April 13, 2020: Tactic Wars Solution – Dylan Buesnel
Before we show you Dylan’s solution, let’s remind ourselves of the challenge he was posed.
Congratulations, you have made it to the next round of the UEFA Champions League where you are set to face Thomas Tuchel's PSG.
— Total Football Analysis (@TotalAnalysis) April 13, 2020
With a bumper UEFA Champions League tie against French heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) coming up, my team has been hamstrung by having most of the first-team squad being sold during the January window. We have been only allowed to sign players over the age of 32 as replacements, to aid and reinforce the remaining first-team players at the club. Having brought in some quality replacements, we go into this tie having honed our tactics on the training field, and with our analysis having given us the optimal tactical system to get past Thomas Tuchel’s PSG side.
PSG’s XI 4-3-3: Navas; Meunier, Silva, Kimpembe, Bernat; Marquinhos, Gueye, Verratti; Di María, Mbappé, Neymar
We’re presuming that PSG are lining up in a 4-3-3, Marquinhos is starting in midfield but this allows both of their full-backs to attack forward. In attack, Kylian Mbappé will be leading the line and Ángel Di María and Neymar working into the half-spaces by coming narrow off the wing.
Dylan’s XI 3-4-3: Courtois; Varane, Bonucci, Acerbi; Marcelo, Silva, Fernandinho, Alves; Gómez, Ilicic, Rodrygo
My starting lineup will start in a 3-4-3 shape but when we are out of possession this will turn into a narrow 5-4-1 formation. My tactics include Dani Alves and Marcelo are acting as wing-backs and they will drop into a back five when we are out of possession. David Silva and Fernadinho are acting as a double pivot in the middle of the pitch. Upfront, Gómez and Rodrygo are either side of Ilicic, who leads the attack. We will look to soak up the pressure and be out of possession for most of the game but look to counter-attack effectively and expose PSG’s weaknesses when they commit players forward.
Out of possession
When PSG are in possession my team will drop into a compact 5-4-1 formation and there won’t be a high line unless the ball gets passed all the way back to Keylor Navas. This keeps the middle of the pitch crowded and makes it harder for PSG to get into dangerous areas on the pitch. PSG’s front three are very flexible and can intertwine amongst each other, however, when either of the front three attempts to pick up the ball inside the half-space my team will box them in and surround them before they have space and time on the ball, we have the numbers to do so, this is shown below. The formation will be narrow to combat this and stop PSG getting Neymar and Di María in the half-spaces as they are deadly in these positions.
More so, if Di María and Neymar try to drop out of their half-space as they want to receive the ball in a deeper position to try link-up play, there is a numerical advantage for my team in the centre of the pitch. Also, Mbappé will be isolated on his own up front, plus, Di María and Neymar aren’t a goal threat as they are dropping very deep to pick up the ball which is far from our goal, this is shown below. Both Neymar and Di María will be man-marked by Marcelo and Alves until they are forced deep back into their own half, then my player will separate and get back into position. Gómez and Rodrygo will cover any overlaps from PSG’s full-backs.
As my team stays compact this allows my midfielders to cut off passing lanes and stop them feeding balls into their attackers. Marcelo and Alves will maintain narrow and block the half-space area and Silva and Fernandinho protect the middle of the pitch stopping balls into Mbappé, this is shown below. The back three will keep two plays occupying Mbappé and the ball side centre-back can drift slightly wider to cover or even step up or even to help the wing-back. The of the centre-backs will act as a destroyer, who will be the immediate presser and the other will be more reserved and maintain the position covering runs over the top to Mbappé.
In the transition phase from defensive into attack, my team will look for the early attack and try to find Ilicic early. As soon Courtois receives the ball this will be the first thought in his mind, this relies on my team to win the first and the second ball to allow us to break into the open space, as PSG will be committing players forward. This is the same on defending set-pieces and when PSG are crossing. We will look to win the aerial battle, then take advantage of winning the second ball and then look to open up an attack off a quick transition by breaking early.
By sitting deep and maintaining this shape it will entice PSG’s full-backs to commit forward for more options, however, this allows my team to take advantage of them being short of numbers at the back as Marquinhos will sit in and make a defensive three at the back. When we counter-attack we can outnumber them when our wing-backs bomb forward to support our attackers and even have a five versus three situation when their wide players fail to trackback.
If counter-attacking fails and PSG sit deep themselves, in attack Gómez will drop in behind to the central attacking midfield role and Ilicic and Rodrygo will form a two-man striker partnership, this is shown above. Gómez will look to receive the ball directly into his feet in between the lines then feed the strikers. This will allow us to get in between the lines and allow Gómez to be more creative. Our wing-backs will keep their width and Ilicic and Rodrygo become a striker pair operating in between the full-backs and centre-backs.
My team won’t press too high into the oppositions half but we will use pressing triggers to activate a team press in certain areas of the pitch. If the ball gets played into PSG’s full-back, this will activate my wing-back to press high up and force them to play it into the centre-back, my front three will also step up to pressurise the ball-carrier and force them into a mistake, this is shown below. This will work well as the middle of the pitch is crowded so it will be hard to play out from the back and my centre-backs are able to easily win any aerial duels between them.
When my centre-backs go to win their aerial duels one of the defenders will attack the ball, predominately Bonucci, then the other two will split and provide an option for a cushioned header to them. This allows maintenance of possession and the second player can play the next pass as they are in an ideal position to receive the ball.
This team built around old players has set up to exploit PSG’s weaknesses and look to tactically underpin them. With high calibre players, this solution will be able to overcome Thomas Tuchel’s side and progress through to the next round of the Champions League. Our analysis benefits us staying compact and make it as difficult as possible for PSG and in attack, we want to be direct by not letting PSG recover so we can exploit them early. Seeing PSG play and engaging in tactical analysis it has shown me that they are able to be out-numbered in the central part of the pitch and my tactic wars solution is able to get a result against an unbalanced PSG side.