Building a team with Ligue 1 players that could challenge PSG – data analysis
PSG have been the dominant side in Ligue 1 in the past decade winning 7 out of 10 league titles, and, apart from the odd surprise, they show clear dominance in most of their domestic competition games despite not being able to do the same in the Champions League. This supremacy by the Paris giants, who clearly have the biggest financial power in France, is proving to be one difficult to end as only Lille (2010-2011), Montpellier (2011-2012) and Monaco (2016-2017) where able to steal the league titles from PSG since the club was bought by the Qatar Sports Investments group in 2011.
In this data analysis we’ll try to build a team with the best players in Ligue 1, excluding PSG players, that could potentially challenge PSG and, who knows, beat them. We will take into account PSG’s most used formations and general dynamics in the choosing of the team’s formation and resort to statistics and data to evaluate the players.
In this analysis we will look through data from all Ligue 1 players for every position in order to find the best ones, while also taking into account our opponent PSG and our general plan to defeat them.
An analysis of PSG’s most used formations and dynamics will allow us to create our own general strategy, to define our formation and look for players with the right characteristics to play in it.
In order to narrow our data pool and to make it a more realistic one, only players with more than 800 minutes played and that are not from PSG are eligible to be part of the team. We will create a shortlist of players for each position and analyse those player’s statistics to compare them and make our choice.
Tactics and Formations
PSG’s most used formations this season were 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and 4-2-2-2 with the team playing possession-based attacking football. When building their play, PSG often position themselves in a 2-3-5 or 3-2-5 formation, with their full-backs taking up very advanced positions in the field. In the image below we can see PSG’s formation based on players’ average positions throughout the season, we can also see the most common passing links between them.
The mentioned high position that PSG’s full-backs take up leaves a lot of space in the wide areas that can be exploited with through balls into space, as such, we will take this into consideration when choosing our formation and attacking players so we can take advantage of this space.
On the defensive side, we should be aware of PSG’s attackers as they are very fast and skilled players. The likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Angel Di Maria for example, must not be given any time or space and 1vs1 situations should also be avoided. The same applies to PSG’s midfielders if they have time and space to execute they can play deadly passes for those attackers.
Having all this in mind, the chosen formation for our team will be a 3-4-1-2. On the offensive moment, the wing-backs will go up and support the attack and the midfielders will look to build the play and circulate the ball. On the final third, the number 10 will roam around searching for space in between the lines and the two strikers will look to combine and exploit the space behind the opposition’s defensive line. When defending, the team will change the shape to a 5-3-2 to avoid PSG having numerical superiority over our back line, with the line of three men blocking central spaces and the strikers pressing the opposition’s centre backs when they try to build from the back.
- Predrag Rajkovic – Stade Reims
- Gerónimo Rulli – Montpellier
- Alexandre Oukidja – FC Metz
- Edouard Mendy – Stade Rennais
Goalkeeper is the position with less options in terms of players, in order to fill our shortlist, a scatter plot was created with goals conceded and xG against in each axis.
All four highlighted players kept their conceded goals number below the expected goals against showing they are reliable and consistent goalkeepers. Looking further into data, we created another scatter plot with save% and shots against on both axes. The size of the squares was set to display the amount of clean sheets.
Predrag Rajkovic displays the highest save percentage with 81.25% and also the most clean sheets with 12 followed by Edouard Mendy on both metrics. Stade Reims’s defence was the best in the league with only 21 goals conceded and that shows in the fact that Rajkovic only faced 96 shots, a low number compared to Oukdjika’s 132.
Predrag Rajkovic: The Serbian is the goalkeeper who conceded the least and tops all other metrics we looked at so his inclusion in the team is a no brainer. At the age of 24 he has a long and most likely successful career ahead of him.
- Pablo – Bordeaux
- Wesley Fofana – Saint-Étienne
- Marcelo – Olympique Lyon
- Marçal – Olympique Lyon
- Stanley Nsoki – Nice
- Gabriel – Lille
- Hilton – Montpellier
- Damien Da Silva – Stade Rennais
- Duje Caleta-Car – Olympique Marseille
We started by looking at the defensive statistics of centre-backs so we could create a shortlist, those are the most important metrics for this position and, in order to compare players, we plotted aerial duels won (%) and defensive duels won (%) on both axes. The colour of the squares represents PAdj (possession adjusted) interceptions per 90, a metric created to attenuate the difference in defensive metrics between players that play in teams with more and less possession of the ball during the games. Because we are going to need three centre-backs, a shortlist of 10 players was created.
After creating the shortlist we already saw, we then compared the 10 players between them using the same three metrics but adding the amount/sum of aerial duels and defensive duel per 90 as a colour gradient on the bar charts.
A very close contest in terms of duels won with some variation on the amount displayed by the colour. PAdj interception is the metric where Pablo stands out above the rest with 8.96 interceptions per 90.
Besides being good at defending, we need our centre-backs to be able to progress the ball and participate with quality in our build-up play as they will form the first line in that moment of the game. In order to be able to make our final choice, we compared their passing statistics.
Marçal, Marcelo, Gabriel and Nsoki clearly dominate when it comes to passing statistics, they all attempt more than 55 passes per 90 and more than 10 of those are progressive ones. They also display great accuracy on progressive and forward passes with values around 80%.
Marcelo: The 33-year-old from Lyon ranks high in defensive metrics, he wins 73.17% of his aerial duels and 69.39% of his defensive duels raking first and third in each metric. When it comes to passing his numbers are amongst the highest, he averages 60.90 passes per 90 and 10.95 progressive passes per 90 with a 81.36% completion rate. Marcelo has the profile and experience to be the leader of our defence.
Marçal: Marçal is originally a left-back but he has played as a centre-back for Lyon as well, he has good pace and that can be crucial against PSG’s fast and skilful attackers. The Brazilian ranks high in defensive stats winning 65.63% of his aerial duels and 69.47% of his defensive duels while also averaging 8.08 PAdj interceptions per 90. In terms of passing, he ranks first in passes per 90 with 64.84 and progressive passes per 90 with 12.53.
Gabriel: To complete our Brazilian trio Gabriel comes in with impressive defensive and passing statistics, and he is the youngest of the three with only 22 years of age. His win rate on defensive duels is at 68.89% and at 64.62% when it comes to aerial duels. Gabriel averages 56.59 passes per 90 and 11.33 progressive passes per 90 with a 78.17% completion rate
- Gil Dias – AS Mónaco
- Ghislain Konan – Stade Reims
- Hassane Kamara – Nice
- Ludovic Baal – Stade Brest 29
- Youssouf Sabaly – Bordeaux
- Youcef Atal – Nice
- Mickael Alphonse – Dijon
- Fabien Centonze – FC Metz
Wing-backs are a vital position in our formation as they are required to help both in defence and attack, they also need to be able to cope with PSG’s fast attackers.
Again, we started with the defensive statistics to create the shortlist because we know that players in this position need to be able and willing to defend so that the team stays balanced, but we also filtered the graphs to only show players who average more than 1.5 progressive runs per 90 so that we would get players that participate in the attack.
All players in the shortlist area above the league average on the defensive metrics apart from Gil Dias when it comes to defensive duels won but he is very close to the 60.95% average. The profiles between them all in defensive metrics are very similar with Hassane Kamara (3.4), Gil Dias (3.52) and Youcef Atal (4.74) standing out when it comes to progressive runs per 90.
We then looked at the attacking contribution of the 8 players in the shortlist and made a comparison between them. We created the metric “chance creation contribution per 90” by adding third assists per 90, second assists per 90, assists per 90 and key passes per 90.
Ghislain Konan: The choice falls on the French defender from Stade Reims for his solid defensive and attacking stats but also because of his pace. Ludovic Baal was a serious contender but at the age of 34 his physical attributes are starting to decrease and, pace and stamina are very important aspects for a player in this position. Konan wins 64.52% of his defensive duels and averages 6.89 PAdj (possession adjusted) interceptions per 90 while also contributing to the creation of 0.5 chances per 90.
Youssouf Sabaly: Another French player that has excellent stats both defensively and in attack. Sabaly is the right-back with the best percentage of defensive duels won at 67.68% and his 6.5 PAdj interceptions per 90 rank him second in the shortlist. On the attacking side, Sabaly ranks first in crosses per 90 (3.07), deep completed crosses per 90 (1.12), passes to the penalty area per 90 (2.92) and chance creation contribution per 90 (0.82)
- Eduardo Camavinga – Stade Rennes
- Lucas Tousart – Olympique Lyon
- Yohan Cabaye – Saint-Étienne
- Adrien Silva – AS Mónaco
- Morgan Sanson – Olympique Marseille
- Tiemoué Bakayoko – AS Mónaco
- Pierre Lees Melou – Nice
- Aleksandr Golovin – AS Mónaco
In the central midfielder position we are looking for players that can help both defensively and in attack, but also that are good passers and can progress the ball up the pitch. Ideally one of the midfielders should have a more defensive profile and the other a more attacking one, but both should be capable on the two aspects.
We first took a look at successful defensive actions and successful offensive actions so we could narrow our choices and create our shortlist containing four players with a more defensive profile and four players with a more attacking profile. We also filtered the graphic to show players with a pass accuracy above 80%.
After obtaining our shortlist, we compared the defensive statistics of the eight players in the shortlist with defensive duels won per 90, aerial duels won per 90 and PAdj interceptions per 90 being the metrics used. The percentage of duels won is displayed in the colour of the bar charts.
We can see that Morgan Sanson and Aleksandr Golovin are the players with the lowest defensive stats amongst the eight, with the other six players displaying good numbers in terms of defensive duels per 90, defensive duels won, and PAdj interceptions. When it comes to aerial duels per 90 and aerial duels won, Eduardo Camavinga and Lucas Tousart stand out from the rest.
Looking at the offensive contribution and passing stats from the shortlisted players will allow us to make our final choices for our midfield duo. We used progressive passes per 90 and progressive runs per 90 to determine the players’ ball progression abilities, while smart passes per 90 and chance creation contribution per 90 show us the ability of the players to break lines and create chances.
Aleksandr Golovin, Yohan Cabaye, Pierre Lees Melou and Tiemoué Bakayoko are the players that shoe better stats in terms of ball progression. When it comes to chance creation and breaking lines, Alexandr Golovon appears in the top places again followed by Morgan Sanson and Pierre Lees Melou.
Lucas Tousart: The Lyon academy graduate is our choice for the midfielder with a more defensive profile. He averaged 11.02 successful defensive actions per 90 this season, won 56.84% of his aerial duels, 59.65% of his defensive duels and averaged 5.74 PAdj interceptions per 90. He is also a great passer of the ball and his 87.74% pass accuracy rate shows just that, On the offensive chapter, the Frenchman averaged 1.31 successful offensive actions and contributed to the creation of 0.23 chances per 90.
Aleksandr Golovin: The Russian international from Mónaco is our choice for the more offensive-minded midfielder. With 3.87 successful attacking actions per 90 and 9 successful defensive actions per 90, Golovin has that extra offensive contribution but without losing too much on the defensive side of the game. When it comes to passing his 81.92% pass accuracy rate is a good one, but his stats in terms of progressive passes per 90 (6.38) and smart passes (1.29) are where he excels and certainly help when it comes to his chance creation contribution per 90 (0.61)
- Cesc Fàbregas – AS Mónaco
- Memphis Depay – Olympique Lyon
- Ryad Boudebouz – Saint-Étienne
- Jonathan Ikoné – Lille
- Mathias Autret – Stade Brest 29
- Adrien Thomasson – Strasbourg
- Yusuf Yazici – Lille
- Adama Traoré – FC Metz
The number 10 position needs to be filled by a player that is able to create chances and operate in the space between the lines. It is also necessary that the player has some ability of scoring himself if the opportunity arises.
In order to obtain our shortlist we started by plotting chance creation contribution per 90 and xA (expected assists) per 90 in a graphic so that we could see which players contributed more to chances creation.
With the shortlist completed with the 8 best players in terms of chance creation, we then compared their passing and goalscoring stats.
We can see that Cesc Fàbregas , Jonathan Ikoné, Ryad Boudebouz and Yusuf Yazici all show good passing stats. In terms of goals and shots, Memphis Depay stands out from the rest with 0.79 goals per 90 and 3.8 shots per 90 while Cesc Fàbregas is out of the graphic because he hasn’t scored this season.
Cesc Fàbregas: The Spaniard is already in an advanced phase of his career but his quality when it comes to creating chances and passing is undeniable. He ranks 4th in terms of chance contribution per 90 with 0.92 and 1st in deep completions per 90 (2.86), through passes per 90 (2.69) and passes to the penalty area per 90 (5.05) while also having good completion rates in all metrics. Fabregas has the profile of that roaming attacking midfielder who his able to provide the last pass and his experience playing for big teams like Barcelona allows him to read the game very well.
- Wissam Ben Yedder – AS Mónaco
- Moussa Dembelé – Olympique Lyon
- Habib Diallo – FC Metz
- Darío Bennedetto – Olympique Marseille
- Kasper Dolberg – Nice
- M’Baye Niang – Stade Rennes
- Victor Osimhen – Lille
- Andy Delort – Montpellier
The two strikers will be the players tasked with exploiting the wide spaces left unprotected by PSG’s full-backs, therefore, they need to be fast players with great goalscoring abilities to make the most out of the chances they have.
In order to obtain our shortlist of 8 players, we started by creating a scatter plot with xG and non penalty goals plotted in both axes so we could have a view of the amount of goals scored versus the expected amount of goals.
After obtaining the shortlist, we compared the player’s goal conversion and chance contribution stats, also including touches in the penalty area per 90 to see which players are able to receive the ball close to the goal.
We can see how Wissam Ben Yedder and Moussa Dembelé stand out in terms of goal conversion with 30% and 29.83% respectively. When it comes to the other stats, all players display similar values.
Wissam Ben Yedder: The French striker was Ligue 1’s joint top scorer this season with 18 goals this season, 15 of those goals were non-penalty goals which is well above his 11.61 xG. Ben Yedder is also a fast and clinical striker and his 30% goal conversion (best in the shortlist) shows exactly that.
Moussa Dembelé: The Lyon striker had a very good season and was the 3rd best scorer in the league with 16 goals, 13 of those goals were non-penalty goals and, much like Ben Yedder, this number is above his 12.06 xG value. Dembelé is physically strong and fast, fitting the desired profile perfectly and also has an impressive 29.83% goal conversion rate.
This data analysis allowed us to create a team with the best players in Ligue 1 that fit our desired profile, and certainly a team that would perform well in Ligue 1, but would this team challenge PSG for the title? It is a hard question to answer, the tools to perform against a team like PSG are definitely there, however, winning the title requires a lot more than beating one opponent.
A game between the two teams would be a very interesting contest with great players featuring and this team, if it was real, would at least raise the competition for the Ligue 1 title and offer a strong opponent to compete with PSG.