By simply avoiding defeat, PSG would have secured their eighth Ligue 1 title at second-placed Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy. But the home side were keen to postpone PSG’s party, buoyed by their attacking four who have contributed to two-thirds of Lille’s league goals this season.
Christophe Galtier made only a single change to his side that drew against Stade Reims, introducing Xeka for Thiago Maia. Meanwhile, Thomas Tuchel was without his attacking stars Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Ángel Di María again due to injury. Tuchel reverted to a three-man defence in a 3-4-2-1 shape, bringing in Areola, Mbappé, Draxler and Meunier for Buffon, Choupo-Moting, Nkunku and Kurzawa.
With Tuchel’s eye on a win, it was interesting to see how well PSG would attack, considering only three of their starters had scored in the league this season going into this fixture. While the spotlight was on Mbappé, nine goals in his previous eight league games suggested he was no stranger to such responsibility.
But it appeared that the home side were galvanised by PSG’s lack of star quality combined with the prospect of the Parisians celebrating on their home turf.
PSG’s attacking threat
Tuchel’s return to three at the back was at play almost immediately, as PSG enjoyed a significant numerical advantage in the first phase.
Such was Lille’s pressing strategy, the home side operated in a 4-4-2 shape, leaving little space and time for PSG to operate between the lines. Rather than press PSG’s back line to force an error, Lille waited for PSG’s penetrative pass to pounce and win the ball for the counter.
A common feature of Tuchel’s three at the back setup is build-up play through combinations out wide. The above image has been annotated to show how PSG sought to overload Lille on each wing in the build-up to Mbappé’s first disallowed goal.
Firstly, the narrowness of Lille’s back line meant that PSG’s technically-sound midfielders and defenders could spray passes to each touchline with ease – as Kimpembe did to Meunier here. Suddenly, Lille’s defence appeared vulnerable as both full-backs have either Mbappé and Bernat or Meunier and Dani Alves to contend with. Add to this the dynamic positioning of PSG’s front three, Lille’s defence appeared to have their hands full.
On PSG’s right, Bamba drops back and attempts to help Kone by stopping Meunier but cannot stop the Belgian from squaring it to Mbappé.
PSG possess attacking quality from out wide was bound to catch Lille’s full-backs out. In the build-up to PSG’s equaliser, Çelik had both Draxler and Bernat to deal with, while Bamba stayed on the edge of the box failing to support his full-back.
With Çelik’s focus on Draxler, Mbappé picks out Bernat at the back post behind the Lille right back.
Lille’s attacking strategy
Lille caused PSG problems down their right-hand side, with the likes of Ikone, Pépé and Çelik (circled) occupying dangerous pockets of space in the half and wide spaces.
Kimpembe, particularly, had his hands full on the left side of his back three trying to quell the danger of Ikone and Pépé. As the above image shows, the French defender was dragged out of position by Pépé, who made a darting run in the opposite direction. Çelik also remained a progressive passing option as Bernat was occupied by Pépé’s run into the space left behind Kimpembe.
While Lille were somewhat fortuitous in Meunier’s own goal, their dangerous build-up on the right led them to such luck, by committing Kimpembe and disrupting PSG’s defensive structure.
PSG’s defensive sloppiness
After Bernat’s contentious dismissal, Tuchel’s side were forced into reverting to a back four with a 4-2-3 shape moving Dagba to left back. This shifted the tide of the game as PSG began to soak up the home side’s pressure and break for the counter.
PSG’s lack of defensive cover was exacerbated by their willingness to commit bodies forward, as can be seen in the above image. Rémy dropped deep which brought the aggressive Kimpembe out of position, allowing Ikone to play a first time pass through to Pépé who dispatches to make it 2-1.
The Parisian’s lack of defensive solidity was exposed by only a quick succession of passes, splitting their defence entirely. Perhaps a red card was the worst thing PSG could have expected. After Lille’s second, the away side needed at least one goal despite being a man light and ran the risk of being caught on the counter with Lille’s speedy attackers.
This was the fate that confronted PSG every time Lille countered. The image above demonstrates the sheer lack of support from their central midfielders (circled) with penetrative passing options available to either Bamba or Pépé.
The common denominator of these dangerous counters is the positioning of Alves, allowing Bamba the freedom to run into space behind the Brazilian full-back. Also, Kimpembe often attempted to defend on the front foot, which saw his defence vulnerable to numerous opportunities for the home side.
PSG’s attacking aridity
PSG’s attacking transition also took a staggering hit after Bernat’s red card. By reverting to a back four, PSG were not able to dominate possession in opening phases as they once did. Instead, they endeavoured to get the ball up the pitch impatiently in a bid to chase the game.
Moreover, both Verratti and Paredes were forced to play deep to provide progressive passing options to their defence. With Lille’s midfield making it difficult for PSG to play through the middle, Verratti and Paredes found trouble in getting the ball up to their forwards to prompt attacks.
There was a distinct lack of movement from PSG between Lille’s regimented midfield and defensive lines. Lille were making the most of their advantage. PSG’s miseries were compounded by Mbappé walking gingerly.
Lille scored five goals with six shots on target, spurred on by PSG’s lack of star quality and rose to the occasion.
A myriad of circumstances resulted in PSG’s heavy defeat at the hands of Lille. PSG had to contend without the attacking reinforcement of Neymar, Cavani or Di María. This issue was worsened by Bernat’s dismissal, which hampered PSG’s play in transition as there were large spaces between the midfield and attack.
Add to this PSG’s incessant push for a goal which left them exposed at the back and the scoreline begins to tell a story which reflects the away side’s disappointing performance.
If PSG lose their next seven league games and Lille win their remaining six, Lille can clinch the Ligue 1 title by a solitary point. On the contrary, if PSG win their remaining games, the Parisians would secure the title with a record points total of 102.
While Lille only prolonged the inevitable, no-one can take away from their valiant performance. Galtier has this Lille side performing much closer to its potential than last season when they escaped relegation by only a single point.
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