Having lost the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 clash with Borussia Dortmund, the pressure is on PSG to turn around the 2-1 deficit.

With Thomas Tuchel changing to a 3421 from his usual 442/4222 formation that he’s deployed for large chunks of the season, Paris Saint-Germain didn’t look as comfortable or assured in this three at the back shape. Missing the width and fluidity of the 442, they struggled to stretch Dortmund and use Kylian Mbappe’s amazing athleticism and technical qualities.

Looking far more dangerous in the 442/4222, which allows Thomas Tuchel to play all four of his amazing offensive weapons in Neymar, Mbappé, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi, it’ll be fascinating to see if he switches back for the crucial second leg. Moreover, the fact he can call on such brilliant backups like Edinson Cavani, Pablo Sarabia and Julian Draxler further amplify their potential final third threat.

While obvious reservations about balance and defensive security once the ball is lost are justifiable in this animation, PSG still weren’t great at stopping Dortmund’s threat in their back three. So let loose his tremendous offensive weapons on this big stage is worth a try, as PSG are desperate to reach the quarter-finals after stumbling in recent seasons with some high profile defeats.

When looking at the upsides associated with playing the quartet up front, there’s plenty to admire, as they give PSG so much offensive unpredictability, impetus and variety, for they blend physicality, power, speed, technique, intelligent movement and precision wonderfully. The way PSG organise themselves into a 4222, this allows the forwards to occupy interesting positions centrally and in the half-spaces while making room for the fullbacks to progress when the nominal wingers tuck inside.

So difficult to mark due to their positioning, which sees them pin and draw markers, defenders are constantly confronted with dilemmas on who they should mark. This is only heightened when PSG’s attackers smoothly interchange positions and mix up their shape so it takes on asymmetrical designs, thus creating extra confusion. Indeed, by never letting the defence settle and by constantly altering defenders’ reference points, PSG are subsequently very effective at generating disconnects in the opposition’s backline and producing space for one another to exploit.

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Asymmetric 4222 shape.
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Central occupation of forwards making space for Meunier.
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Di Maria drawing his man inside to create space for Meunier.
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Winger pinning his opponent to create space for the fullback.

When PSG indent their wingers to populate key central areas and play as auxiliary 10s, this enables them to enjoy a strong central presence between the lines, where they can combine quickly to move and then unlock defences. As the defence is frequently drawn forward towards the overloaded zone, runners will cunningly burst in behind and be noticed due to the final receiver usually being goal facing. With many up-back-through and third man run routines on show, PSG do a wonderful job of timing their depth runs as the defence steps out, as they not only exploit the dynamic advantage they have but also the blindside of makers whose attention is elsewhere.

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Drawing the opposition central to then find the isolated Neymar.
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Neymar exploiting the space in behind as PSG unbalance Monaco’s backline with their central presence.
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Superbly timed third man run by Mbappé.

Possessing such a formidable threat, it’s interesting how the two forwards will smartly be positioned to occupy four defenders, with this meaning the wingers/10s can find heaps of room in the 10 spaces, for the defenders are hesitant to step out due to the threat in behind.

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The forwards’ movement stretches their line allowing Neymar to receive between the lines.
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Top occupation of spaces as Di Maria receives between the lines to start a goalscoring passage for PSG.
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Mbappé pinning two markers to create space for Icardi.

The way members of the frontline will either drop deep centrally or push wide to manufacture overloads is another feature. Picking their moments shrewdly when to support the play, this has helped them bypass the opposition in these areas and take advantage of the extra man to progress upfield. A byproduct associated with this is that it gives the free man extra time and space to execute their actions and provoke a pressing action to draw an opponent out of their designated area of operation.

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Quality underlapping run by Bernat as Neymar drifts wide.

With such a heavy focus on attacking in this system, how PSG get multiple numbers in the box in preparation to receive crosses and cutbacks has been an excellent avenue for them to utilise. Attacking the box at differing heights and depths and with three to five men, opponents have found it difficult to contain the Parisians here. With one man usually in the middle, one at the front and back post and one often at the edge of the box looking to capitalise on the space available as the defence collapses deep, the ball holder certainly has no shortage of options.

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Great numbers in the box in different areas to form an advantageous 4v3.
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Meunier has many quality options in the box to assess.

Furthermore, the way they use opposite movements, zig-zag runs and double movements only increase their elusiveness for adversaries trying to keep tabs on them.

Meanwhile, when it comes to counter attacks, the fantastic four up top are devastating. Often positioned ideally to be an outlet, once PSG recover possession, many options are available wide and in the middle. Breaking at rapid speed, they burst upfield swiftly and run good routes to spread out their backtracking opponents. Able to turn defence into attack in an instant, PSG regularly find themselves in advantageous 4v4 or 4v3 situations to compound issues for opponents.

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Generating a lethal 4v3 on the counter.

Boasting masters with the ball at their feet like Di Maria and Neymar, amazing runners such as Mbappé and elite finishing from Icardi, Neymar and Mbappé, they wreak havoc in both transition and methodical build-up with their complementary skill sets.

Dovetailing cohesively and with fluidity, it’s been brilliant to see them build their relationships and be on the same wavelength most of the time even though all of these stars are such incredibly gifted individuals. Forever destabilising and unbalancing opponents, Dortmund will unquestionably have their work cut dealing with PSG’s multifaceted frontline if Tuchel plays all his big guns together.

Only time will tell what Tuchel decides, as he will be weighing up all the pros and cons associated with this setup. On the surface, at least, and after seeing his team’s uninspiring first leg performance, it would appear worth a shot to be brave and go for this ultra attacking approach at the Parc des Princes.

 

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