Lyon may have dominated the French domestic scene in the noughties but times have changed and it has been PSG who’ve been the team to beat in the recent past. Lyon though have found the consistency they’ve been looking for since the turn of the decade and are right in the middle of a title race. To examine their credentials stood defending Champions PSG .
Lyon 1-1 PSG
Lyon: Lopes; Jallet, Rose, Umtiti, Bedimo; Gonalons, Ferri, Tolisso, Gourcuff; N’jie, Fekir.
PSG: Sirigu; Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Maxwell; Motta, Verratti, Matuidi; Ibrahimovic, Lucas, Cavani.
Substitutions: Mvuemba – Ferri; Benzia – N’Jie; Ghezzal – Gourcuff; // Lavezzi – Moura; Cabaye – Cavani;
Goals: Clinton N’Jie 31′ // Zlatan Ibrahimovic 69′
Lyon force PSG out wide
A key feature in this game that was consistently seen until PSG equalised was the fact that Lyon were passive in the press. Thiago Silva and David Luiz had all the time in the world to successfully use the ball, but for the first 15 minutes PSG were nullified to a point where they had directed all their passes to the flanks, with a rare pass being led into the centre of the pitch. Lyon’s midfield and attack adjusted themselves to the side that PSG moved to, and they did a good job of forcing the Parisians out wide.
Once Silva, Luiz or Verratti completed a low, vertical pass to either of the front 3 – three men immediately hounded the receiving player. It was a tactical rather than aesthetic performance from Lyon, and they gained more from this point than PSG did.
Lyon’s attackers stand off PSG’s defence and allow them to play out of the back. Notice how they are all in the centre of the pitch, and the full backs are very narrow (left of the photo).
Here we can see the exterior, Lyon central midfielder (Ferri) press in midfield, while Jallet is narrow to deal with Cavani. In blue, Gourcuff is circled to show his lack of defensive discipline to return.
You would have expected PSG to overload the Lyon full backs as there was no cover for them in a 4-1-2-1-2, but the full backs – especially Jallet – were disciplined and tactically fantastic. Jallet either stayed narrow, forcing Maxwell to push forward and cross but PSG could not take advantage of the space as Lopes was mesmerising in goal this game. On the other hand, if Jallet was pulled out wide Gonalons and one of either Ferri or Tolisso covered the halfspace efficiently.
Lyon’s centre tasked with nullifying PSG’s playmakers
Lyon set up in a 4-1-2-1-2, but in reality Gourcuff’s movement towards the PSG defence made it a 4-3-3 with him pushing up in between N’jie and Fekir while they drifted out wider to form a bank of 3 and cover the centre (and halfspaces) of the pitch.
This is an occasion where Gourcuff pushed up to form an attacking 3, while Ferri and Tolisso stayed behind him. Look at the space Maxwell is in, but then look at the centre of the field; rarely any Parisian bodies.
With that, Verratti and/or Motta had to drop deeper and pick the ball up and out of the defence to still have an overload against the Lyon attackers. If Gourcuff didn’t push up, Verratti dropped deep – while Motta dropped deeper if Gourcuff joined.
Unsurprisingly, Motta to Verratti (and vice versa) were the top two passing combinations in the game, with a fair share of 80 passes between them only.
As the game went by, the PSG defenders began to get past the initial press. Once PSG did do that and sniffed Lyon territory, the outer two central midfielders began to press and cover from Gonalons behind supported them.
Courtesy of Squawka, the heat maps prove the movement of N’jie and Fekir. Their movements were geared towards the half spaces and the flanks. While Lyon weren’t tasked to press, especially with their front 3, N’jie still worked hard for the team and proved his worth by scoring Lyon’s lone goal.
PSG press leads to chances
PSG weren’t exactly great on the ball, but they were better creating chances with movements off it. In an incident where Gonalons had the ball just in front of his back 4, Cavani had pressed him and a rash pass led to Ibrahimovic and Cavani creating a clear-cut chance for PSG (saved by Lopes again). The line of 4 in front of Gonalons (L-R) of Bedimo, Tolisso, Ferri and Jallet pushed too high up and this led to some lapses in concentration from Lyon.
Take into account a non-tactical factor that is the superb goalkeeping display the Lopes offered. PSG broke Lyon’s passage of play but Lopes halted their dominance.
Here was one of the moments in where Lyon’s defenders avoided PSG’s press, as Rose drove with the ball forward into midfield. Bear in mind, Lyon were very good tactically, but the lapses in concentration that I mentioned previously were evident here. Look at Lucas (in the red box) who is onside and ready to pounce on a mistake in empty space.
Lyon switches of play lead to goal
Lyon were generic in attack; short (passing), swift and vertical. Nothing overly different with the way they kept the ball as they also used their full backs (who in fact were more wasteful than productive) as outlets in attack, which was nothing unpredictable with a lack of wide midfielders/wingers in their system.
One thing Lyon did do was switching the play a couple of times, hitting it from flank to flank – but not by long and direct balls, rather with 2 to 3 swift and accurate passes.
In the build up towards N’jie’s goal, Lyon passed it from the middle to the left flank and subsequently to the right flank where Jallet, Ferri and finally Fekir linked up to draw PSG out of their box and find an onside N’jie in space to score.
PSG score, tides have turned
Lyon started to tire towards the end of the game and this saw them give space away as they continued to drop deeper with their 1-0 lead. The problem with this was that they were playing a 4-1-2-1-2 where their exterior central midfielders were not defensively great, therefore Gonalons was on his own to protect his back 4. This resulted in space on the edge of Lyon’s box for PSG and had Rose not given away a penalty it would have been very likely for PSG to score.
Lopes made a brilliant save of Ibra’s penalty but it had to be repeated and Ibrahimovic scored, but the score was still better towards Lyon. Lyon, although, wanted to win. Their pressing became more urgent rather than organised, with more individualistic pressing from N’jie and later Ghezzal/Benzia. Both teams had their fair share of chances in the last 20 minutes, but it ended with a 1-all draw, which was probably a fair result.
What comes next?
The Champions League approaches PSG who are still not top yet, while Lyon and Marseille have only the league to focus on in the coming weeks. With Lyon only 2 points ahead of Marseille and PSG, the race for the title is not over yet. However, the injuries that PSG are suffering from and the upcoming Champions League burden that is on the horizon is not a good sign for the Parisians. Les Parisiens also have to deal with the midweek game against Nantes in the Cup.
Written by Hamoudi Fayad
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