Following an excellent start to the season both domestically and continentally PSG have won many admirers both for their results and their beautiful brand of football. Mixing a direct approach with some patience has proved successful in the past for teams and is now very popular thanks to Pep Guardiola introducing this style at Bayern Munich, Laurent Blanc is edging closer to a Guardiola-esque playing style at PSG but is far less of a risk taker than Guardiola, particularly in big games. This has been seen in both of PSG’s Champions League matches this season, they have scored early against both Malmo and Shakhtar and then consolidated their lead, sitting in a deeper block with less risks being taken.
Going into the match, Real Madrid are without three key players in Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez and this will give PSG confidence perhaps to have a real go at Madrid, rather than be constantly wary of the counter from Real.
PSG lined-up as expected. Kevin Trapp in goals. Centre-backs of Marquinhos and Thiago Silva. Serge Aurier and Maxwell would be PSG’s main source of width on either flanks, as well as slotting into standard full-back positions when defending. Thiago Motta, who has been impressive this season will be PSG’s pivot, maintaining a solid position in front of Marquinhos and Thiago Silva. Marco Verratti would be a hybrid between a number 6 and number 8, swapping between roles throughout the game situationally. Blaise Matuidi made penetrative runs into Madrid’s box when attacking and pressed Kroos when PSG were defending, in a very intense role. PSG’s front three was of Di Maria, Ibrahimovic and Cavani.
Keylor Navas in net for Real. A solid back four of Danilo, Ramos, Varane and Marxelo would sit narrow defensively while the full-backs would provide some width in attack, particularly Marcelo. Kroos and Casemiro alternated between the 6 and 8 positions, however Real got far more success when Kroos was dictating in 6 positons. Vazquez and Isco defended the halfspaces and pressed the wings defensively, although Isco had Jesé on the left so didn’t always have to pressure the flanks alone, however Jesé often got caught upfield. Isco played mostly in the left halfspace in attack while Vazquez stayed close to the touchline to give width. Cristiano Ronaldo played as a central striker rather than the left, where he has played since his conversion into a 9, this is probably to give him rest rather than having to track the attacking Serge Aurier. Jese played as a wide striker, making runs infield from the left wing.
Real’s Defensive Solidity
When defending it looked like Real had been instructed to defend in a 4-5-1, with Kroos/Casemiro backing up Vazquez in pressing their flank while Isco would press with Jesé on the opposite, at times however, due to Jese’s attacking role he was unable to get back into a 4-5-1 meaning Madrid resorted to a narrow 4-4-2, looking to control the centres and halfspaces. Below is an image of Real’s 4-5-1 preparing to shift laterally.
In order to control the centre and halfspaces, Madrid couldn’t press too intensely there as Verratti and Motta could use their ability under pressure to escape the press and then exploit the space left by Madrid’s presser. Due to this, Real decided to ramp up the pressure when PSG were close to the touchline, using the touchline as an extra defender by showing the PSG player out wide.
Situations like the one above were constant for PSG as Madrid were more than often very intelligent in their pressing. Although Madrid pressed in numbers out wide, this did lead to some problems for themselves at times. Due to the excellent technical ability of PSG players in tight spaces, the Parisians were sometimes able to escape Madrid’s press, this then giving them lots of space due to a Real midfielders being out of position.
Both Teams Lack Quality in Zone 14
Following the feats of Mesut Özil the previous night for Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich from Zone 14, maybe now we expected more creativity from this area than is realistic. Nonetheless, this cannot be used as an excuse for both sides lack of creativity. With players such as Angel Di Maria, Blaise Matuidi, Isco, Marco Verratti, Toni Kroos and even Zlatan Ibrahimovic all starting the game, we could be forgiven having expected to see Zone 14 used with more success. Success in Zone 14 certainly wasn’t the case though, in PSG’s position they found Blaise Matuidi’s penetrative runs and reliance on physical attributes not so helpful in their cry for creativity, Marco Verratti is obviously far stronger from deeper positions while Angel Di Maria had a poor games and often looked isolated on the right-wing. To deal with this, Zlatan Ibrahimovic decided to take matters into his own hands, the big Swede often dropped into Zone 14, sometimes even deeper in order to offer his side some creativity high up the pitch. This wasn’t always successful though and really slowed down PSG’s attacks.
Real’s case was similar to PSG’s, their most creative player(Toni Kroos)was operating a deep-lying playmaker and the natural Zone 14 player(Isco)had an off day.
Due to Real’s lack of creativity, they began to rely on width provided by Marcelo or penetrating runs by Casemiro, Ronaldo and Jesé.
In truth this was not a very exciting football match. Laurent Blanc’s side looked very wary of Real’s counter-attack and this really had an impact on their fluidity in attack. Marco Verratti in particular looked reluctant to move into 8 positions, where would be able to penetrate Real’s lines and make use of Matuidi’s runs into the box, the Italian midfielder far more often took up positions alongside Thiago Motta forming a double 6. Although this limited the danger of Real’s counter attacks, it also took away a big part of PSG’s creativity in advanced positions. Madrid were quite poor and could even have been branded boring to watch. Their compact 4-5-1 and unwillingness to take risks in attack left them looking unlikely to score in open play. 0-0 was a fair result on the night…we can only hope the next tie is more exciting.