Coupe de la Ligue 2019/20: Reims vs Paris Saint-Germain – tactical analysis
No surprises in Reims vs Paris Saint-Germain as the visitors brought home a comfortable 3-0 victory in the semi-final of Coupe de la Ligue. This means that Thomas Tuchel’s side have secured one place in the final where Lyon already await after the latter defeated Lille on penalties.
Reims actually managed to steal a 0-2 win away from home in their previous meeting. However, this time they were unable to keep Paris Saint-Germain out and had to concede three goals in the process.
David Guion opted for a slightly different system in this game, deploying his team in a 4-1-4-1 instead of his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Several changes can be seen in the lineups with Alaixys Romao, Xavier Chavalerin, and Hassane Kamara back in the starting 11. Meanwhile, Moreto Cassamá, Dereck Kutesa, and Tristan Dingomé were relegated to the bench for this match. Despite the change of system, there didn’t seem to be a dramatic change in terms of tactics or style of play, which we’ll discuss more later in this tactical analysis.
Paris Saint-Germain, on the other hand, played with a 4-4-2 formation in this game, although at times they’d look as if they’re playing with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Several changes can be seen in the starting 11 with Keylor Navas, Thomas Meunier, Marquinhos, and Presnel Kimpembe back in the defence. Marco Verratti and Neymar started in the midfield while Kylian Mbappé found himself once again in the starting lineup while Mauro Icardi was benched.
Paris Saint-Germain’s fluid attack
It was pretty cagey earlier in the game with Reims immediately defending deep with 10 men behind the ball. Paris Saint-Germain got comfortable with possession early, moving it laterally at the back but didn’t get a lot of spaces to progress inside the opposition half.
As usual, PSG were looking to exchange quick one-two touch short passes most of the time in the build-up as they looked to play through the middle and break through centrally.
Above, you can see PSG’s shape in the build-up phase. Tuchel’s side looked to create a 2-4-4 shape in the build-up which could turn into a 2-2-6 shape once they got into a more advanced position inside the opposition half.
The full-backs (blue circles), as you can see, were not symmetrical. This was due to Abdou Diallo’s tendency to sit lower and a bit narrower, closer to the left-sided centre-back. Meunier, meanwhile, liked to sit higher and closer to the touchline.
Meunier’s positioning helped stretch Reims’ defence and offered the pivot a chance to switch the play towards the right flank, which could force Reims to move their narrow block towards the other flank.
Against a narrow Reims backline, exploiting spaces on the flanks and switching play often could effectively disrupt their defence. If executed with great pace and precision, Reims’ discipline in defence and quickness to react would really be tested. And that was exactly what PSG did in this game.
Meanwhile, Diallo’s lower position allowed the centre-back an option to get out escape Reims’ frontline pressure through the left half-space/flank and potentially dragging out Reims’ wide midfielder which could disrupt their defensive shape and create space in the middle third.
In this game, PSG played with a double pivot, as you can see in the picture above (two orange circles). These two players always sit very close to the two centre-backs but actively move around to find space and make themselves available as the first pass in the midfield before distributing the ball forward.
PSG’s four-man frontline was very flexible and very fluid with all four of them constantly moving around and swapping positions.
As you can see above, Mbappé and Sarabia can be seen roaming wide while the two wingers moved inside and occupied central positions. Neymar and Draxler were often seen dropping quite deep while sitting in the half-space and then driving inwards rather than outwards after receiving the ball.
PSG’s centre-forwards would often also drop from their positions which would then drag out one of the two centre-backs from their position. This would create a space in the channel between the centre-back and the full-back and one of PSG’s wingers would exploit this space by quickly making a run there. A similar scenario can be seen in the picture above as well with Draxler dropping and dragging out Axel Disasi and Mbappé getting ready to exploit that space.
As mentioned before in this tactical analysis, Reims defended with a deep block early in the game. Above you can see Reims’ 4-1-4-1 structure when defending. The first line gave little pressure to the ball-carrier but would still try to close him down. Reims didn’t press high but would invite PSG to play inside their own half and absorb the pressure whilst also waiting for pressing triggers. They’d usually only start pressing once the ball was played towards a player in the offensive third.
Reims defended zonally with orientation on the ball. Their block would maintain their compact and narrow shape and would move depending on where the ball was. Guion’s side would also be ball-oriented when pressing. The Reims central midfielders would often try to press the PSG central midfielders as well if the ball was played towards either of them. Romao, who’s sitting between the second and third line, would try to cover the space as this pressing move could often open up space for one of PSG’s four-man frontline to move into and receive the ball there.
Reims’ two centre-backs had the tendency to follow and stick close to PSG’s two centre-forwards. Disasi was especially very brave as occasionally he can be seen following Mbappé and straying far from his original position while another player (usually Romao) temporary covered his position. By staying close to the two centre-forwards, those PSG players often had little time on the ball whenever they received it. However, with the active and fluid movements of PSG’s frontline, the two Reims’ centre-backs could often be forced to leave their man due to the risk of exposing space behind them.
Despite defending deep and trying to absorb PSG’s pressure early in the game, Reims started to hit back with aggressive and higher intensity pressure starting from late in the first half until the end of the game.
As you can see above, Reims still maintained their 4-1-4-1 structure.
Above you can see that Reims started to exert more pressure during PSG’s build-up phase rather than sitting back and defending deep.
In the situation above, Kamara closed down the ball-carrier immediately after the goalkeeper distributed the ball. While doing so, he’s also blocking the passing lane towards the left-back. Reims’ right-back Thomas Foket would also keep a respectable distance from Diallo in anticipation if Kimpembe managed to somehow play the ball to him.
Boulaye Dia was also staying in between the PSG goalkeeper and right-sided centre-back and would immediately close the ball down if it was played towards either of them.
PSG’s two main brains in the midfield were also tightly marked, as you can see in the picture above. With the nearest options made unavailable and the ball-carrier being constantly under pressure, PSG were often forced to play long in the build-up. However, at times one of the two PSG centre-backs would manage to dribble their way out of pressure and bring the ball forward before giving it towards more creative players. Nevertheless, this high pressure from Reims was quite a burden for PSG who tended to play from the back and build their play up using mainly short passes.
Reims pinned inside their own half
The home side looked to play out from the back but struggled to do so due to PSG’s very high and aggressive pressing.
Above was the common shape that Reims would create in the build-up. Usually, the two centre-backs (red circles) would split quite far apart while Romao (orange circle) would try to make himself available by actively moving in between the two centre-backs. The two ‘8’ of Reims would position themselves diagonally from the ‘6’ and would also look to find spaces by actively moving around. But both Reims’ ‘8’ were usually tightly marked by PSG’s central midfielders. Meanwhile, one of the two full-backs would sit in a lower position and closer to the ball-carrier to offer passing option whilst the other one would sit higher and wider.
You can see in the picture above that PSG were also pressing high, pinning Reims inside their own half. The ball-carrier was pretty much isolated with access to ‘6’ blocked and nearest options all unavailable. Occasionally the ball-carrier would try to beat his man first before passing the ball forward but mainly he would avoid the risk of losing the ball deep inside his own half by launching a long ball forward.
Reims, however, managed to find a way out of PSG’s pressure in the second half. This time in the build-up, Chavalerin would drop down to sit beside the two centre-backs. This movement meant that Chavalerin would free himself from his marker (Verratti) and this would also attract the pressure from PSG’s right-winger whilst also freeing and allowing Reims’ left-back to sit higher up the pitch (orange circle).
Once Chavalerin received and continued the ball towards Ghislain Konan on the left flank, there would be a 2v1 situation against PSG’s right-back. This could force PSG’s right-sided centre-back to also move in and help defend that side of the pitch.
Reims were vertical-oriented in the attacking phase. They tended to not keep the ball for too long and were pretty straightforward with their passing, exchanging only a few passes as they progress up the pitch. Reims’ main source of threat was through the flanks which is very much different to PSG who preferred to break through centrally. Statistically, Reims attacked the left side 30 times, right side 25 times, and only 12 times down the middle.
As you can see in the picture above, their attacking movements were usually pretty simple. The winger (in the half-space) and full-back (near the touchline) combined whilst the striker would try to roam wide and help rotate the ball on the wings. Usually, the ‘8’ would also move closer and sit in the half-space to offer a passing option.
Usually, PSG would try to quickly overload the flank to make sure that Reims would have a hard time playing on the flanks, as you can see in the picture above. One player would close the ball down while the others marked the options near him, effectively isolating the ball-carrier and outnumbering Reims on that side of the pitch.
PSG defended man for man in this game. The first line would immediately give pressure to the ball-carrier. In this situation, Sarabia pressed the ball-carrier while Mbappé stayed close to Reims’ ‘6’ in anticipation if the ball was played to him. As you can see the two Reims central midfielders were also marked by PSG’s central midfielders and the two full-backs were marked by the wingers.
This high blocking and high pressing proved to be quite effective in disrupting Reims’ build-up, although at times the very high defensive line of PSG could prove to be quite risky as Reims would often try to utilise the speed of Dia, Kamara, and Moussa Doumbia by playing long balls into space behind the defensive line.
PSG never really gave Reims much time with the ball as they would immediately counter-press after losing possession. They seemed to utilise an access-oriented counter-pressing approach where one or two players would close down the ball-carrier whilst others would mark the closest options man for man. Usually, the ball-carrier would then move the ball backwards where PSG would then push even higher up and make them even more uncomfortable and force them into making mistakes.
Reims were unlucky to concede all three goals from both direct and indirect results of set-pieces. However, they were rather weak and too casual when defending set-pieces as well while PSG, as usual, took their chances whenever they’re given license to do so. However, from open play, Reims were quite solid in defence, as usual, once again proving why they are currently the best defence in France.
What Guion should really evaluate from his team in this game was their inability to produce a good service in the final third and also the wastefulness in front of goal. Reims managed to work themselves into great positions a couple of times but failed to convert their chances into a single goal.
On the flip side, Tuchel’s side were dominant but actually rather lucky to be able to score three goals in this game. Tuchel tweaked his tactics for this game although their main idea of playing was pretty much still the same. They did cause a lot of problems for Reims’ defence but in the end, they didn’t manage to score any goal from open play.