Group C is finely poised after yesterday’s night of UCL and any two among PSG, Liverpool or Napoli can progress into next round. It already was interestingly poised and PSG’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool have further made the water murky. Let us take a look at what happened on field when two German masterminds collided on field with their sides. Both PSG and Liverpool have great three pronged attack which are arguably the two best three men attacks in the World at the moment, which one is better is anybody’s pick. The playing style of both the teams suggested that they were wary of the opposition front three.
Klopp went back to his tried and tested 4-3-3 (with a small tweak catering to the PSG front three) from his weekend’s successful 4-2-3-1 which was deployed in EPL. He fielded almost the same side which he fielded in the last match against PSG which they won 3-2 with Gomez in place of Arnold being the only change. Gomez was introduced due to a tactical switch, since at no point Klopp wanted his two CB’s pitted in a numerical disadvantage against three PSG attackers, MNC aka Mbappe,Neymar & Cavani. The idea must have been that Gomez being a CB by trade actually, he would provide more defensive solidarity and will combine with Henderson & the two CB’s to make it a 4 vs 3 against MNC. But it was surprising that Arnold was omitted after having a fantastic game against Watford this weekend. Hence we saw that in the game, Gomez actually stayed deeper and Robertson was flying up to join in build up and attack. Considering that both Neymar and Mbappe likes to attack from the left side, this extra cushion makes sense tactically, even at the cost of an in form attacking fullback in Alexander Arnold.
Midfield comprised of the tried and tested Milner-Henderson-Wijnaldum, who faced PSG in last match as well and were the midfield three for Liverpool in last UCL final. Henderson in pivot flanked by two box to box mids, one hardworking, disciplined and experienced in form of Milner, and another one capable of dribbling and movements in Gini, makes perfect sense on paper, however perhaps lacking in range of passing and press resistance when it is required. Front three were MFS aka Mane-Firmino-Salah with Firmino deployed as a proper 9 this time with Salah in right wide forward role. Liverpool and Klopp planned to provide extra protection for MNC, play gegenpressing in midfield where Robertson and Firmino would join the midfielders to suffocate the base of PSG midfield, keep the PSG CB duo occupied by the clever movements of Firmino , and exploit the flanks via the speed of Mane & Salah.
In the last match Tuchel fielded a 4-3-3 to match Liverpool’s 4-3-3 and made some mistakes in the process. This time he made the tweaks to rectify his system. The pre match line up showed a 4-4-2 but he actually lined up in a 4-1-3-2 , a surprisingly dutch system from a German with a Latin American twist, football truly is global now. Just like last match against Liverpool, he placed Marquinhos in pivot, a pure Latin American No 5. He fielded Kehrer in RB, who is more defensive compared to Alves since he also wanted a 4 vs 3 protection against MFS. Marquinhos was mobile and marked both Salah and Firmino based on situations doubled up with a CB. Veratti was the wheel spinner and was mainly tasked with bypassing Liverpool press using his fantastic ball retention abilities and passing. This time Tuchel placed di maria on right side and he joined Veratti in more of a box to box role drifting occasionally to right wing to provide width and movement when required. Neymar was given a free role and dropped in and joined in midfield when required. Thus Tuchel provided extra protection to his defence and also maintained numerical superiority in midfield. It was a narrow midfield from PSG and in this process Tuchel sacrificed width on one flank, but when you have fantastic dribblers like neymar, mbappe and di maria who can also join in midfield when required (especially neymar,who has a wide range of passing and di maria, who has a fantastic engine), then width can be provided by such multi faceted players. Bernat was the one providing width on left flank combining with Neymar and Mbappe. Tuchel did not want to keep possession, rather he wanted to cause turn overs in midfield and pounce with the fantastic attacking options he had. Hence he went for midfield numerical superiority and sacrificed width on right flank. And his plan worked to the tee.
A brief sum up formation wise is detailed in the picture below :
See how deep Gomez is, almost like a third CB in line with Lovren. Comparatively see, how high and wide Bernat is on left side of PSG. Also notice how deep Marquinhos is with Di maria, Veratti and Neymar forming almost a separate three men midfield. Also see how Mbappe and Cavani are shifted towards left and centre and lack of width on PSG’s right hand side where Kehrar combined with Silva and Marquinhos to defend Mane and Robertson.
PSG, as discussed above, started the game with high tempo and due to their numerical superiority in midfield and lack of a true elite controller in midfield of Liverpool, dominated the game. First goal was caused due to this, the chaos was felt by Liverpool midfield and defence and the right side of Liverpool defence, despite provided with extra cushion in Gomez, suffered from this. Mabappe and Neymar were combining well with Veratti and Bernat and were overloading the right side of Liverpool. Poor clearance and lose of concentration from a jaded Liverpool defence produced a loose ball which was pounced up by Bernat during the 13th minute mark thereby giving the lead to PSG. Similarly during second goal, Neymar released Mbappe who produced a low cross to Cavani who was denied by Allison, but the rebound was caught up by Neymar who was on a fantastic off the ball run and made it 2-0 during 37th minute. From there it was already very difficult for Liverpool to come back but they got a boost at the end of first half where di maria gifted them a penalty which was converted by Milner.
Liverpool came out with intent in the second half, dominated in parts and Klopp produced necessary changes too, but PSG having the lead went on defensive mode and tried to catch up on counters via flanks. At the end, it proved too much for Liverpool and the match ended in 2-1 in favour of PSG. All eyes will be on Anfield in the next match where they take on Napoli, which essentially will decide the group.