Monday, January 27, 2014

Tactical Analysis: PSG 1-1 Guingamp

PSG narrowly avoided a second straight defeat in all competitions at Guingamp after Alex leveled the score at 1-1 with an 87th minute header from a corner. The visitors dominated possession with 74% but couldn't move the ball quickly enough to trouble Guingamp. For their part, Guingamp were incredibly well organized defensively- as they have been all season. They've conceded just 20 league goals. Only PSG, Monaco and Lille have conceded fewer. Their problem has been at the other end of the pitch. Coming into this game they had failed to score in 4 straight Ligue 1 games and only Sochaux and Ajaccio have registered fewer goals this season.

Laurent Blanc was without Thiago Silva (although he travelled), Lavezzi, Jallet and Rabio. He started in his usual 4-3-3 formation but it quickly became a 4-3-1-2 midfield diamond with Pastore playing just off the forward pairing of Cavani and Ibrahimovic. Thiago Motta, Matuidi and Verratti made up the midfield three. Marquinhos filled in for Thiago Silva alonside Alex.

Jocelyn Gourvennec opted for a 4-4-2. Alioui partnered Yatabare up front. Diallo and Mathis played in the center of midfield with Atik on the right wing and Giresse on the left. Dos Santos, Sorbon, Kerbrat and Pereira made up the back four.

PSG Narrow
PSG started the game in their standard 4-3-3 with Pastore on the left and Cavani on the right but quickly made the switch to the diamond 4-3-1-2. The move seemed to make perfect sense. Guingamp defended with two banks of four so were already outnumbered in the middle of midfield 2 vs. 3. Diallo picked up Matuidi and Mathis picked up Verratti. Thiago Motta was generally left free for PSG deeper in midfield. Switching to two up top meant both Guingamp center backs would be occupied marking Cavani and Ibrahimovic while both their center midfielders were occupied marking Matuidi and Verratti. Blanc's thinking then must have been that Guingamp wouldn't have a spare player in the middle to mark Pastore and he would therefore be left free between Guingamp's defensive and midfield lines to link play forward.

Although it was easy to imagine Blanc's thinking in making the change, its application was unsuccessful for two reasons. Firstly, Pastore's movement between the lines was poor and he was poor when he did get on the ball. Secondly, Guingamp did an excellent job keeping their defensive and midfield lines compact and not allowing much space between the lines.

The midfield diamond also meant PSG were extremely narrow. This allowed the Guingamp fullbacks to play incredibly narrow themselves without the threat of any balls being played in behind them in the channels. The two wingers Atik and Giresse were remarkably disciplined in tracking the forward runs of Maxwell and Van Der Wiel from their fullback positions. As a result, PSG had no wide threat whatsoever so all of their attacking moves had to go through a crowded center of the pitch. The narrow positioning of Guingamp's fullbacks meant one could step out deny Pastore (or Cavani or Ibrahimovic dropping in to receive the ball between the lines) the ability to turn and they'd still have three players left at the back to defend Ibrahimovic and Cavani.

The graphic below shows Guingamp's defensive interceptions and tackles. Notice the number of tackles they were able to make in central areas just outside their own 18 yard box as PSG continued to try to attack through the middle.

Guingamp Direct
Offensively there was nothing subtle to Guingamp's approach. In fact it was one of the most direct performances I've seen in any league in recent memory. They looked to hit long balls early into the attacking third toward Yatabare or to get it wide and play diagonal balls into the box from deep areas. The graphic below shows their attacking third passes for the game- the bulk of which were long balls played from their own half. They were always going to be most likely to score from set pieces and took their chance in the 84th when Yatabare dispatched an Alioui. Troublingly for PSG, the last three goals they've conceded have come from set piece situations after they were beaten 2-1 by Montpelier in the Coupe de France with Montpelier's goals coming from set pieces.

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