Barça vs PSG … for all the marbles

ibra

Another guest appearance from Peter, with this preview of today’s match.

Here’s one important thing to know about PSG. The Proud Sons of Gaul are unbeaten so far both domestically and in the Champions League. After 16 rounds in Ligue 1 and five matches in the Champions League, Paris-Saint-Germain is the only top team in Europe not to know defeat in all competitions. Let that one sink in. Seventeen matches in Ligue 1, five in the Champions League, PSG have never walked off the pitch without points. Also, they are second in Ligue 1.

No, it’s not wrong math. Apart from being unbeaten, PSG are also the top team in Europe with most draws, eight to be precise. Missing Thiago Silva and Ibrahimovic often can lead to this – T.Silva did not play in six of the eight draws, whereas Ibra missed four of the eight. Here is something even more interesting: PSG drew only once when both Ibra and Silva played – on opening day, against Reims. Ibra scored two goals, in the 7th and the 63rd minute, but it wasn’t enough to overwhelm a stubborn Reims, which managed to withstand the ceaseless tidal wave of Parisian Blue desperately trying to get away with the three points.

As you well remember, neither Ibra nor Silva were in the team which defeated Barcelona at Parc des Princes. I am opening that wound so that you get a real picture of what is really in for Barcelona tomorrow. Thiago Silva is recovered. Ibrahimovic has recovered. The cold truth is this: If Barcelona wants the top spot, it needs to win, against the undefeated Gauls’ finest, come hell or high water.

As mentioned, right now PSG are in second place, one point off table leaders Olympique de Marseille, who are coached by none other than Pep and Tata’s Obi-Wan, His Loconess Marcelo Bielsa. PSG won that match, at home, with a goal in each half, but could’ve gone at least two-nil down in the opening ten minutes. Still, it’s the end result that matters, and PSG took the three points, which maintains them in the struggle for the title.

Laurent Blanc has brought every available player for the match, underlying its importance for the whole team, not just the lucky 18 who will get to suit up for the match.

So how do PSG score their goals?

Like previous opponent Valencia, PSG use their flanks A LOT, even more than Barcelona. This tactic is combined with long balls, both to the sides and to the center. The reasoning is simple – PSG’s attackers have lots of pace (Lucas Moura, Lavezzi, Cavani, Ibrahimovic) and height (Ibrahimovic, Cavani, Pastore) which gives them a distinct advantage in claiming the first ball. From there the ball can be passed wide to stretch the defense and give time to the strikers to get in central positions for the resulting crosses in order to take advantage of Cavani and Ibra´s height; another often used method is nodding down the ball to on-rushing players from the second line, or, if the ball is delivered close to the box, directly attempting to score. Such long balls are often launched either by the defense or by the wide midfielders (Veratti and Pastore) when they are in deep positions, usually when the team is sitting deep and tries to take advantage of the high defensive line of the opponent.

It works very well because Cavani and Ibrahimovic are both very tall and very good at holding their markers at arm´s length. There is lots of space behind the defense, and while one striker(Ibra or Cavani for example) is in a forward position and drawing the CBs, the other is trailing that trio, maintaining a position between the lines and looking for an opening. On occasion Ibra has done a reverse of that – he tracks back and draws forward the CB, who don’t mark him closely due to both his physical superiority, but also because they realize they are leaving the whole central avenue (better said boulevard) wide open. Ibra receives the ball between the lines, controls it and then sends it over the CBs’s heads for the darting Lavezzi and Cavani.

Crosses in the area: A favourite target is the back post, with a steep cross that curves away from the keeper. This fulfills two purposes: the trajectory practically bypasses the opposing CBs, the curvature does not permit the keeper to step forward and claim it, and the steeply arriving ball can be used either for a header or a kick – and it doesn’t require a tall player. Veratti is 1.65.

Crosses to the zone of the near post are usually low, with the intention that Ibra for example will be able to control the ball and shield it, and then conjure up a goal. It has worked.

Another tactic, which relies a lot on the dribbling and pace of Lucas Moura is to send him the ball, have him overcome the fullback and sprint to the side of the box hopefully drawing the left CB out of position and cutting to the unmarked striker in central positions. That’s the basic modus operandi, and in general it works, despite Ibra’s numerous injuries this season.

PSG has a very strong starting eleven in midfield and in attack, and its central defender duo are starting Brazil CBs Thiago Silva and David Luiz, backed by the veteran(35 years old) Camara and Marquinhos.

In attack it boasts The Zlatan, Cavani and perhaps not so talented, but very willing and hardworking player in Lavezzi. In midfield, Thiago Motta is starting anchor, often accompanied by Veratti, considered by many the answer to Squadra Azurri’s problem when at some point Andrea Pirlo decides that he has to retire. Lucas Moura has dribbling, speed and physicality in buckets, which makes him so dangerous out wide. When he plays behind the three strikers, he creates a lot of danger by sliding in the open space behind the backs of the defense, which for its part is focused on the strikers. This allows Moura to receive a cut back pass or a high cross in the area at the far post in direct proximity of goal, with potentially fatal consequences. Pastore and enforcer Matiudi complete the roster.

The main goalscoring threats so far have been Cavani with 12 in all competitions, Ibra with 9 and Lucas Moura with 6, but a total of thirteen players have scored this season, and against Barcelona last time the goals were scored by David Luiz, Veratti and Matiudi. Lucas Moura in particular is enjoying a sensational season. As of today, with less than half the season gone, he has scored more goals this season than in the whole of last. His assists have suffered a bit and his chance creating as well, but that is to be expected when he’s much more the recipient than the creator. Still, Lucas has given more key passes than any other PSG player.

The main assisters, and this stat will illustrate much better the way PSG plays, are wide mids Pastore and Veratti, and fullbacks Maxwell and Van der Wiel.

But on the bright side…

Enough scares? Okay, let’s turn to defensive issues. Yes, they exist. PSG has kept a total of seven clean sheets domestically, conceding 12 goals in the process, and another four in the Champions League. It has conceded in a total of 13 of the 22 matches played.

The Parisians often mark quite loosely, something which will probably change tonight, but a lot of the goals they concede are from leaving too much space for the opposition strikers. The defense suffers when it has to track back under pressure and fast combinations on the move make them very nervous. However, the greatest issue is ball tunnel vision. More than once PSG has been found lacking due to the fact that up to four defenders concentrate their movement and attention on the player with the ball. The problem with that is that they lose sight of the attackers they are supposed to mark, often at the far post. Another problem has been opposition strikers fading away. When a cross is played from wide after a fast counter or a fast attack, the attackers terminate their dash a fraction earlier. Since the PSG defense has its eyes on the ball, the defenders continue their defensive runs until the last moment, assuming that the strikers are still off their shoulder. The result is that opposing strikers have the time and space to concentrate on the incoming ball, which in many cases overflies the PSG defense.

PSG’s defenders are, I believe, susceptible to errors from pressing. Lack of pressing from the opposition strikers allows the fullbacks to run forward and create threats and opportunities, allows defenders to send accurate long balls to the tall strikers up front, with all unpleasant consequences.

A draw is as good as a win

PSG does not need to win. It needs to stop Barcelona from winning. Still, I believe we will see a similar game to the previous one, with a lot of flank attacks, and there will be targeting of the Barcelona pivot. I expect a solid defense under the guidance of Thiago Silva, with the rest of the team dropping back to press and harass.

I cannot really point out a key element in tonight’s clash. They are all vital. Midfield control is important, very much so, but I believe even more important will be the flank battles, especially on the Barcelona left, and increased aerial duels efficiency. If the striker team presses the defense successfully, then Pique and Mathieu, and Alba will have an easier time dealing with Lucas, Cavani and Ibra, but even more importantly, it could mean ball recovery in the defensive third of PSG, which would lead to instability and turnovers due to wayward passing under pressure. Chances are created by that.

Blanc is coming with everyone and everything he has. He has not responded on whether Ibrahimovic will start. Last week PSG’s medics announced that Ibra’s ongoing heel problems will prevent him from playing every game this season and the prevailing wisdom was that he will be reserved for Camp Nou, but then Zlatan started against Nantes and scored two goals after Nantes had gone forward. What Blanc has stated, is that this game will be played with a total of fourteen players. There will be no backing down, from either side.

For the Barcelona players this is an opportunity to show themselves, Luis Enrique, the culers and the entorno that this team is coming together. It’s an opportunity to vindicate themselves from the jeers and the ire of the critics. It’s a chance to show the mettle of Mathieu, Rakitic, Ter Stegen, Suarez and Luis Enrique. To lay a claim and do what no other team has managed so far this season.

This one is for all the marbles. Gut check.

Game on.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

63 Comments

  1. December 10, 2014

    If someone,who is not well into football, reads this post, he or she might think that PSG is a superior team to Barca.
    Peter, you should be a scout. You have well explained all their threats. If they were going to have more possession than us, which is impossible, all this is quite scary.
    I am hoping, we will treat this match like we did for the Milan game and will win it.
    Rakitic looked lacking in confidence in the first PSG match and thereafter he was not 100% in all the big games. Am a bit concerned about that though.

    • December 10, 2014

      My point is not to scare, but to inform. We need to know, we the supporters and the fans need to understand that every team can be dangerous. Every opponent must be respected, and by respected I mean research them, look for their weaknesses and then drive ruthlessly for that soft spot, for that particular jugular.

      To paraphrase a quote “Never fail to respect the opponent’s desire and determination to end you.”

      And in other news I wonder whether anyone was expecting this line-up.

  2. kosby
    December 10, 2014

    Well written Peter, I had no clue PSG had been unbeaten throughout the season. We have quite a job on our hands. Seems like pressing is going to be very important in this one – if we manage to recover the ball before they can settle down and get their heads up to locate Ibra/Cavani.
    Also, it just struck me that it would be very interesting to see a similar article about our team pretending to be from the PSG point of view…your stuff is so good, we keep asking for more 🙂

  3. xavi_purrnandez
    December 10, 2014

    i just wanted to add a Visca Barça(!!!) from deep within PSG-land. Ibrahimovic is loved but savagely teased here. the media even created the verb “zlataner” and it means to smash or beat the hell out of something or someone.

    i hope our boys are the ones doing the “zlataning” tonight. (and man, do i miss our loveblobs!)

    • mom4
      December 10, 2014

      Ohmygosh, purr! How you doing, dear?! I miss them, too!

  4. agar2515
    December 10, 2014

    Good stuff Peter, real gut check especially when you compare potential next round opponents:
    1st in group: Juve, Basel, Bayer, Arsenal, Roma/City, Sporting/S04, Shakhtar

    2nd in group: Munich, BVB, Porto, CFC & Monaco

    Lastly, I despise P$G ( and the other Merc clubs ¢ity and Chel$ea) and hope we smack them down hard today.

  5. December 10, 2014

    I really like this preview.

    • December 10, 2014

      I approve of this message. 😛

  6. December 10, 2014

    The XI.

    1. Ter Stegen
    3. Piqué
    5. Sergio
    7. Pedro
    8. Iniesta
    9. Suárez
    10. Messi
    11. Neymar
    14. Mascherano
    15. Bartra
    24. Mathieu

    • December 10, 2014

      So, potentially:

      Ter Stegen
      Bartra Pique Mathieu
      Busquets Mascherano
      Pedro Iniesta
      Messi Suarez Neymar

    • December 10, 2014

      I know I’m talking to myself right now, but I LOVE this XI!!!!

      We should get to see what Enrique was thinking with the Cuadrado request, as well. Wow. This is gonna be fun.

    • December 10, 2014

      It could also be:

      TS
      Bartra Pique Mascherano Mathieu
      Busquets
      Pedro Messi Iniesta
      Suarez Neymar

  7. barca96
    December 10, 2014

    Zlatastic!

  8. barca96
    December 10, 2014

    I like Bartra and I wouldn’t mind him at RB although Id prefer Montoya there. I just hope that if Bartra will be deployed at RB, Lucas Moura won’t switch to the left.

  9. simple_barcafan
    December 10, 2014

    3-4-3.. I called yesterday and I LOVE it!!

    • simple_barcafan
      December 10, 2014

      Called it*

  10. CuleToon
    December 10, 2014

    According to BarçaTV, Pedro will play as RB (as some of us suggested here at the beginning of the season). We’ll see …

    • December 10, 2014

      That would be kinda crazy. So would that mean …

      My head hurts. Never mind.

    • December 10, 2014

      Well, Dani Alves usually plays in the Pedro position anyway. You just tell Pedro to track back a bit more, since he already tracks back on his own.

    • CuleToon
      December 10, 2014

      If BarçaTV *is* right, that would mean:

      Ter Stegen

      Pedro Piqué Bartra Mathieu
      Mascherano
      Busquets Iniesta
      Suárez Messi Neymar

      …!

    • Ttemple
      December 10, 2014

      I think line-up would look a little like this:
      ———–Ter Stegen————-

      Pedro — Pique — Bartra — Mathieu

      ————-Mascherano/Busquet———————
      Busquet/Mascherano — Iniesta

      Messi ——— Suarez ———- Neymar

      Formation: 3-4-3.

    • Ttemple
      December 10, 2014

      *Sorry: 4-3-3.

    • Rami
      December 10, 2014

      I think it’ll be 3-3-1-3

      Bartra-Pique-Matheiw
      Busq-Masch-Iniesta
      Messi-
      Pedro-Suarez-Neymar

      Exciting as hell!

  11. ibbe
    December 10, 2014

    Lucho said it will be a surprise..He didn’t lie. I’m very surprised but at the same time really excited.

  12. December 10, 2014

    I know that if the team loses this match, Enrique will be hammered like a rusty nail in a pier boardwalk, but he shouldn’t be. I love the ambition.

    Obviously I hope it works, but I still love it even if it doesn’t, because of the immense potential that it offers.

    • CuleToon
      December 10, 2014

      Something akin to what Cruyff did with Goikoetxea (a fine winger) 20+ years ago (from RW to LB). Let’s see…

    • BA
      December 10, 2014

      i would have preferred to see it as a consistent system being attempted in La Liga against lesser opposition first, rather than thrown on against a team very capable of taking us apart.

      i do like that all 3 players in our back line are capable of grappling with, if not overpowering, Ibrahimovic.

    • lala10
      December 10, 2014

      thats true as well. Man U tried it the whole pre season and it did not work. Plus side is the fact we have better brainy players

    • Ttemple
      December 10, 2014

      It could be a meteoric success or a colossal fail.
      I like the tinkering and unpredictability, but I don’t like that he is trying this the first in such knotty match.

  13. lala10
    December 10, 2014

    dicey line up. Balls of steel trying that line up in a game of such immense importance. Like Kev says it if does not work he will be hammered. Excited as well as fearful.

    • December 10, 2014

      No idea how Enrique walks with balls that big.

    • barca96
      December 10, 2014

      Forget about walking. I’m wondering how he’s been doing marathons and triathlons with those big balls.

    • December 10, 2014

      That back pack you see in those marathons? Don’t ask what’s in it. 😀

  14. Archie
    December 10, 2014

    at car dealer waiting for snow tires… thank god for wifi and foxsoccer2go. I am having some sort of night terrors about this line up. Is that good? At least Ibrahimovic will slow down the pace of the game compared to line up from 1st game with all the runners.

    • December 10, 2014

      Exactly, Archie!

      And bravo for your belief in snow tires, as a TOTAL off-topic excursion. I run Nokians, because if you can’t trust the Finns with snow tires, who can you trust.

    • Archie
      December 10, 2014

      I bought the baby tires from, gulp, France. Not that my purchase has any bearing on the outcome of today’s game…

  15. agar2515
    December 10, 2014

    Amen to everything you’ve said Kevin, hope
    This works. Wish he had used this formation before though… Helluva gamble to pull it out in a game like this

  16. CuleToon
    December 10, 2014

    .
    We’re taking for granted that Pedro will play as RB, and I would love to see it! But, remember: Although that info is from BarçaTV, it’s still unofficial…

  17. Archie
    December 10, 2014

    Pedro could be right attacking player and Messi could drop back a la Cesc. Pedro helps out with defense. Bousquets is Xavi. Why not just start Xavi? Is Iniesta fit?

  18. December 10, 2014

    So three at the back, with Pedro kinda running around on the right. Looking like a 3-4-3

  19. ciaran
    December 10, 2014

    Two really nice team goals so far. Good match.

    • ciaran
      December 10, 2014

      David Luiz is a muppet.

    • barca96
      December 10, 2014

      On the first goal Thiago Silva was at fault as well.

  20. Valdemar II
    December 10, 2014

    OH MY GOD NEYMAR

    Whatever the result I want to see this 3-4-3 again!

  21. December 10, 2014

    That Neymar hit, people …

    • December 10, 2014

      A beauty

  22. lala10
    December 10, 2014

    defensively we are a bit shaky. Mathieu doesn’t seem suited to this formation. Some jitters. Midfield has been bypassed a couple of times.

    Controlled attacking performance that leaves one wondering whether we cant rip them to shreds if we move the ball a lot quicker. And that Neymar blast was something to behold.

  23. Archie
    December 10, 2014

    Good control in 1st half, but the “three” look kinda far from their men in shooting areas. All goals and chances from poor marking. Ibra made that shot look easy, too. Verratti is best player so far. Not sure about Iniesta and Bousquets. Messi and Mascherano are making them redundant.

  24. dl
    December 10, 2014

    I was hoping for one by Luisito! He’s worked hard for it. Good on him. But really that scorcher by Neymar was something.

    • Davour
      December 10, 2014

      Yes, hopefully that will make him relax. He did not receive the ball well, except when playing it simple one-touch. Seems a bit clumsy still, but we’ll see when he settles and learns the ropes.

      Very nice match, and Bartra – my oh my. Piqué, too was excellent.

  25. ooga aga
    December 10, 2014

    possible opponents! draw is next Monday?

    Juventus
    Basel
    Bayer Leverkusen
    Arsenal
    Manchester City
    Schalke 04
    Shaktar Donetsk

  26. chillipod
    December 10, 2014

    MOTM Marc Bartra. If he had a tiny bit more pace then talk of paying out 35m+ euros for a defender would be the utterings of a madman. Brave, skillful and (generally) composed.
    Xavi’s 20 min cameo was almost as impressive, in chess terms it was like Lucho looking at Laurent and saying “checkmate”. Surely there’s enough money in the bank to pay for some cloning????

    • barca96
      December 10, 2014

      When Puyol said he wants a player to take his number I thought it would be Bartra. Oh well. Maybe in the future Busquets can change back to #16 and let Bartra take #5

  27. December 10, 2014

    Okay. 3-1. I predicted 2-1, but happy to be wrong. Was this the big test passed?

    I haven’t really had a chance to sit down to watch yet, but from the bits that I saw, we had them outclassed.

    • G6O
      December 10, 2014

      I was quite happy with the way we played. Some defensive shakiness in the first 30 minutes, but overall it was an awesome game.

  28. kosby
    December 10, 2014

    Well played to our guys and a special toast for LE. That goal by Neymar phew ! Blew my socks off that one. sMasche to Suarez to Messi to goal was brilliant as well. Suarez scoring again was good to see. Brilliant defense by Barta, Pique and sMasche. Plus timely substitutions by Enrique. Special mention for Pedro for stepping into a role he’s not that familiar with. Was a bit scared after the PSG first goal, but we came back brilliantly. Still think we have scope for improvement – its looking good guys.

  29. agar2515
    December 10, 2014

    Some shakey defense (mostly on crosses) but to be expected with a new formation and Mathieu has def had better days. Fantastic Bartra he needs to be on the pitch in big games like this, him at RB is just fantastic no more Dani or DougLOLas hopefully. Some kinks to work out but very happy.

  30. December 10, 2014

    Anyone notice how busquets made like 6382936 tackles in the last 15 minutes? I’m really proud of our team. That bartra kid is really something special

  31. December 10, 2014

    Paris Saint Germaine WERE the only undefeated team in Europe. WERE.

    • agar2515
      December 10, 2014

      Despite the scoreline, I was very impressed by Verratti, think he could easily play the “Xavi” role for us, shame he’s “ungettable”. Also, very few teams in the world have a midfielder on the overall level of Matuidi (pace,stamina to press, strength+strong in the tackle) who is a real kyptonite for any real desire to play a traditional game through the midfield. Very happy to see we coped with them both, no team in the next round has their level of Mid imo (On paper and in name Juve does have the personnel to terrorize our mid but (hypothetically) who knows which Juve would show up?)

  32. Chiu
    December 10, 2014

    – So happy with win. The experiment worked well. Hats off to the coach for his brave decision.

    – Neymar’s goal is super awesome. Our investment in Neymar is looking cheaper and cheaper as he growing to be future world best player.

    – Congrats for Suarez 1st goal in home turf, he looked so emotional. Wish to see more goals from him. Our tridente is looking more promising as the season progressed. Visca Barca!

  33. lala10
    December 10, 2014

    there was a passing move in the first half that resulted in a saved Suarez shot that was also mesmirizing.

    Stepped of the gas a little in the first part of the 2nd half. Its scary what will happen when the team really gels and achieves top gear. Ini looked off the pace, there were some slackness in the first half between Masch and Busquets. Mathieu does not look comfortable on the left.

    Overall we were good but with massive room for improvement

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