PSG earned an important away victory against Marseille despite being a man down for majority of the match.
Andre-Pierre Gignac was fit enough to start on the bench, so Ellie Baup started Jordan Ayew as the lone striker in his 4-2-3-1. Andre Ayew, Mathieu Valbuena and Dimitri Payet played behind the Ghanaian striker, while Gianelli Imbula and Jacques-Alaixys Romao protected the back four.
Laurent Blanc stuck with the 4-3-3 that was successful against Benfica midweek. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi kept their places in the attack, while Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti formed a midfield trio.
This was far from a Sunday night spectacle – PSG’s threat from set-pieces and direct balls proved to be pivotal, as Marseille produced a mediocre performance.
It was always going to be interesting to see how Marseille approached the match considering they were the home side – so it was disappointing to see their overall caution. Braup’s men dropped into two banks of four and allowed PSG to have possession of the ball.
Marseille kept a highline and focused on minimizing space between the lines for Blanc’s men to penetrate. While PSG struggled to push forward as a unit, Marseille’s failure to press Blanc’s men limited their time on the ball. This meant that Braup was content with his side’s performance without the ball, despite PSG’s superiority in possession for large portions of the match.
Like Braup’s men, PSG was content with allowing their opponents to hold possession – this could be down to Marseille’s lack of urgency when going forward, as Valbuena was their only spark in the final third. Yet, Marseille was beginning to create a few half-chances and Salvatore Sirigu was forced into making a double save midway through the first half to deny Andre Ayew and Valbuena.
Blanc urged his men to push forward and press Marseille off goal-kicks. Ibrahimovic and Cavani pressed the Marseille centre backs, while Verratti followed Imbula, who dropped deeper to receive the ball. This prevented Braup’s men from pushing forward as a unit, and gave PSG more leverage in the match.
Once Blanc’s men began to press higher up the pitch, they stifled Marseille’s attack, but unfortunately for PSG, their success was short-lived.
Controversy sprung in the 29th minute, when Thiago Motta was sent off for fouling Valbuena in the box. The Italian failed to clear a header and Valbuena beat Motta to the ball, forcing him to kick down the French playmaker. To make matters worse, Andre Ayew converted from the spot, handing Marseille the lead.
This forced Blanc to introduce Adrien Rabiot for Lavezzi, as PSG were now a 4-3-2. Based on Cavani’s fantastic work ethic in wide areas, it was logical for Lavezzi to depart, as he had no significant impact on the match. The change left PSG with no direct winger, which gave Marseille’s fullbacks license to push forward.
However, Cavani drifted to both flanks on countless occasions when Marseille was in possession to protect his fullbacks. There was also a reshuffle in midfield, as Verratti became the deepest midfielder, while Matuidi and Rabiot were handed the responsibility to drift over to the flanks if Marseille’s fullbacks pushed forward.
With approximately 70 minutes left to play, PSG looked destined to drop points, but Blanc’s immediate tactical change was significant towards the pattern of the match.
For all of PSG’s dominance in possession, it was surprising to see them score after Motta’s sending off. The issue with PSG’s possession was the lack of conviction in the final third – in fairness Marseille’s organization without the ball was also decisive. Despite possessing a numerical advantage in midfield, Blanc’s men encountered issues finding openings in the final third. Ibrahimovic dropped deeper and encouraged runners to attack space behind him – a role he played effectively last year in the Champions League.
More so, it was PSG’s aerial presence that caused Marseille’s backline many issues. Based on the personnel at Blanc’s disposal, it wasn’t much of a surprise, but the amount of time and space PSG players received to win aerial duels was shocking. Prior to Maxwell’s equalizer, both Ibrahimovic and Verratti forced Steve Mandanda to make saves – as they broke free in the box to connect with set-piece deliveries.
However, it was evident Marseille couldn’t cope with PSG’s aerial presence, and it showed in both goals.
1) Maxwell received a pass from Cavani – who did well to keep the play alive– and squared the ball to Ibrahimovic, who sprayed a pass out wide to Gregory Van der Wiel. Maxwell made a diagonal run into the box and nodded Van der Wiel’s cross past Mandanda.
2) Mandanda saved Alex’s header from a Verratti free kick, and Marquinhos chased the ball – that was rolling wide – and was blatantly fouled by Andre Ayew in the box. Ibrahimovic stepped up to the spot and sent Mandanda the other way, giving PSG the lead.
Although PSG struggled to break down an organized Marseille side, they provided an aerial threat on set-pieces and balls from wide areas, which earned them two goals.
There was a bit of a role reversal in the second half based on Marseille’s numerical advantage. Yet, Marseille were disappointing going forward – they lacked creativity, invention and urgency in their buildup play. In fairness, the only player that looked capable of creating a chance or winning the game was Valbuena, but he found himself linking play in wide areas, opposed to threading balls between the PSG backline.
Blanc’s men were keen on sitting back in their initial shape – with Cavani dropping into a wide position – as they waited for Marseille to make mistakes and concede possession. Essentially, PSG played with no direct striker as Ibrahimovic maintained a position yards away from the midfield – becoming Blanc’s main facilitator going forward.
With Marseille failing to press PSG, Verratti dropped between the centre backs to sustain possession and dictate the tempo of the match, while Matuidi was given the duty to make penetrating runs into the space behind the defenders.
Blanc decided to add steel and pace in his midfield as they closed out the match by introducing Zoumana Camara and Lucas Moura – and they focused on winning the ball in midfield and launching Moura on the counter.
PSG had a game plan going forward that didn’t necessarily succeed, yet Marseille’s naïve approach going forward gave Blanc’s men the incentive to gamble.
PSG earned three massive points to keep pace with Monaco, while Marseille displayed why they’re not legitimate title contenders.
Blanc’s men weren’t spectacular – the PSG manager’s decision to maintain numbers in midfield was pivotal, as they controlled central areas and were efficient in front of goal.
Meanwhile, it was a dismal performance from the hosts – they failed to stamp their authority on the match, struggled to defend set-pieces, and were wasteful with possession. The main concern going forward for Marseille is whether they can threaten a side if Valbuena isn’t performing, as they looked dreary when he wasn’t on the ball.