After a 3–0 drubbing of Real Madrid on the opening matchday of the 2019–20 UEFA Champions League campaign, group leaders Paris Saint-Germain travelled to Istanbul to take on Galatasaray. The Turkish side, however, were held to a goalless draw away from home and any points against the group leaders would have been a welcome sight.
Club Brugge’s draw against Los Blancos in the early kick-off was an excellent result for Thomas Tuchel’s men, who were presented with a glorious opportunity to stretch their lead at the top of the group table. The hosts on the day, meanwhile, were left with mixed feelings as it gave their direct competitors a vital point which could hamper their chances of a Europa League spot down the road.
Tuchel fielded the same XI which desecrated Galacticos at Parc des Princes just a fortnight before. Neymar Jr. serving his European ban, Edinson Cavani struggling with fitness and with Kylian Mbappe not 100 per cent fit to start, meant the attacking trio of Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi and Pablo Sarabia were once again given the nod upfront. Presnel Kimpembe and Juan Bernat were also preferred over Abdou Diallo and Layvin Kurzawa who started on the weekend against Bordeaux. Overall, the German manager stuck to his favoured 4–3–3 formation with minor changes in personnel up and down the field.
The Turkish manager, on the other hand, moved away from his usual four-man defence and chose a 3–5–2 formation to simultaneously counteract PSG’s front three and advancing full-backs. An injured Mario Lemina made way for Younes Belhanda, while Ryan Donk was introduced into the backline sacrificing Sofiane Feghouli upfront.
Galatasaray’s defensive plan
Playing their first Champions League game of the season at Turk Telekom Stadium, Galatasaray adopted an optimistic yet sensible approach to the game. The hosts, alongside man-marking, devised two basic strategies to stop Paris Saint-Germain from scoring – first, to make the pitch as small as possible and second, to press the Ligue 1 side high up the pitch.
Let’s take a look at their first approach. Out of possession, Galatasaray switched to a 5–3–2 shape, staying compact in order to limit spaces in the centre and forcing the opposition down the sidelines. It’s worth noting that Terim’s men succeeded to a major extent with 77% of the PSG’s attack coming from the wings. While the three central midfielders and two strikers closed down the spaces in the middle third, the 5 man-defence tried to outmanoeuvre away side’s attack in the defensive third as well as on the wings.
Playing defence wasn’t the only thing up their sleeves as Galatasaray pressed PSG high up the pitch and applied their man-marking approach all over the opposition half. The two strikers, Ryan Babel and Radamel Falcao, closed down Keylor Navas and simultaneously cut down any passing lane to the two centre-backs – Kimpembe and Thiago Silva. Yuto Nagatomo was quick to close down Thomas Meunier who was receiving the ball, Jean Michael-Seri on Idrissa Gana Gueye, Belhanda on Marquinhos while Steven Nzonzi and Mariano kept tabs on Marco Verratti and Bernat.
Terim’s man-marking approach, as shown in the image below, was clear from the outset and it didn’t take long before PSG realised they had loads of spaces to exploit in their attacking third, which we will see later.
Galatasaray’s ineffective pressing & PSG slicing them open with quick play
‘Pressing is efficient when done collectively’ is a fundamental principle written in the footballing scriptures. Galatasaray, as brave as they were, seemed to forget this rule and the incident which happened as early as in the 2nd minute of the game was the theme of the night.
In order to stop PSG building from the back, Falcao immediately pressed Navas forcing him to kick it long but was let down by his teammates. Mariano (RWB) was caught in no man’s land in a 2v1 between Di Maria and Bernat, while Christian Luyindama (RCB) and three central midfielders were caught ball watching as Verratti occupied the space between the lines.
On top of that, the Italian was allowed space and time to turn as he unleashed Di Maria who made the run in behind the defensive line. Within 2 passes, PSG wer able to take out Galatasaray’s entire outfield and generate a 1v1 chance with the keeper.
In the next few examples, we will see more of how Tuchel’s side broke through Galatasaray’s block as Terim’s men showed laziness and lacked intensity in the middle third.
Silva played the ball to Sarabia who pulled away from the touchline to drop deep in the right half-space to help his side build from the back. One of the 3 centre-halves – Marcao (LCB) – reacted late and followed him, leaving open space behind which Gueye wasted no time exploiting as he provided a passing option to his teammates.
Sarabia lured the defender and passed the ball to Meunier who played a one-time pass in the path of the former Everton man, leaving Nagatomo helpless. The Senegalese international wasn’t tracked by either of Seri or Nzonzi, and PSG were in the final third playing their way out of a numerical 3v4 disadvantage.
Moving onto another such example, it was the 75th minute of the game and the home side were still committing the same errors, but this time against the fresher legs of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Kylian Mbappe, with PSG leading by a goal to nil. Terim’s men failed to capitalise on a cross from Nagatomo and the ball fell at the feet of Marquinhos who played a first-time pass to Di Maria.
The Argentine then controlled the ball with absolutely zero pressure on him, took his time and played a simple pass to Choupo-Moting who was again left free in midfield with no one from the Galatasaray camp closing him down. Right centre-back Luyindama was once again the culprit as his late reaction set in motion a chain of events which led to another shot on goal from the away side.
PSG efficient pressing and counterattacks
PSG attacks shared two general blueprints, at times successfully, one of which we have seen above where they let the Turkish side take charge and then played through them, exploiting space behind them. The other was to press and counter-press with relentless intensity all over the pitch in order to take control of the ball.
The approach paid dividends, and if not for Fernando Muslera between the sticks and PSG’s wasteful finishing upfront the scoreline would have been embarrassing for Galatasaray.
Here is PSG trying to box Galatasaray by creating a numerical superiority (6v5) and succeeding by regaining the possession. Firstly, Gueye pressed Seri who was not allowed any time to turn to find his man and was coerced into playing the ball to Belhanda. The Moroccan International, who was quickly closed by Marquinhos, then played the one-touch pass back to Nzonzi who nudged the ball to Mariano as he was hounded by Sarabia.
Now with all the pieces in place, Bernat quickly closed space down the wing, and along with Verratti and others cut down any remaining passing lanes. With all his options quickly shutting down and the pressure by Sarabia not helping, Mariano played a rushed pass to find Belhanda which was intercepted by Marquinhos as the PSG trap worked to the best of its abilities.
At times, PSG also deployed a strategy to back off until the opponent was coaxed into their trap. This speaks volumes about the understanding among the players and the genius of Tuchel. Towards the end of the first 45, when Galatasaray were playing around in the PSG half, Di Maria and Verratti intentionally allowed Jean-Michael Seri space to move into a zone where the Parisians possessed a numerical 5v3 advantage.
Verratti and Gueye pressed as soon as Seri moved inside the channel, closing down space and blocking any passing option which could help him break the press. As a result, Seri, who was surrounded by 4 players in white, rushed his pass which was seized on by Marquinhos who reacted quicker and better than Belhanda.
Another notable difference between the two sides was their pressing behaviours. While Galatasaray continued to slack off and allow PSG time and space to formulate another attack, the away side were quick in closing down anything which posed the slightest possibility of a threat.
As the game progressed – Tuchel, in order to preserve a scanty one goal advantage – made some changes with the Parisians mimicking their opponents by going with 3 at the back. In the 83rd minute of the game, Ander Herrera was introduced into the midfield replacing Di Maria as Marquinhos shifted alongside Silva and Kimpembe forming a 5–3–2 shape when out of possession.
It’s important to note that even in the 87th minute of the game, PSG midfielders were still at the peak of their pressing game despite the obvious drop in energy levels.
Let’s look at the image down below, Verratti sensed the danger of a switch and quickly closed down Feghouli, forcing him to move towards the sideline, a zone where PSG possessed a 5v3 advantage in terms of bodies. As soon as the Algerian international changed directions, Gueye, in order to retrieve possession, wasted no time in closing him down. As a result, the Galatasaray substitute was left with a single passing lane where he attempted a hasty pass which Choupo-Mating intercepted with ease.
Galatasaray & PSG direct play
Even though PSG created better chances throughout, both teams had a similar attacking approach on the day. Let’s talk about the home team first.
Terim’s men, despite being at home, preferred to play a more direct style. Galatasaray’s goalkeeper attempted 30 long passes, only once intending to clear, with 11 of those passes being accurate. The home side, as a result, suffered heavily in the attacking third, creating zero big chances, taking eight shots with only a single one on target which also came from a set-piece (Michael Seri freekick). It’s safe to say Keylor Navas didn’t have much to do over 90 minutes, thanks to his team’s excellent defensive display and for the reasons mentioned above.
The Parisians, on the other hand, themselves opted to kick the ball long, but theirs had a motive behind it as I will explain now. Let’s look at the images down below.
Gueye chooses a lob ball to play Di Maria in-behind, thanks to Galatasaray going with a man-marking high defensive line approach and there were numerous occasions where it led to direct shots on goal.
Silva, with ample time on the ball, asked his teammates to make a run in behind. When Babel notices it and starts to close down space, it was already too late. The Brazillian’s pin-point pass puts Sarabia into a comfortable position to have a pop on goal, only for the defender to make a last-ditch tackle to save home side’s blushes.
Here is another such instance; Di Maria who managed to drop between the centre-backs, Luyindama and Donk, showed Verratti where to play the ball. The Italian’s individual brilliance and defensive line’s lack of discipline were enough to play the Argentine in behind for a 1v1 with the goalkeeper.
As a result of it all, Tuchel’s men managed 16 shots with six on target. They also created four big chances missing three of them, which on any other day would have easily ended up in the back of the net.
The Parisians’ abysmal finishing was clear throughout the 90 minutes and the xG statistics (0.46–2.53) in favour of the away side supports the fact that Tuchel’s men did have an off day in front of goal. Galatasaray, on the other hand, ended up with nothing from the game and rightfully so, given their subpar performance in all three facets of the game (defence/ midfield/ attack).
There was still a lot to play for in this season’s Champions League as it was early days in the competition but the situation for Galatasaray wasn’t not looking handsome as they get ready to face wounded giants Real Madrid over the next two matchdays.