wingers are back in position, Verratti and Matuidi can switch back to their aggressive play against opponent midfielders. Their activity can be relied to Borussia duo Bender-Gundogan and their defensive work though without the support of two forwards…
With Thiago Motta preventing opponents to go back inside, the only way to overwhelm PSG is to attack width very quickly first by outnumbering Matuidi-Maxwell or Verratti-Van der Wiel. Then the aim is making the difference while dribbling just like Zuniga, Insigne, Maggio and Callejon – the Napoli wing-players – did against Dortmund. Not a coincidence.
The right formula:
The 4-3-3 positioning seems to be the system that suits Laurent Blanc’s style of play the best. The French coach loves to see his team holding the ball at midfield and recovering it quickly by pressuring the opponent’s first passes.
But if Motta-Matuidi-Verratti is today the best combination at midfield, Blanc will have to make choices every week-end to play upfront. We have seen different formulas around Zlatan Ibrahimovic at PSG last games.
In Bordeaux, PSG played with one winger (Lucas Moura) and one link-up player (Ongenda) who had to uses spaces between the lines. Against Monaco Lavezzi tried to be the link-up guy before staying wide because of Ranieri’s conservative approach.
Criticized for his recent performances, Pastore could be a solution as a false-winger like Ongenda or Lavezzi. But his one-dimensional style can be a problem whereas his partners can go upfront to compensate Ibrahimovic dropping back.
With the 4-3-3, Cavani is in the same situation as Pastore. The Uruguayan is perfect to complete Ibrahimovic’s moves and uses spaces behind the defense… but he can’t play as a winger and is not a link-up player. So when the defense is holding back waiting, he can’t be used as a solution during the build-up stage. That’s what happened against Monaco as PSG always built-up plays on the left-side with him on the right, going inside as a second striker.
For Cavani and Pastore, the main issue is obviously Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But for the first one, ‘Ibra’ can be as much a problem than he is a solution: the main key is somewhere else. If the PSG back-three – here we are talking about Thiago Motta, Silva and Verratti – finds him between the lines, Ibrahimovic can provide the last pass to Cavani in the back of the defense. Same way goes if he’s found by Lucas Moura or Lavezzi getting inside from their wide positions.
If the opponent lets him play infield by going high-up the pitch, Ibrahimovic will be the link-up player. He will then be using his magic to break the defense with one skill move or one pass to Cavani, Ongenda, Matuidi, Lavezzi, etc.
If the opponent stays back, Paris will be more efficient by playing wide and using real wingers and full-backs supporting the offense. Against this kind of opposition, PSG may be more efficient with his 4-4-2 and Ibrahimovic-Cavani together upfront and both Thiago Motta-Verratti to make the plays from behind. The Italian youngster seems more suited than Matuidi to create plays, using his pass-skills to find his partners in the last 20.