Olympique Lyon took on Paris Saint-Germain in what was expected to be a highly contested encounter between the two French giants. The visitors lead Ligue 1 with Lyon sitting in third 16 points adrift, but the outcome of this match still bears significance to the chasing pack.
A win would propel Lyon to within touching distance of second-placed Lille who remain just three points clear. It also creates breathing space between themselves and AS Saint-Étienne. Third and seventh are only separated by six points, which makes every point valuable towards Champions League qualification.
Lyon have been in fine form with three wins and one draw in their last four league games, including a win over rivals Saint-Étienne. They went into this match gunning for a positive result, and drawing inspiration from their dramatic late victory over PSG last season where a monstrous strike from Memphis Depay helped Les Gones to a 2-1 victory.
Paris Saint-Germain have won their last four league games including a 9-0 thrashing of Guingamp. They wanted to extend their lead at the top and close the game out early, as well as emerge unscathed with the number of injuries they currently have. Les Parisiens were keen to avenge last season’s excruciating injury time loss.
Having said all that, we can now dive into this tactical analysis and see how both teams fared over 90 minutes. First, let’s dissect the teams.
Bruno Génésio set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation making one change from their 1-0 away win against Amiens SC. Maxwell Cornet made way for former Chelsea winger Bertrand Traore in their only change from their last league game. Moussa Dembélé continued to lead the line with Memphis Depay and captain Nabil Fekir in support.
Léo Dubois continued at right-back having impressed for Lyon this season, relegating Kenny Tete to the bench. They looked to apply early pressure on PSG’s frail midfield and would have been pleasantly surprised to see new signing Leandro Paredes on the bench.
Thomas Tuchel opted for a 3-5-2 formation rather than his favoured 4-3-3 due to a raft of injuries, with key players Neymar and Marco Verratti injured and new signing Leandro Paredes lacking match fitness. Marquinhos continued in his defensive midfield role alongside Julian Draxler and Angel Di Maria as the central midfield trio. Dani Alves and Juan Bernat provided the width to supply Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappé.
Les Rouge-et-Bleu started the game off well. The first few minutes saw them press Lyon as they tried to impose their style and rhythm on to the game, but Lyon was equal to the task. The midfield battle was intriguing as Tanguy Ndombele, Nabil Fekir and Houssem Aouar tried to match Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler, and Marquinhos.
The Parisians led with an early goal thanks to Draxler’s press catching Lyon high. Aouar tried dribbling into midfield and lost out to Draxler near the highway line. The German capitialised on his good work and laid off a simple pass for Di Maria to finish: first blood to PSG.
This was one of the rare occasions Tuchel’s game plan was executed precisely and they were rewarded by going 1-0 up. Paris Saint-Germain employed a 3-5-2 system and committed Dani Alves, Di Maria, and Draxler forward when attacking. Marquinhos played as a supporting half-back screening the centre-backs and filling in when any of the three centre-backs stepped into midfield.
Kylian Mbappé and Di Maria both pressed Houssem Aouar trying to force him into a mistake but he evades both challenges. His third attempt is thwarted by Draxler who sets off on a counter-attack finding Di Maria in space to slot in and give PSG the early lead.
Lyon’s first-half press
Tanguy Ndombele and Houssem Aouar were up against the unorthodox duo of Julian Draxler and Marquinhos. The pair are both makeshift options in PSG’s midfield till the return of Marco Verratti from injury and Leandro Paredes settles into his new team.
The Lyon duo nullified the threat of their counterparts and were not afraid to play out from the back, take the ball into the opposition’s final third and play passes from there. The team as a whole pressed well and shifted together. This allowed Lyon to hold a stronger grip on the game and to dictate the pace and tempo.
With five minutes on the clock, we can see how hard Lyon are pressing PSG’s midfielders, not allowing them time to relax on the ball. It all started from the front as Moussa Dembélé went in to press Presnel Kimpembe. The next phase runs through Di Maria and Marquinhos who are both pressed by Dubois, Ndombele and Fekir.
The home team used triangles to try and limit the number of passing options for PSG as shown in the examples. As the visitors switch play, look at the perfect shape and positioning of every Lyon player as they reset and start pressing again.
Notice how Tanguy Ndombele (#28) and Houssem Aouar’s (#8) average positions were near the halfway line due to the sheer dominance they were able to exert on the game and success they had throughout the match. You can see Lucas Tousart’s (#27) introduction was a sign of shoring up the midfield as the game wound down.
Overloading the wing-backs
Arguably Lyon’s most successful outlet was in the half-spaces behind the wing-backs. Tuchel’s idea was to use Dani Alves and Juan Bernat to cross balls in for the wealth of attacking talent in Di Maria, Draxler, Cavani and Mbappé. However, with Lyon sharing the lion’s share of possession the two PSG wing-backs struggled to make an impact on the game.
Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore made every attempt to attack the two wing-backs and push them into defensive positions. Their higher position left space in behind for Ferland Mendy and Leo Dubois to support the two wingers and overload the wing-back or wide centre-back.
The above examples showcase the space Lyon’s wingers and full-backs were looking to exploit. Depay and Mendy attempted to combine and create space for each other by shifting the focus away from the runner. However, Depay manages to dribble through three defenders and quickly cut the ball back for Traore who makes an excellent run into the box unmarked. Were it not for a remarkable save by Alphonse Areola, Lyon would have equalised much earlier. However, the signs were ominous for Les Rouge-et-Bleu.
PSG’s midfielders were caught out time and time again contributing to their exposure in the wide areas. Lyon exploited the space exceptionally well and should have scored more but for Areola’s fine saves. Lyon’s first goal is a prime example of the winger/wing-back partnerships combining to exploit the space in the half-spaces.
Analysing Lyon’s first goal, it starts off with the midfield pressing hard and winning it early in midfield. Aouar wins the 50-50 battle and initiates a counter-attack that puts Lyon in a favourable position.
As they transition from midfield to attack through Fekir and Dubois, the Lyon captain looks to move infield and drag Marquinhos, Presnel Kimpembe and Thiago Silva out of position. Juan Bernat is caught ball-watching and leaves Dubois free on the right wing. Fekir passes it out wide for Dubois who delivers an accurate cross for Moussa Dembélé to overpower Areola and equalise.
Starved of creativity
Paris Saint-Germain’s biggest dilemma this season has been their lack of creativity from midfield. Without analysing the statistics, you notice the severe lack of penetrative passes and one-dimensional play with an over-reliance on the Neymar and Mbappe to produce moments of magic. Against Lyon, PSG attempted 20 crosses but with just a 20% success rate, throwing their game plan out the window.
Defensively, they were second best having made fewer interceptions, tackles, and clearances. Lyon looked hungrier for the ball and counter-pressed superbly. PSG lacked the aggression and guile that comes with Verratti. Draxler isn’t able to fill in the Italian’s void, and is more suited to his natural wing position.
Comparing the Italian and German, we can clearly see Verratti attempts more short and long passes than Draxler to keep PSG ticking over and opposition defenders on high alert. Draxler attempts fewer interceptions and is dispossessed on average 9.9 times per game. The Italian midfielder has marshaled the midfield for the past few seasons and was dearly missed this weekend. However, the signing of Paredes may provide PSG with an edge that has been lacking since the departure of Thiago Motta.
Leandro Paredes made his debut this weekend and played for the final 15 minutes. His arrival saw him bring calmness and stability to a midfield that had been inadequate in previous games without a natural replacement or passer. The ball ticked over efficiently as he protected the back four and allowed PSG to administer some influence.
He attempted 12 passes with a 92% success rate and only lost the ball once. Fifteen minutes isn’t enough for a player to showcase their full capability. However, over a 90-minute spell, Paredes and Verratti could add steel and creativity without compromising their venomous attacking output.
This should also compensate for Neymar’s absence and allow Di Maria and Draxler to play further forward in support of Cavani and Mbappé. His long shot ability adds another dimension for opposition teams to be wary of when designing a game plan.
The injuries to Neymar and Verratti have proved costly but the return Verratti and introduction of Paredes should go a long way in solving their creativity issue. Lyon were effective and efficient in possession and pressed well early on, disrupting PSG’s rhythm and flow despite conceding the first goal. The two Lyon central midfielders impressed with their dynamism as they caught PSG by surprise and pushed them to the brink.
Paris Saint-Germain may be top of Ligue 1 by 10 points but we’ve started to see Lyon develop and blossom into the force of old. This team may possess the accolades of yesteryear but if Bruno Génésio can keep his core squad together then we may yet see Les Gones make a triumphant return to the top of French football once again.
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