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Talking Tactics: How Newly-Promoted Lens Defeated a Depleted PSG

Paris Saint-Germain started off their 2020/21 Ligue 1 campaign in a poor manner, as their superstar-less squad suffered a 1-0 away defeat at newly-promoted Lens. Here, we take a look at how the hosts got the better of the defending champions.

Lens’ Solid Defensive Shape

Lens only saw 29% of possession, and in truth, they didn’t want to keep the ball. They rarely tried to build out from the back, and were much happier to clear their lines and defend instead. That is because they maintained a solid defensive shape which kept PSG away from their goal, and allowed only one shot on target.

Lens’ formation against PSG. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News using
Lens’ formation against PSG. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

They fielded a 5-2-1-2 on paper to counter PSG’s 4-3-3. When pressing, their number 10 Gaël Kakuta would go forward to join the frontmen, but for most of the match, he dropped into the midfield line to negate the Parisians’ numerical advantage in the centre of the park.

Lens’ formation against PSG. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

This is a rare occasion where Kakuta has pushed forward, and all of Lens’ players are behind the ball.

Lens’ formation against PSG. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

Here, Kakuta has dropped back to join the midfield, and once again, Lens have all eleven players in between the ball and their goal.

So, Lens’ formation coupled with their good discipline made it hard for PSG to break them down.

Lack of Individual Quality for PSG

It should be noted, however, that the defensive tactics would probably have failed if PSG had their full squad available. The likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Ángel Di María would have tormented the defence in one-on-one situations, and that would have caused lots of problems.

Instead, Lens’ back-line faced Pablo Sarabia, Kays Ruiz-Atil and Arnaud Kalimuendo Muinga, who didn’t do anything particularly bad, but at the same time lacked the quality and experience of the aforementioned stars.

Marco Verratti making a pass against Lens. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

Here, Marco Verratti is making a pass to send Arnaud Kalimuendo Muinga in behind Lens’ defence.

Arnaud Kalimuendo Muinga receiving a pass against Lens. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

The youngster has the pace and gets there first, but then he controls the ball instead of letting it roll and getting into a shooting position. This is petty criticism, but a better player (Kylian Mbappé) would have fancied a scoring opportunity from this position.

Arnaud Kalimuendo Muinga allowing the defence to get back against Lens. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

Instead, Muinga’s decision to control has forced him wide, and when he cuts inside, there are three defenders behind the ball.

To add to that, Layvin Kurzawa, a left-footed player was operating at right-back, so PSG’s attacks were nullified from that side too. So, the home side were able to shut them out.

Layvin Kurazawa receiving the ball against Lens. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

As Kurzawa receives the ball, there is a lot of space out wide. He can run into it and perhaps deliver a cross thereafter, which is what a full-back would usually do.

Layvin Kurazawa attempting a shot against Lens. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

But, since his right foot is weaker, Kurzawa knows that he probably wouldn’t be able to deliver a good ball into the box, so he decides to have a crack from range after cutting onto his left foot, and puts it high.

These tiny margins ended up costing PSG in the end, as they simply failed to fashion any real goal-scoring chances.

Individual Error Caused by Lens’ Press

Even then, PSG had the lion’s share of possession, so Lens would find it hard to score a goal. The home side didn’t press too intently, but their two frontmen, Simon Banza and Ignatius Ganago were encouraged to harrow PSG’s defence whenever they could. That wouldn’t be able to create any chances if the Parisians kept things clean, but Marcin Bułka was in a rather charitable mood.

Simon Banza pressing the ball against PSG. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

After a Lens goal-kick which saw PSG win the header, Simon Banza presses Thilo Kehrer, so the makeshift centre-back is forced to play it back to his keeper.

Lens’ high press and Marcin Bulka’s mistake against them. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

Gaël Kakuta, Lens’ number 10 has joined the press, but even then, Bulka has four very good passing options, and of course, he can punt it up the field. Instead, he tries to break the press and find Marco Verratti, who is surrounded by yellow shirts.

Igantius Ganago making an interception against PSG. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

That ends just as you would expect, and Ignatius Ganago is able to make the interception just outside the 18-yard box with Bulka out of position.

Igantius Ganago scoring a goal against PSG. (Neel Shelat/Ligue1News)

The Cameroonian forward can now shoot at a half-empty net, and he scores to give Lens a deserved lead.

That lead would prove to be the difference in the end, and this is where PSG lost the points.

Final Verdict

A draw is the best we could have hoped for.

– Thomas Tuchel

PSG’s manager was certainly trying to downplay the defeat post-match, but he too knew that PSG could have done better. They lacked incision, and in the end, an individual mistake cost them. Credit must be given to Lens too, who were extremely disciplined in terms of shape, and deservedly bagged three crucial points.

A poor start to the title defence for PSG, but can they bounce back from this? Their next match isn’t easy – Le Classique at home to Marseille on Sunday – but they’ll have to tough it out and win three points from that.

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