Barca vs PSG, Camp Nou
Firstly, PSG played extremely well for a team which were expected to take a tremendous beating. Much of the pre-match talk were, unsurprisingly, focused on PSG’s tactics to contain the Barca machine, and those who follow Ligue 1 regularly will note that the French league leaders’ exploits to date were born of individual flashes of brilliance rather than any collective build-up play. Of course, to expect a newly-assembled team to play with any sustained fluency is naive at best, but it is all the more imperative that against arguably the most collective of teams, PSG needed to perform as a unit.
For a team who’s not known for their defensive prowess and tactical maturity, many questioned the approach Ancelotti would take. Although their attack is an envy of many a club in Europe, Jeremy Menez, Javier Pastore, and Ezequiel Lavezzi are hardly household names to perform a shutout needed against Barcelona. Add in a 38-year-old David Beckham and you have a team ripe for a pounding.
Instead, Ancelotti turned the tables by playing to his team’s strengths, naming as bold as in-your-face team as he could. The picture below illustrates the effectiveness of how bold PSG were to face down Barca:
The back four was almost on par with the halfway line. When PSG won the ball, they worked it out of trouble with remarkable simplicity, suggesting two things: (i) Barca’s pressing are no longer of the intensity it used to be under Guardiola, and (ii) PSG looked to stretch the play quickly.
Firstly, it is remarkable how they always managed to find one spare man to leave with the ball. Barca, wary of the threat Ibrahimovic posed in the air, retreated quickly, and PSG further cemented this advantage by pushing bodies up. This left breathing space for Beckham, and he found the wide players with impressive consistency. The criticism of Beckham then was unfair; he was not there to press like Matuidi, although his role in the pressing was acceptable. He was there to prompt attacks, and in long delivery, no one does it better than Beckham.
Barca tend to press much better at Camp Nou, and it is hard to imagine Beckham being given the same space to take control of proceedings there. Also, 2 away goals give them the upper hand. But PSG possess an absolute beast of a wide player in Lavezzi, and with Ibrahimovic occupying the weak backline high up, PSG just could manage to compete for the space up top.
As always, the battle for space will dominate the match. The team which finds the best balance to achieve this, will go through. Having said that, given the position Barca is in (they will progress if the score stays at 0-0), it is hard to look beyond them progressing,since no other team are better at being defensive in keeping the ball away from the opponent. Tiki-taka has now come full circle as a defensive tactic as much as an offensive one.