After several months of having no football in France, the Final of the 2019/20 Coupe de France arrived. It was played between PSG and Saint-Étienne, who both had played some friendlies before this game to pick up their match fitness. This cup final is a normal event for PSG but for Saint-Étienne it was a golden chance to win a title after many years.
With PSG winning Ligue 1 and Saint-Étienne finishing 17th in the table, it looked like an uneven fight at first. This was not true as they battled it out until the last minute, with the inferior side having some good chances to draw the game. Additionally, the game was heavily conditioned by Loic Perrin’s red card in the first half.
This red card proved a changing moment for the match, with PSG dominating the ball. Saint-Étienne had no choice but to drop back and hope to score in a counterattack.
In this tactical analysis, we will do an analysis of how Saint-Étienne proved an even battle for PSG, even after the red card. Moreover, we will see how Saint-Étienne changed their tactics to cope with having 10 men on the field.
PSG started the game with a 4-4-2, which in defence turned into a 4-3-3 usually as Neymar rarely comes back to defend. In fact, the 4-3-3 formation is the one they have used the most in Ligue 1 this season.
There was no surprise with Keylor Navas starting as a goalkeeper as he is the first choice. With the injury of Juan Bernat, Mitchel Bakker played. He is a promising young Dutch left-back who played a decent game. The right-back was Thilo Kehrer, who had to be changed in the first half as he got injured.
Thiago Silva and Marquinhos were the centre-back pairing, with Thiago Silva playing his last cup game as he will not renew his contract. In the midfield, Thomas Tuchel added a more defensive-minded player that is Idrissa Gueye along with a more technical player such as Leandro Paredes. These two create a balance in the midfield.
Moving on is the highly talented attack that PSG has with Neymar, Mauro Icardi, Kylian Mbappé, and Ángel Di María. This is one of the best attacks in world football, with them having a combined 51 goals in Ligue 1. However, Mbappé had to be changed by Pablo Sarabia as he got injured in the red card accident.
On the other hand, Saint-Étienne started with a 4-2-3-1. As goalkeeper was Jessy Moulin and Claude Puel started with a centre-back pairing with varied experience. He put Loïc Perrin, the veteran captain who received the red card after a very hard tackle on Mbappé. Then there is Wesley Fofana, their promising centre-back who played the final at a good level.
The two centre-defensive midfielders are players who are physically strong but are also decent on the ball. This was formed by Yann M’Vila and Mahdi Camara. On the right-back position was another veteran with international experience, having played many years in the EPL. This is Mathieu Debuchy. On the other side is Timothée Kolodziejczak, who is an experimented left-back as his original position is centre-back.
For the attack, it is led by Ryad Boudebouz who also has experience outside of France, having played in Spain. He is a technical player who has a great left foot. As striker was Romain Hamouma, the veteran who has played 8 years for Saint-Étienne. For him, this was the chance to finally win a title with the team he has been in for a long time. Finally, on the right side is the young Yvann Maçon and on the left is Denis Bouanga, the quick Gabonese player.
Both teams pressed high but first, we will talk about Saint-Étienne. Before the red card that happened in the 31st minute, they were pressing high when Keylor Navas had the ball. The attacking-midfielder Boudebouz would join Hamouma in pressing.
Saint-Étienne realised that they have more of a chance of winning the ball in the air than on the ground. This is because in the air they have some physical players as their whole defence and defensive midfielders are physically imposing. This is compared to PSG’s attack, who are not the best in the air. It is difficult to imagine Neymar or Di María seriously contesting a header against a Saint-Étienne defender.
In fact, Saint-Étienne has the third-best aerial duels statistics in Ligue 1, making 40.66 per game with a success rate of 47%. On the other hand, PSG has the worst, making 19.67 aerial duels per game but with a success rate of 47% too. Claude Puel must have seen this statistic when making the decision on pressing forward.
He must have known that with his team being experienced in fighting aerial duels this season, they have higher chances of winning these duels against PSG players who make few.
Moreover, if they do try to play it out from the back and Saint-Étienne recovers the ball, they are a lot closer to PSG’s goal. This means that if they press well and recover the ball, they can try to finish the play in two or three touches. Seeing as PSG is a better team, this direct way of playing would benefit them as Saint-Étienne don’t have to make an elaborate play to score.
Actually, one of their best chances came from stealing the ball in PSG’s half. As seen in Figure one, Hamouma has just recovered the ball by intercepting a pass. He passes it to his oncoming teammate who dribbles past Marquinhos and nearly scores. This shows that in a few passes, Saint-Étienne can be very dangerous.
In Figure two, we can see Saint-Étienne’s readiness to press high with two players.
PSG also pressed forwards as seen in Figure three. They do this because they want to have the ball as much as possible. With their team being superior to the rest in France, they want to dominate games through possession and when they lose the ball, they counter-press.
Through this, they limit the opponent’s possession and in Figure three, they are pressuring the opponent’s keeper for him to kick it out and PSG to recover. In fact, PSG has the best pressing intensity of Ligue 1.
They have a PPDA of 196.36. This is the passes per defensive actions so the lower the figure, the better. Having a low figure means that PSG allows the opponent to make the fewest passes before they make a defensive action to recover the ball.
Saint-Étienne’s way of attacking
Before the red card, their main way of attack was through the right. This is because on the left, Kolodziejczak is not really a natural left-back, therefore his attacking qualities are not great. On the other side is Mathieu Debuchy, the veteran who is a natural right-back and attacks well.
Another reason why they attacked through the right is that Claude Puel knows that Neymar rarely comes back to defend. This means that they would sometimes have a 2 vs 1 attacking option against PSG’s left-back.
In Figure four, we see Debuchy running to contest the ball against Bakker. Here we also see one of the rare times Neymar dropped to help in defence. Even if he came back to help, he is not doing a good job, as we see that Saint-Étienne’s right-winger is making a run and Neymar is not covering him.
An interesting move they did on the right was bringing Hamouma there. He is the striker but this way, he can surprise Bakker by moving to this position and then the right-winger can go into the box.
This is shown in Figure five, where Hamouma is actually crossing the ball and the right-winger has joined the attackers in the box. This appearance of the right-winger causes surprise for PSG’s defenders as he is not expected to be there. We also visualise that it is a 3 vs 2 situation in the box now and Saint-Étienne wins this header and generate a good opportunity.
After the red card, Saint-Étienne dropped back and did not have as many chances as before. Now they were more focused on recovering the ball and going on a quick counter-attack. Whereas before the red card they were being more direct in their build-up, launching the ball forwards, after the red card they tried to play out more from the back.
This is because they now had only one striker who was the furthest man up. Also, this striker was Wahbi Khazri who was subbed on and he is not the best in the air. He is more technical and prefers the ball at his feet.
This brought more risk but if they wanted to create trouble when they had the ball, they needed to play out from the back to have control of the ball if they reached higher up the pitch. In Figure six, we see how they played out from the back in a risky situation with PSG pressing high.
However, they got out of that pressure well and now they could decide what to do better. If they had been direct, Khazri would probably not have won many balls in the air and so Saint-Étienne would have had much less of the ball.
PSG’s way of attacking
Before the red card, PSG was employing a more direct style of play, with the attackers immediately looking for goal when on the ball. Due to their sheer talent, PSG’s attack tries to cut through a team with either their passing combinations or trickery.
Their only goal comes this way, with Mbappé making a one-two and sprinting to the area where he shoots but misses, only for Neymar to finish it off.
PSG also used quick transitions from defence to attack. Their attack is quite fast apart from being talented which means that they cause danger on the break. As seen in Figure seven, a long ball is made to Di María behind the defence. He is quick enough to get to it and provides PSG with a very good opportunity.
Another method PSG uses to attack is moving Di María and sometimes Neymar to the middle. By moving Di María to the middle, he goes in behind the midfield to receive the ball in between the midfield and the defence. This is the most dangerous place for a player to receive the ball as he can turn and immediately head towards goal.
As visualised in Figure eight, Di María is just behind the midfield. Another way this works is because he surprises the midfield by being in that position. Thus, we see that the opponent left-midfielder is still not aware of him but the centre-midfielder is and is running towards him. Either way, he is in enough space for Gueye to pass him the ball.
What this also produces is the possibility of incorporating the right-back in the attack as the right side is isolated if Di María comes to the middle. This brings more people into the attack so more attacking opportunities. Therefore, in Figure nine, the substituted PSG right-back Colin Dagba is in a 1 vs 1 situation against the opponent left-back.
After the red card, PSG dominated the possession as Saint-Étienne dropped back and became more compact. This allowed PSG to push the team higher up but since there were now fewer spaces, they had to fully bring in the full-backs to the attack.
Through this, they make the pitch as wide as possible since they are trying to stretch Saint-Étienne as much as possible. By stretching the opponent, it allows for more spaces to make progressive passes into the talented PSG attackers through the opponent’s midfield.
In Figure 10, we can appreciate how the full-backs are now in the opponent’s half and how they are stretching the pitch.
To combat these passes through Saint-Étienne’s midfield, they started to let their centre-backs come out to intercept or to not allow the PSG player to turn. If they did not do this, PSG players could receive the ball behind the midfield and comfortably turn towards goal.
However, this is a risky operation, especially against a team such as PSG. When the centre-backs come out, they leave big spaces behind as they leave their position. If the other team can manage to get through the centre-back when he comes out, it is very dangerous.
For example, in Figure 11, Pablo Sarabia had come down to receive the ball and Saint-Étienne’s centre-back came out to block him. However, Sarabia lets the ball go between his legs so it becomes a pass to Di María who is behind him. Consequently, Saint-Étienne’s centre-back is left stranded and having left an enormous gap in defence.
The play continues with Di María receiving the ball and turning. Since there is only one centre-back, he had to decide between covering Sarabia who was making the run in behind or going for Di María. He does something in between which makes Di María find Sarabia who goes on and nearly scores. In Figure 12 below, we see how far away the centre-back who left his area is from all this action.
This proves that this strategy of centre-backs coming out should be done only if you are very sure you are going to block the ball, otherwise it leaves the team in a vulnerable position.
Overall, it was an entertaining match where Saint-Étienne competed for the game the whole time, even with a red card. It is a shame that the game was conditioned by such a nasty accident but it was also interesting to see how both teams adapted to this red card. PSG changed their attacking strategy and positioned themselves in the opponent’s half while bringing the full-backs up. On the other hand, Saint-Étienne started to play out more from the back which benefitted them and allowed them to still play well. The game ended with what most people were expecting with PSG winning but it was far from a one-sided game as Saint-Étienne knew their strengths such as their aerial duels and also adapted well to be able to contest the trophy.