After three games in group A of the Champions League Paris Saint-Germain topped a group that looked to be a straightforward group with European heavyweights PSG and Real Madrid likely to claim first and second place.
Certainly, after the French giants beat the Belgian side Club Brugge 0-5, the gap to PSG and Real seemed too big for Brugge, although they did put up a good fight during the group stage games.
This tactical analysis will analyse the tactics used by both coaches that saw them play out an interesting return game in this UEFA Champions League group stage match. But the main focus is to look at the tactical changes Clement made from the previous defeat against Paris Saint-Germain.
Formation and lineups
Paris Saint-Germain lined up in an unusual 4-3-3 system. Keylor Navas stood between the posts. In front of him, Thomas Tuchel chose Juan Bernat, Thiago Silva and Presnel Kimpembe. As Thomas Meunier was still out injured, Colin Dagba filled in at right-back. The midfield three consisted out of Gana Gueye, Marco Verratti and Marquinhos. Upfront Mauri Icardi acted as a lone striker. Angel Di Maria occupied the left and Kylian Mbappé, back to full fitness, operating in a freer role on the right hand side. The biggest team news, however, was Neymar Junior’s absence from the PSG side, with a muscle injury still ruling him out of the game.
On the other hand Club Brugge made a couple of changes after their 0-5 defeat in the last Champions League encounter with PSG. Phillipe Clement chose to start his side in a 4-1-4-1 shape. But during the game, Brugge changed their shape to a back five with four midfielders and one lone striker to secure the defensive performance. As usual, the former Liverpool goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, started in goal. The backline consisted of Federico Ricca, Simon Deli, Brandon Mechele en Kossounou Odilon. The central midfield existed of Éder Álvarez Balanta, Hans Vanaken and Mats Rits. The flanks were occupied by Emmanuel Bonaventure Dennis and Krépin Diatta. With David Okereke acting as the lone striker.
Not the same game
Despite losing the home game with 0-5 Brugge didn’t make it an easy game for the Ligue 1 champions. In the home game, Brugge looked to exploit spaces in the final third behind the full-backs and were a constant threat to PSG’s defensive line. There were often times in the first game which saw PSG being forced back into their own half trying to stop the attacking movements of Brugge.
The possession stat in that game was also nearly evenly shared. PSG had 54 per cent possession and Brugge of course 46 per cent possession. This just shows that Brugge did turn up on the night.
In the second leg, PSG dominated the possession stat with a total of 66 per cent. The idea was clear. Keep the ball in order to prevent any opportunity of Club Brugge.
In the image below shows the average positions of the PSG players and the combinations with more than 3 passes in one direction. The dot size corresponds to the number of touches. The image clarifies that the most passes were between the two centre-backs and the three midfielders. It confirms the control PSG looked to have on the game by playing short, riskless passes over forward passes.
The image below shows the 2 plus 3 chain PSG use to build the play from the back. The main aim was to build patiently and to provoke the Brugge midfielders to press the three midfielders.
As PSG’s centre-backs play the ball into the three midfielders, the Brugge midfielders try to stay close to them. Consequently, space opens up between the lines. Especially because the midfield consisted out of two defensive-minded midfielders in Gueye and Marquinhos. And PSG only lined up two technical attacking players in Di Maria and Mbappé due to injuries. It was crucial that the PSG attackers had enough space to play in.
Because the Brugge midfielders would step out to pressurize the ball-carrying midfielder, there had to be a specific system to their pressing. The Brugge midfielders would often utilize a man orientated press system. As a result, PSG would look to manipulate this system.
In this case below, Marquinhos drops between the two centre-backs. PSG’s 2 plus 3 structure changes to 3 plus 2 structure with Di Maria dropping into the two chain. As a consequence Vanaken steps out to the wide centre-back, space opens up in midfield but because Brugge switched to a system with five defenders, it allows them the step out aggressively from the backline. As there are four covering defenders remaining.
Brugge’s pressing system
So to prevent the French side from creating chances, Club Brugge would utilise a man orientated pressing system from a medium block. A great example of the man orientations was when Verratti received the ball from one of the centre-backs and is followed by Rits until he passes the ball to one of his teammates.
The man orientated press also facilitated the Belgian side to pressurise PSG higher up the field rather than staying in their medium block. Vanaken would be the first player pressurising when a pressing trigger occurred.
The way he would press was through moving from one player to another. Before we mentioned that Club Brugge use various pressing triggers or traps, one of them are when the opposition centre-backs has a bad first touch. Here we can see them utilise this pressing trigger in a deeper area. Here they use deliberate, coordinated jumps in an attempt to win the ball. In the below image we see Kimpembe plays the ball to Silva, and Vanaken immediately commits forward, leaving Marquinhos behind him.
With this movement, Club Brugge tried to pressurise PSG higher up the field. And surely after trailing with a goal, Brugge were eager to force an opening. In the below image it shows how Rits’ move from Gueye to Navas starts the high press. It was no surprise that from this high press, Brugge won the ball back to then win the penalty that could have been the equaliser.
Brugge creative in possession
As stated above, in the home game the possession was evenly shared between both teams. This game PSG had most of the ball and consequently Brugge had to make the most out of every time they had the ball.
Brugge tried to make the most of their possession building through a 2-3-5 structure when building from the back. This structure wasn’t what affected the game though.
It was more PSG’s structure that allowed Brugge to progress the ball smoothly through the thirds. Although Paris Saint-Germain defended in four-diamond-two formation and consequently they overloaded the midfield in a four versus three situation, Brugge could easily find space to progress. Without playing through the centre.
This was due to the narrow positioning of Mbappé and Icardi. The passing lanes to the full-backs stayed open, which made it easy for the centre-backs to pick them out when building from the back. Also because of the narrow positioning of the strikers the space between PSG’s lines gets even bigger when the first line press is easily outplayed.
After the ball is played to the full-back, Brugge’s way forward was through targeting the left side. The Belgians created a 5vs4 overload with significant movement from the pivot Alvarez Balanta and the striker Okereke moving to the left half-space.
The advantage of this overload was that they would easily find their way behind PSG’s backline. But once there, there wouldn’t be enough men in front of the goal to get on the end of a cross. The statistics confirm this, out of 14 crosses only two of them were accurate and found a teammate.
Clement’s men were also prepared to build through the middle. And again it was impressive to see how creative the Belgian coach is.
This time, when building through the middle he would ask his men to vacate the pivot area in order to find a way forward. In the image below we can see how Alvarez Balanta runs to the side to pull his man marker with him. This opens up free space down the middle which Vankaken moves into.
Note how he comes from the half-space and from an overloaded area. This gives Vanaken two benefits. The first one being to receive with the right body shape. And the second is to lose his man marker through the movement from an area packed with players, it’s more difficult to follow when surrounded by more players.
Paris Saint-Germain topped the group only conceding two goals. This sent a strong message to the other Champions League contenders. Thomas Tuchel is looking to finally bring the prestige trophy to Paris as the competition restarts in August. The Ligue 1 finished early this season and this meant PSG were crowned champions of France for the seventh time in ten years. This gives them the advantage to fully focus on the Champions League once it restarts.
Club Brugge, on the other hand, may have lost the match and finished third in the group but the performance on the night was magnificent from Clement’s men. They weren’t left empty-handed this season by finishing first in the Belgium Pro League. It was the second league title in two years for Clement after winning the Belgian league last season with KRC Genk. After this analysis, we can conclude that the future looks bright for Phillip Clement. Hopefully, his Belgian colleagues can follow his footsteps proving that Belgium have quality coaches.