On Saturday, Paris Saint-Germain will attempt to complete their second straight domestic double against Stade Rennais. After the disappointment in Europe, winning the league and the Coupe de France are viewed as the bare minimum for Thomas Tuchel. PSG finally claimed the league title the previous weekend with a 3-1 victory over AS Monaco, but this is only after failing in their last two attempts with an embarrassing 5-1 defeat to Lille and then a 3-2 loss to FC Nantes.
Stade Rennais under Julien Stéphan has had an up-and-down season but is limping into this match. In their previous four matches, all in the league, they have only claimed two draws and two losses. The last piece of silverware that the Brittany side’s claimed was the Coupe de France in 1971. But this final represents a chance to win a trophy, secure a spot in the UEFA Europa League next season, and compound the misery that the Parisiens have suffered this season.
PSG qualified for the Coupe de France final after an easy 3-0 victory over Nantes in the semi-finals. On their way to the finals, Thomas Tuchel’s side has scored 15 goals, while conceding none. The strength of their cup run has transferred to their league form, but they have stuttered as of late. After their victory over Nantes in the semi-finals, they went three matches without a victory in Ligue 1.
However, this run of poor form corresponds with a lengthy injury list for Les Parisiens. Over the past month, PSG have missed Neymar, Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani, Thomas Meunier, Thiago Silva, Kylian Mbappé and Marquinhos. The result has been several fringe and youth players getting playing time as PSG was already 20 points ahead in Ligue 1 with a goal differential almost 50 goals better than the side in second place.
Their most recent match was a 3-1 victory at home against AS Monaco. They claimed the Ligue 1 title a few hours before kick-off when Lille was held to a draw away to Toulouse, but they desired a victory to turn around their run of poor form. PSG looked better in their final match before the Coupe de France final as they welcomed players back from injury and they were able to defeat the 2016/17 Ligue 1 champions easily.
Stade Rennais has been winless in their last four matches, conceding nine goals while scoring six. Their last victory came on 2 April, when they surprised Olympique Lyonnaise 3-2 in the Coupe de France semi-final. This victory away to Lyon booked their ticket to the cup final. Sitting 13 points above the relegation zone, with only five matches remaining, this allows them to concentrate their attention on bringing the Coupe de France back to Brittany.
How will Rennais line up?
Ludovic Baal, Romain Danze, Rafik Guitane and Jordan Siebatcheu are all injured for Stade Rennais and will miss the final, but their front six are all healthy. This means we are likely to see an attacking line-up for Julien Stéphan’s side.
Stade Rennais is Stéphan’s first job as a manager, and his side has been impressive this season. They struggled in the first half of the season, but they have improved in after the winter break. They advanced from their group in the Europa League, before beating an impressive Real Betis in the Round of 32. They were eventually eliminated in the Round of 16 by Arsenal, who managed to win 4-3 on aggregate.
Stéphan’s side typically plays in an attacking 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1, that will drop into a 4-4-2 block without the ball. Former AC Milan forward M’Baye Niang plays as the lone striker, with Hatem Ben Arfa playing in the #10 role behind him. Stade Rennais has multiple attacking options out on the wing, but they are at their best with 21-year-old Ismaila Sarr and Benjamin Bourigeaud out wide. Adrien Hunou is another dangerous option in the wide areas, but he often comes on late as a substitute to attack an exhausted back-line.
The midfield pair is likely to be Clément Grenier and Benjamin André, who play as an effective double pivot to help shield the backline. André is more dangerous getting forward than Grenier, who tends to stay slightly deeper to assist in holding possession and breaking up any counter-attacks. With defensive players injured, the experienced pairing of Edson Mexer and Damien Da Silva are expected to start at the heart of the defence. Remy Bensebaini is expected to return from injury and should retake his starting left-back position, replacing Souleyman Doumbia who has struggled to play in his absence.
How will Rennais play?
In previous matches, we’ve seen Stéphan instruct his side to overload the middle of the pitch by having his fullbacks tuck inside. This seems like an option when attacking PSG, as this will attack an area of weakness. However, this would leave Rennais vulnerable to the counter-attack. What is likely is seeing long passes into the path of Niang and Sarr, looking to use their pace to get behind PSG’s defence. This was a method of attack in previous matches for Stade Rennais, against Olympique Lyonnais.
As we can see in the image below, Niang can beat his defender in the half-space and run onto a ball played ahead of him.
It is expected that PSG will have most of the possession, so it is important that Rennais defend well. They are a well-drilled unit that plays compact and limits the space between the lines. This will come in handy against PSG, as these are the areas where some of their most dangerous attackers like to work. In previous matches, they have shown that they can effectively shut down passing options into the midfield, and force the opposition into playing long balls forward.
As we can see in the image below, Rennais can congest the middle of the pitch and force Lyon down the wing. Rennais are effective at preventing the attackers from finding gaps in the middle of the pitch, and they end up playing the ball out wide where they can close them down and force a backward pass.
How will Paris Saint-Germain lineup?
After the disappointment of their Champions League campaign, PSG has the chance to win the Coupe de France for the fifth straight year. Luckily for Thomas Tuchel, he’s getting many of his best players back from injury just in time to play in the last meaningful match in PSG’s season. Against a mid-table club like Stade Rennais, we should expect to see an attacking lineup from the German manager.
Neymar returned last weekend to play 45 minutes in the victory over AS Monaco, and he’ll likely start on the left side of a 4-4-2. Up front will be Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani, who is also returning from a lengthy spell in the treatment room. Ángel Di Maria should also return and take up a position on the right side. After losing Marco Verratti to injury in the match against Monaco, it is expected that Leandro Paredes and Julian Draxler will get the start in central midfield.
Thiago Silva is still out injured, so expect to see Presnel Kimpembe and Marquinhos at centre-back. Thomas Meunier is expected to return at right-back, but if he doesn’t prove to be fit, expect Dani Alves, while Layvin Kurzawa should start at left-back. Alphonse Aréola has started all the Coupe matches, so expect Buffon on the bench.
How will PSG play?
Tuchel’s side played some of their best football early in the season in a 4-4-2 before their season got derailed by injuries. With most of his players back, and playing a team that will look play a compact defence, he’ll likely go back to this formation as an opportunity to get as many attackers on the pitch as possible. Kylian Mbappé and Cavani are a dangerous striker partnership, with Mbappé using his pace to stretch the defence, making the runs into the channels to exploit the space behind the opposing full-backs.
Cavani can use his physicality to hold up the ball and link-up with the other attackers. One of his most underrated attributes is his passing, and with Mbappé alongside him, he gets a chance to show it off. In the image below, Cavani has dropped deep to receive the ball before turning and dribbling up the pitch. He can slip a ball between the centre-back and left-back, for a perfectly timed run by Mbappé.
Neymar is returning from a lengthy layoff and will look to have an impact one more time this season for PSG. There is likely to be little space to operate in centrally, so both he and former Real Madrid player Di Maria will have to start in wider positions than we’ve typically seen this season.
An advantage that PSG has is the number of players who are comfortable receiving the ball in tight spaces. If they can effectively receive the ball, and use the combination play that we’ve seen them be capable of this season, it could be a very one-sided affair.
PSG have dominated possession this season, averaging almost 60% in all competitions and Rennais is not afraid of playing long periods without the ball. The result of this match will likely depend on the combination play in tight spaces for PSG. If PSG struggle, and lose the ball, there will be counter-attacking opportunities available for Rennais. A victory for PSG means another domestic double and a merely disappointing season. A loss for PSG, and the season ends up being a catastrophe.
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