PSG go top, but midfield dominance masks deficiencies

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Edinson Cavani PA PhotosEdinson Cavani celebrates his goal for PSG.

Paris Saint-Germain edged past Toulouse 2-0 at the Parc des Princes on Saturday, going top of Ligue 1 until Sunday night at least. The result was not as comfortable as the score line suggests though and Laurent Blanc's side struggled once again to maximise their considerable talents and thoroughly convince. Marquinhos and substitute Edinson Cavani's goals were enough to secure the points, but PSG's comprehensive domination of possession is masking a greater problem than simply finding the back of the net.

The defending champions enjoyed 61% of the ball over the entire 90 minutes against Toulouse and the midfield once again played a key role in achieving that feat. Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Adrien Rabiot were too good for Alain Casanova's solidly arranged unit, with Verratti in particular looking disciplined, purposeful and largely in control on the ball.

In the current PSG set-up though, the dominance of that three-man midfield is limiting the side's creativity in the final third. Blanc elected to go for a 4-3-3 again, bringing Rabiot in for Blaise Matuidi and restoring Motta to the line-up at the expense of the ineffectual Javier Pastore after Wednesday's narrow and uninspiring win over Valenciennes.

- PSG win at home

There was no quality lost as the side from the capital actually improved their ball retention, but PSG continue to suffer in creative terms with the regular deployment of three deep-lying players that leaves little room for individual ingenuity in the middle. Verratti in particular comes deep in Blanc's current system, unnecessarily so at times, starving his side of some much-needed invention further forward.

After witnessing another robotic display, Blanc, despite the result, will surely be concerned by the continued gap between the PSG front line and the midfield. Perhaps he thought he had addressed that by giving the fit again Jeremy Menez a chance from the start and Lucas Moura an opportunity to impress. Both players boast similar attributes to Ezequiel Lavezzi who was left on the bench ahead of a busy week of fixtures for the capital club.

Menez and Moura are arguably better at fulfilling the role of midfielders and supporting attackers because they familiar with playing wide in a four-man midfield or in a three-man strike force. However, they were unable to impose themselves on the game despite not spending as much time solely in the opposition's half of the pitch as Lavezzi does.

To overcome this, Blanc should consider letting Verratti off the leash somewhat. His creativity is not in doubt, the diminutive Italian is seen as one of the brightest young talents in world football and an heir to Andrea Pirlo's deep-lying creator crown in the near future. He is not allowed to use his talent to its full potential because of his deployment though.

If 4-3-3 is to work under Blanc, as well as solving the Cavani-Zlatan Ibrahimovic conundrum, he needs to push one of his midfielder's further forward to bridge the gap between the three forwards and the rest of the team. Verratti is arguably the only possibility in this area with Matuidi and Motta too defence-minded to take on playmaking responsibilities.

Pastore has already been tried in that role, but his failure so far this season culminated with an insipid showing at Valenciennes that resulted in him not even featuring in the squad against Toulouse. Verratti did help to provide one of the goals to overcome Toulouse; he headed down a Motta freekick into the path of Marquinhos, who scored his second goal in PSG colours at the second attempt.

Because of the lack of a clear link between Ibrahimovic and his support cast, the Swede cut a frustrated figure all afternoon. It looked as if tempers between himself and TFC central defender Aymen Abdennour would boil over before Cavani was bought on to replace him with 21 minutes left.

Rabiot, the midfield's other star performer on the day, was instrumental in creating the dubious penalty that El Matador converted. The teenager recovered the ball before playing Cavani in to be brought down in the 79th minute. The Uruguayan stepped up to take the spot kick himself and sent Ali Ahamada the wrong way to make the game safe.

But it was not until the dying stages that Toulouse really started to get at the major weakness that PSG are currently masking with their destructive and dominating midfield.

A shaky partnership between goal-scorer Marquinhos and veteran Zoumana Camara was exposed late on with substitute Eden Ben Basat missing a simple chance with an open goal gaping. Fellow replacement Wissam Ben Yedder then had a consolation strike ruled out for the visitors because of an offside.

Throughout the match the PSG pair, who have been thrown together out of circumstance and not choice, looked liable and lacking in authority at the back. Toulouse though, as their late misses showed, lacked the necessary bite to harm their hosts. The dominance of Blanc's midfield trio allows this weakness to remain largely unexposed, but should the pairing be required to continue then it could start to cost the champions.

Special mention should be made of PSG's on-loan Clement Chantome who lined up opposite his parent side on the day, putting in an energetic display and going close to scoring towards the end of the game.

The victory once again disguises the fact that Blanc's side are vulnerable at the back, and Le President will be glad to have picked up another clean sheet in the absence of Alex, who will likely return to face Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday.

PSG may well sit top of Le Championnat, albeit temporarily for now, but the side from the capital continue to be unable to realise their true potential.

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