Despite there being five games left to play in the French Ligue 1, Paris Saint-Germain have been crowned champions early. This isn’t particularly surprising given Ligue 1’s reputation of being a “farmers league”. However, the truth is that PSG have dominated the league from week one. Using statistics and tactical analysis, we aim to discuss the changes that occurred over the last six games using statistics. This will also analyse the other factors that have influenced their porous defence.
Paris Saint-Germain could have claimed the throne much earlier but slip-ups against Lille, Strasbourg, and Nantes caused an unexpected delay.
PSG have conceded 27 goals (the fewest) in Ligue 1, with 12 coming in their last six matches. These numbers have demonstrated a weakness in their defence. What has changed over the last few weeks?
Changes in defensive personnel
Between beating Olympique Lyonnais on 7th October 2018 until their win against Olympique de Marseille on 17th March 2019, PSG conceded an average of 0.47 goals per match (the least conceded among all teams in Ligue 1).
Since then, they have conceded an average of 2.0 goals per match (the most conceded in Ligue 1). PSG were conceding goals at a higher rate than Toulouse, Troyes, and En Avant de Guingamp did last season. All three teams placed 14th or lower in the table.
There were three stand out players who received more minutes in the last six matches: Leandro Paredes, Colin Dagba, and Presnel Kimpembe.
Prior to Paris Saint-Germain’s match against Marseille, Paredes, Dagba, and Kimpembe played 18.2%, 4.9%, and 48.9% of available minutes. Since then they have been involved in 96.9%, 80%, and 100% of available minutes.
Paredes played four times as a defensive midfielder only winning 15.15% of defensive duels. Dagba won 18.60% of defensive duels and Kimpembe with 21.62% defensive duels. The three recorded disappointing defensive statistics in the time period.
In previous matches, the right full-back position was more often played by Thomas Meunier. The inexperience of Colin Dagba might be a reason for their decline on the right-hand side.
Thomas Tuchel’s system changes
Sole blame can’t be given to personnel changes. Generally speaking, Thomas Tuchel’s system made PSG vulnerable against opposition attacking setups.
Tuchel doesn’t have a fixed and preferred formation, instead prefers to tinker based on the opposition. Throughout the Ligue 1 season, he has played with three defenders 16 times and four-man defences 17 times. Close to a 50-50 split.
In the last six matches, he continued to persist with both formations. A three-man defensive line three times and a four-man system three times.
Weaknesses against counter-attacks
With superior attacking players such as Neymar Jr., Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappé, they often obtain higher ball possession. Throughout the Ligue 1 season, they averaged more possession than their opponents except on one occasion. The 5-0 victory against Lyon on 7th October 2018 saw the opposition hold 52.83%. PSG average 62.98% ball possession in the Ligue 1.
This also occurred in the UEFA Champions League, where they did not dominate their opponents on two occasions. In their last two Champions League matches against Manchester United, PSG averaged higher ball possession.
However, dominating ball possession made PSG vulnerable to the opponent’s counter-attack. This was especially dangerous if combined with long balls. From their last six matches, PSG conceded 42 counter-attacks, of which five yielded goals (from the total of 12 goals conceded).
PSG’s vulnerability to the counter-attack is a result of the positioning of the two wing-backs. The players are positioned far too high and wide. When building an attack, the defensive midfielder (Paredes or Marco Verratti) moves inside to provide cover to the inside channel. Allowing both of their wing-backs to attack further forward.
PSG’s central defenders and defensive midfielder can be relied upon to recover possession in central areas (they recorded average of 16.16 of ball recoveries per game in their own defensive third in the last six matches), but are vulnerable to attacks when dealing with opponents’ clearances to the flanks.
If they play with three defenders, one defensive midfielder will drop in when PSG builds an attack. However, if they play with two defenders, two midfielders will drop deep to cover. This gives PSG at least four players in the central area if a counter-attack emerges.
In theory, PSG would still maintain the same number of players when facing a counter-attack. In reality, they were outnumbered in the wide areas. This is what makes them vulnerable when facing counter-attacks through long balls to the flanks.
In recent weeks, PSG looked poor in defensive transitions. When both full-backs are positioned higher up the pitch, the distance to track back is naturally greater.
PSG’s issues in defending crosses
PSG’s weaknesses were not only from counter-attacks but from set-pieces too. Of the 12 goals conceded, five of them originated from dead-ball situations. The remaining came from crosses. The remaining goal resulted from a defensive error.
Set-pieces, crosses, and defensive errors seem to be the fundamental reason for PSG’s defensive errors lately. Two own goals have also contributed to this debacle.
In the Coupe de France final against Stade Rennais, Paris Saint-Germain conceded two goals: one from a crossing situation which resulted in an own goal by Presnel Kimpembe. The other from a set-piece scenario. PSG ultimately lost the French cup title to Stade Rennes in a penalty shoot-out.
A team that has scored the most goals (95) and has conceded the fewest (27) so far in Ligue 1, should not have to be too concerned. However, as this tactical analysis explains, the most dominant team in France performed below expectations. The league title is expected but being knocked out from the Coupe de la Ligue, Champions League, and Coupe de France is concerning. The statistics look bleak.
Their problems compounded over the last six league matches as they conceded 12 times. Counter-attacks and set-pieces have become a cause for concern for the French champions. Even though PSG look to dominate possession their defence is not shielded from the problems discussed earlier. Tuchel must seek solutions for next season if he wants to challenge on all fronts and establish Paris Saint-Germain as a European powerhouse.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the April issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.