In this tactical analysis we visit Ligue 1 in a top of the table clash that saw PSG host LOSC Lille. Both teams came into this match knowing that the winner would likely be crowned Champion at the end of the season, so there was little margin for error. A goal from Canadian striker Jonathan David was all that was needed to secure all three points for Lille.
The xG of this match would have you believe that it could put you to sleep with it being PSG 0 (0.99) - 1 (0.51) LOSC Lille (infogol.net). However, this was nothing short of a tactical masterclass from Christophe Galtier and his players. By taking advantage of PSG’s pressing triggers and exploiting the space left behind this PSG team, Lille showed us how to win a game against World Class players with little to no tweaks to their own style of play. Lille deserve to be Ligue 1 Champions due to their incredible defensive discipline and ability to simultaneously play eye-catching football.
PSG deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation that saw the front four rarely leave their positions, with the double pivot of Paredes and Gueye given more fluid responsibilities. Paredes would drop between the center-backs while Gueye played in a lone #6 role. As we’ll see in this analysis this proved to be an issue for PSG as they often struggled to progress possession from the middle third to the final third. When out of possession, the pair would press aggressively.
The full-backs were often encouraged to push forward. They offered width while also giving PSG the opportunity to create two versus two scenarios on the flanks. Notable absences for PSG are Verratti and Kurzawa who will also be absent for PSG’s Champions League clash against Bayern Munich. Both players have been key for PSG this season A player like Verratti could have been the solution to their Lille problem.
Lille deployed their tried and tested 4-4-2. They showed us that this classic formation coupled with their modern style of play is an excellent example of a team with tactical understanding and flexibility. The team put out by Christophe Galtier is arguable Lille’s strongest. Lille would absorb the PSG press by carefully playing quick passes out from their own penalty area, rather than sit back and wait, then hit PSG on the counter-attack by exploiting the space left behind the pressing players. The only notable absence is Celik, who is sidelined with COVID-19. Otherwise, this is a perfectly fit Lille team.
In possession Paredes would drop between the center-back pairing of Kimpembe and Marquinhos while Gueye would sit between the Lille forward and midfield line. By doing this, it created a three versus two scenario between the PSG backline and the Lille forward line. The issue, however, is that the Lille forward line of David and Ikone prevent any forward passes from PSG. Gueye is in space but is shielded by David or Ikone, depending on the side of play. This forces PSG to use their full-backs on the flanks in order to progress the ball. PSG can’t progress the ball through the middle because Lille defend in a very narrow and compact mid block meaning that any central passes will likely be intercepted.
As mentioned above, PSG were forced to go wide by Lille. When this happened Lille would press aggressively on the flank PSG used. By pressing the flanks, Lille can trap their opponents in the space between them and the touchline, making it easier to win the ball back. Below we see Kehrer and Di Maria in possession on the flank. The Lille block quickly shifts to that side of the pitch with Reinildo, Bamba and David leading the way. Lille know PSG can only use the wide areas to progress the ball so they always know where to press: either the left or right side. PSG could not progress the ball centrally or through the wide areas. This would lead to plenty of possession for PSG without any results.
Coming back to PSG in possession centrally, we see that Gueye is alone while Paredes shifts the ball to Kimpembe. For long periods of the game Gueye was alone in this space where a partner would have helped him. The forward players remain central and disconnected from the game. They rarely, if ever, received the ball from a midfield player. A player like Veratti was missing in order to ensure successful transition of possession from the midfield to the forwards. As we will see later, the times that PSG enjoyed their best time in possession, were times when Paredes partnered Gueye.
PSG would settle into a 4-5-1 formation when Lille had possession. This structure would stay compact but would switch to a more aggressive press in two ocasssions. The first was when Lille moved the ball into the PSG half and the second being when Lille passed backwards to their goalkeeper. PSG would determine when they pressed based on what Lille did with the ball.
Below we see Fonte on the ball. At this moment he looks to move possession to a teammate in defense which triggers the PSG press. Gueye and Paredes leave their roles and join the press. The issue with this is that Bamba and Reinildo stay in their positions because they know that there will be space for them to exploit during this press. This now leaves Di Maria to keep his attention on both Bamba and Reinildo instead of joining the press himself, leading to a lopsided attempt at winning the ball back before it’s even started. This is how Lille would exploit the space left behind the PSG players.
Below we see André, Sanches and Ikone all combining on the right side of the pitch to exploit the space left behind the pressing PSG players. On the ball is Djalo who sees André moving into space as a quality passing option. Lille know that if they play out from defense they will welcome a PSG press, so, they look to put players where they think there will be space left behind. Djalo, or any Lille defender, can play progressive forward passes when they know they’ll have teammates available in the space between the lines.
Both teams like to play out from the back and both teams like to press aggressively. While their methods of pressing are different, their build-up play is very similar. Up first is Lille. Botman is on the ball looking to pass to Reinildo who has lots of space to carry the ball forward. Botman is able to complete this pass because Lille has both André and Soumaré dropping deeper, instead of just one of them.
This forces PSG to commit more players forward if they want to continue to press as aggressively as they have been all season. The more players a team commits forward, the more space is left behind by that team. Lille have shown several times in this game that they know how to exploit the space left behind in all areas of the pitch; their own third is no different. Lille are one of the best teams at playing out from the back, so to press so far up the pitch is a risk.
To contrast their method of maintaining possession in the middle third, PSG committed both pivot players to participate in the build-up, rather than just one. Interestingly enough, this was when PSG beat the Lille press and how they were able to exploit the space Lille left behind, rather than the other way around. By committing both Paredes and Gueye to helping progress possession, PSG were able show glimpses of the quality we know they have.
On the ball is Marquinhos moving the ball into the center of the pitch. Bamba and Ikone are forced to mark the PSG double-pivot while Sanches and David struggle to mark the remaining PSG players. This is how PSG moved the ball from their own third to the middle third. It would be interesting to see how this idea would have worked when used in the transition of possession from the middle third to the final third. PSG clearly lacked any sort of presence in the middle third.
PSG desperately missed Verratti in this match. He would have been hugely influential in helping progress the ball effectively. Instead, we got a bland PSG performance that showed us that they are not ready for Champions League success. The personnel on this team is not much different than the ones who made it to the Champions League final last season, however the tactics are different. PSG have shown us several times this season that they struggle to beat teams that play in a low-block. They struggled even more against a team that can not only play in a low-block, but also playout from the back and hit them hard on the counter.
We absolutely must give credit to LOSC Lille this season. The players and manager have been a pleasure to watch and deserve to be Ligue 1 Champions. This team is packed to the brim with players who know their roles well. The system works because the players in it are intelligent. They’re technically and tactically brilliant. I would not be surprised to see every single player in this team linked with a big money move this summer. By watching them play, you would never know that Lille sold €99,000,000 worth of players last summer.Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @pythaginboots
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___