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Tactical Analysis

PSG 2- 2 Barcelona: Tactical Analysis


PSG entertained Barcelona at the Parc Des Princes for the first leg of their quarter final tie. The game ended 2-2 after an exciting finish, which saw both sides score late goals.

PSG lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with star signing David Beckham accompanying the workhorse Matuidi in the centre of midfield. Zlatan Ibrahimovic started against his former team, and was partnered by Ezequiel Lavezzi. At the back, the usual wing-backs, Maxwell, and Jallet surrounded the Brazilia combo of Thiago Silva and Alex. Out wide, Moura and Pastore were the creative threats.

Spanish champions elect, Barcelona played in their usual 4-3-3 formation, with a midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta. The forward line comprised of Villa, Alexis Sanchez, and Messi. At the back, Valdes was protected by Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano and Jordi Alba.


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Attacking down the right:

PSG concentrated their attacks down their right hand side and Barcelona’s left. THis was to utilise Lucas Moura’s pace on the counter. The second reason for doing so was the fact that Javier Mascherano was deployed on the left side of the centre back combination. While the Argentine is an excellent tackler, his positional play leaves a lot to be desired at times, especially at centre back, and this is why his game has a bit of a ‘last ditch’ air to it. In order to exploit this weakness, Lavezzi was looking for service in this area, and played off the shoulder of Mascherano. This worked well in the beginning, and yielded an early opportunity, where PSG struck the woodwork.

Graph showing how much PSG attacked down the right hand side

PSG attack directions


Ancelotti lined up his side in a 4-4-2 shape. They basically created two banks of four in order to defend against the Barcelona attacks. They also kept their shape very diligently. This helped them to repel the Catalan attacks for most of the game. Apart from creating difficulties for them to play through balls, the two banks of four also made it tougher for Barcelona to move the ball forward quickly and catch PSG disorganised, as it allowed the midfielders and defenders to press in groups. This forced Barcelona into a more direct style of play.

Aerial Ball:

The PSG attacking tactic was to play long aerial balls down the middle to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Barcelona’s weakness in aerial situations is well documented, and this tactic was just playing to the home side’s strengths, as ‘Ibra’ caused Pique and Mascherano quite a few problems, winning 4 out of the 5 aerial duels he was involved in, providing the assist for Matuidi’s goal from a header after a long pass directed at him.

Another method used to get the ball into dangerous areas via the aerial route was set-pieces. With dead-ball specialist David Beckham in the starting line-up, PSG were perfectly poised to take advantage of such situations. Indeed, their first goal game from a set-piece (although Ibrahimovic was probably off-side). All in all, PSG won 79% of the aerial duels in the game.


Obviously, Carlo Ancelotti had some special plans for this very special player, and these plans managed to keep him quiet on the whole. As is well known, Messi is a dribbler, and causes most problems when he is dribbling. It is also commonly known, that a player can dribble only into an empty space. To this effect, PSG did very well, as they constantly directed and sheperded the little Argentine into ‘safer’ areas of the pitch.

Another tactic used effectively was the 2nd defender tactic. Everytime Messi got the ball, and attempted to run with it, a defender attempted to tackle him. This ‘first defender’ was closely followed by a ‘second defender’ whose job was to pounce on the ball during the interim period between the dribble, and regaining control of the ball. This tactic worked well as it restricted the distance Messi covered whilst taking out defenders.

Closing Down and Pressing the midfield:

In the second half, once Lionel Messi was brought off, PSG had a lot more confidence to squeeze Barcelona higher up the pitch, as the dribbler extraordinaire had been taken off. The wingers, and Blaise Matuidi in particular made a lot more of an effort to close down the Barcelona midfield. In another tactic, Ancelotti also made his midfielders play narrower in order to close down space to pass into. However, these tactics weren’t very effective, as Barcelona kept and moved the ball with their usual poise and grace.


Heat map showing PSG's second half performance

The arrows indicate how PSG’s midfield was narrower in the second half
via CNN Football Club



Deeper Play:

Due to the fact that PSG were maintaining a shape, and defending very deep, Barcelona needed to draw them out in order to create space in behind to run into and score. To achieve this objective, Tito positioned his team much deeper than usual. This served a three-fold purpose. Firstly, it provided an additional cover against counter attacks, and secondly, it helped to draw out the PSG defence. Thirdly, it also gave Barca numbers in midfield, allowing them to overpower PSG, and get runs at the defence.

Graph showing how deep Barcelona played

Barcelona played much deeper

Full back attacking policy:

Followers of Barcelona will note that usually, both full backs are bombing down the flanks to provide width and stretch opposition defences. This tactic had backfired in the previous round against AC Milan at the San Siro, and Milan exploited the space to score two on the break. This time, Barcelona made no such errors. Only one full back charged forward at a time, the other staying back to help out Busquets, Pique and Mascherano, and avoid counter attacks. On this occasion, Alba stayed back, to protect against the pace and skill that Moura offered. In the above graph, the difference between the common positions of Alba(18) and Alves(2) is evident.

Alves getting space:

Since the central striker Messi was playing deeper than usual, the man on the right side of the attacking trident, David Villa, dropped into central spaces on a number of occasions as is his wont to do. This meant that the right side was vacated, and the Brazilian Alves needed no second invitation to bomb down this area of the pitch. He made good use of the space ahead of him, and kept the opposition defenders busy. He not only took the wide areas, but cut inside to play one-twos on a number of occasions as well. The admirable part of this was that he did very well defensively as well, keeping both Maxwell and Pastore quiet. Of course, he was aided by the fact that PSG were trying to attack down the left, but take no credit away from the Brazilian, who did a splendid job.

Direct style of play:

Due to the fact that PSG defended in two banks of four, and were very well organised, Barcelona’s hope was to catch them during a phase where they may be unprepared. To do so, they needed to get the ball to their forwards quickly. As a result of such a need, Barcelona switched to a slightly more direct style, playing a lot kore long passes than usual. In this game alone, they played an astounding 63 long balls. Their first goal was a result of such a pass.

Passing Patterns:

In the second half, Mesi was off, and therefore the number of successful dribbles also dropped significantly. In order to overcome this problem of penetration, Barcelona began moving the ball in patterns that were meant to draw the PSG defenders out of position. For a majority of the second half, the Parisians were chasing the game, and in the absence of Messi, felt the need to press Barcelona. This played into Catalan hands, as the quick one touch passing only served to create space and chances. If Alexis Sanchez had been more efficient with his shooting, this tie would have been dead and buried by now.


Stats courtesy of

Featured image courtesy of

Vishal Patel

Vishal Patel

Massive Chelsea supporter. Follow Mourinho and love Ronaldinho. Enjoy discussing tactics anytime, anywhere. Enjoy watching the Italian National team as well.
Vishal Patel

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