Team Analysis: Christophe Galtier and his start at PSG

Can the new manager Christophe Galtier finally bring the Champions League to Paris?

Introduction

Paris Saint Germain – one of the biggest clubs in world football that didn’t win the Champions League so far. Despite spending a lot of money each year, the French regularly failed to win Europe’s biggest trophy. 

This season, a new manager was appointed. The former Nice and Lille coach Christophe Galtier replaced the Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino in the hope to finally bring the Champions League title to Paris. So far, his tenure turns out to be quite successful. PSG started the 2022/23 season very strong, winning 11 out of 12 games (1 draw). 

With the arrivial of Galtier, a new system was implemented to unite the strengths of their three superstars (Messi, Neymar, Mbappe). Particularly three factors of Galtier’s system explain the successful start into the season:

  • Build-up mechanisms
  • Attacking dynamics
  • Pressing principles

Attacking structure with common movements and variations.

Build-up mechanisms

During the build-up phase, PSG displays a variety of different structure. Usually, they form a 3-4-2-1. However, when they have to start their build-up from a goalkick, Galtier orders his team into a 4-2-1-3/4-2-4 formation. 

Thereby, Marquinhos moves alongside Verratti, forming a double pivot. Moreover, the wingbacks move deeper, basically acting as deep fullbacks in a back four, and the initial halfbacks move slightly narrower. Vitinha normally moves higher up the pitch, basically like a number 10. The front three (consisting of Neymar, Mbappe and Messi) is positioned even higher at times (especially Mbappe).

The aim is to stretch the opponent both horizontally and vertically, creating space in between the lines. Here, the wingbacks provide width while the high position of the front three urges the opponent to stay deeper creating more space vertically. Simultaneously, the 4-2 base is positioned very deep and looks to attract the opponent. 

PSG’s deep build-up structure against Lille. Deep wingbacks, double pivot with Marquinhos and high front line.

This initial structure is never static, but Galtier implemented different variations to force the opponent to adapt. In one variation Paris uses Vitinha deeper filling the wingback position. Consequently, the wingback (usually Hakimi) can move higher. Messi then occupies the number 10 position of Vitinha. This little variation creates nearly the same structure and serves the same purposes. However, this little rotation can create a dilemma for the opponent on who to mark. Defenders often fail to switch correctly creating a free man. Vitinha can be this free man since he receives more space when Hakimi pushes higher pulling his defender with him. The Portuguese can help PSG with his passing abilities and press-resistance in the build-up.

When building-up deep, PSG always involves Donnarumma. The goalkeeper allows Paris to have an 11v10 overload in possession, as the opponent’s goalkeeper doesn’t press. This in turn means that there is always a free man, who needs to be found through different ways such as clever movements or passing combinations.

Moreover, the goalkeeper can attract opponents. That’s because many teams see a pass to the keeper as a pressing trigger, as he is normally the least technically gifted player on the pitch. This in turn can open spaces or create a free man elsewhere. Even though, Donnarumma isn’t the best goalkeeper on the ball, he improved a lot lately and helps PSG in the build-up as a passing option. 

In addition, Donnarumma can be used as an option to relieve the pressure of his teammates or help PSG circulate the ball in the first line. 

Clermont’s left striker initially aimed to mark Ramos. However, as Donnarumma got the ball, the opponent decides to bend his run to keep Ramos in his cover-shadow and press Donnarumma. This means that Ramos is the free man now. Verratti moves deeper, helping his keeper as a passing option. Donnarumma eventually plays to Verratti, who plays a first-time pass to the free Ramos (third man combination) and Paris can break the press. 

As just seen in the image above the double pivot is another big part of PSG’s build-up. Verratti and Marquinhos try to stay close together and in a deep position at the beginning of the build-up, provoking the opposition to leave more players higher up the pitch, which in turn creates more space in between the lines and less defenders in higher zones.

However, that’s just the starting point of the build-up. When Paris played the first pass, Verratti and Marquinhos constantly make clever movements to either create space for themselves or someone else. At times, we would even see them breaking through in between the lines with a clever third man run. Additionally, with their movements, they look to help their teammates as an option to progress and get out of the pressure or position themselves in a way that they can access another player (e.g.: acting as a wall pass option for a third man combination). Verratti and Marquinhos normally look to position themselves on a different horizontal line, creating a diagonal angle, which is more difficult to defend for the opposition. Moreover, Verratti and Marquinhos could rotate horizontally as well, to unsettle the opponent and force him to make more decisions defensively.

Vitinha helps in the build-up as a passing option for Danilo. Marquinhos’ first little movement opened this passing lane. The Brazilian eventually gets away from his direct opponent on the blind-side and can help Vitinha as a passing option. Marquinhos gets the lay off and dynamically accesses the huge space in between the lines (third man run).

Situations like this one are very common in PSG’s build-up play. Vitinha or another player from the front line (usually Messi or Neymar) can drop deeper, creating an overload in the midfield and facilitating central progression (for example with a third man combination). 

Moving back to the double pivot, Verratti’s incredible press-resistance is also very helpful in the build-up for Paris Saint Germain. The Italian continuously shields the ball off extremely well with his body, can beat an opponent himself or give his teammates more time to position appropriately.

As already mentioned, when building up, PSG looks to attract opponents in the first line with their goalkeeper and the 4-2 base structure. Additionally, the French regularly attract pressure on one side of the pitch and then switch to the underloaded side. Especially, the ball-far wingback is often left open and can then be found through quick ball circulation.

The wingback then has various options to progress further up. An advantageous possibility is to play forwards to the 10, either in behind or in between the lines. As pressure is attracted in the first line, the ball-near 10 can access these spaces due to the stretched and often thinned backline of the opponent.

Tactical Theory: The various ways to attract pressure in possession

– accessing space in between the lines
– getting in behind
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Double movements (moving in one direction before quickly moving in another direction to create separation from the direct opponent), often performed by Neymar, allow the 10s to create even more space for themselves and help the wingback as an advantageous passing option.

When the 10 receives in between the lines, he can either turn if he has space and threaten the opponent in this strategically superior position or pull a defender out of position and open space in behind. To make use of this space in behind, PSG can use quick combinations. For example, a one-two with the wingback, allowing the wingback to breakthrough. Additionally, third man combinations with a 6 and runs in behind either by Mbappe or the wingback are possible as well.

Mendes has the ball on the wing and is under pressure. Neymar helps him as a passing option, starting with a quick double movement to create a little bit of separation from his marker. The Brazilian plays the ball right back to Mendes, who made a run in behind in the meantime and can now access the space, created by Neymar’s dropping movement.

The ball-near 10 can also move wider to support the wingback. This can stretch the backline horizontally even more and potentially create space for Mbappe or even a 6 to exploit with a run in behind.

Other passing option for the wingback is a pass to the ball-near 6, who can either break through dynamically or switch the play. Moreover, passes to Mbappe either in behind or in between the lines are possible as well.

Another possibility for the wingback when he receives is to beat his opponent directly. Mendes and Hakimi are incredibly quick and can use their pace, dribbling ability or make a clever first touch against the grain of their direct opponent to eliminate him.

Nevertheless, the wingback mostly tries to play the ball forward as fast as possible to PSG’s front three. They can either access a 6 for a layoff, beat their direct opponent through a dribble and first touch skill or combine through. The goal is always to make use of the space in between the lines/in.

PSG regularly breaks through dynamically with quick combinations like this one:

Mendes has the ball and recognizes Mbappe dropping in between the lines, who eventually ends up getting the ball. Neymar provides a diagonal lay-off option for Mbappe. The Frenchman quickly made a run in behind, after he released the ball. Unfortunately, Neymar’s pass in behind was slightly overhit.

At times, PSG does not fully switch the play to the wingback. Instead, the ball-far halfback can access a player from the front three as well sometimes when he had enough space. Again, the principle is to attract pressure in the first line and stretch the opponent vertically. Then, PSG looks to provoke opponents on one side, before they would switch to the other side, stretching the opposition horizontally. After this is achieved, passes are played forward, to exploit the gaps.

If a direct breakthrough isn’t possible, Paris circulates the ball, and the players position themselves in their 3-4-2-1 attacking formation.

Attacking dynamics

The compact 3-2 base of the 3-4-2-1 is key for clean ball progression and fast circulation, due to the close distances, diagonal passing angles and high number of players. Additionally, Paris uses a lot of different methods to progress forwards and attack the final third.

Tactical Theory: The importance of diagonality in football

– offensive aspects
– defensive aspects#SundayShare @SundayShare10 #Tactics

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— Christoph (@Chris17_t) May 8, 2022

Firstly, due to the back three, Paris often has an overload in the first line, which creates more time and space for the defenders. Especially the halfbacks do often advance aggressively to provoke the opponent to step up or at least force a decision and create dynamics. That’s possible due to the higher coverage of the back three than for example at a back four. Additionally, this higher position creates better passing angles and shorter distances making passes in higher zones easier to execute.

Secondly, Verratti regularly moves into the backline, which has different purposes. One is that it creates a dilemma for the opponent (following Verratti or not?). As midfielders usually mark Verratti, they often don’t move that high up, allowing Verratti to receive with time and space and create from this deep position. However, if the opponent follows, the centre is opened for Paris to exploit. Last but not least, Verratti can relieve the centre backs from the pressure with his positioning in the first line. 

Something that can often be seen when Verratti drops into the backline is Marquinhos moving higher up simultaneously (vertical rotation). The goal is again to present the opponent with questions. This rotation can open spaces either for Verratti or Marquinhos to exploit.

Verratti moves into the backline, which pulls an opponent with him, opening the centre. Marquinhos recognizes this and positions himself into that space, where he eventually ends up receiving the ball, allowing Paris to progress higher up. Additionally, Vitinha opens the centre even more with a forward run, pinning his marker deeper.

Thirdly, the positioning by the double pivot on a different horizontal lane is vital for PSG’s ball progression. Vitinha usually moves slightly higher, while Verratti stays deeper. This structure creates even more diagonality. Besides, Vitinha often pins players higher up, allowing Verratti to operate with more time and space in his deeper position. Furthermore, the double pivot often looks to attract opponents either through a dribble or short provoking passes, to open spaces in between the lines. 

Thirdly, forwards (especially Messi is very important for PSG’s ball progression) regularly drop deeper to create a surprising overload and offer themselves as a passing option to progress. Messi’s dropping movement is often combined with Vitinha moving higher and occupying Messi’s initial position in the right half-space. This vertical rotation has different effects. Either Messi pulls a defender out of position, allowing Vitinha to exploit this gap or Vitinha pins opponents into a higher position, allowing Messi to receive deeper. The Argentinian can then use his incredible passing ability in a deeper zone with more time available and a better view to create. Additionally, Messi can also dribble a short distance with the ball to attract the focus of opponents, allowing higher players to dismark themselves and get out of the cover-shadow. As with every rotation, it can also happen that both Messi and Vitinha are temporarily left free, when the opponent didn’t communicate well. Moreover, Vitinha’s movement isn’t just important at creating space, he also stabilizes the structure. If he stays deeper, Paris would have less diagonal passing lanes and more players on the same horizontal line, which makes ball progression more difficult.

Ruiz moves higher up the pitch, dragging an opponent with him. Messi recognizes this and drops deeper in the space created, where he eventually receives the ball, helping PSG to progress.

(This example above shows the individual quality in the squad by PSG. I only mentioned Vitinha in the above paragraph, as he played most of the time in this position. However, as you can see above, Ruiz fulfilled this role perfectly.)

Furthermore, Neymar also often helps Paris at progressing the ball with him dropping deeper. The Brazilian often starts these movements with a quick double movement, creating separation from his direct opponent. In addition, he continuously looks to move against the grain of the defenders (e.g.: when the opposition moves to the side or moves backwards) to have even more time and space.

As a variation, when central progression isn’t possible, Messi and Neymar can move wide to provide a passing option there. 

It can be summarized that the dropping movements usually occur surprisingly and with a high tempo. However, at times it’s just enough to drop deep early. For example, when the ball is on the other side and the opponent is less focused on Messi and Neymar, as they are less of a direct threat in their ball-far position. In this position, Messi and Neymar are often found at the end of a switch.

When the final third is reached, Paris Saint Germain looks to make use of the structural advantages of the shape and the individual qualities of their forwards.

One of the biggest aims in the final third is to find either Messi or Neymar in between the lines. First of all, the positioning by Messi and Neymar is very important. They often dynamically occupy the space in the pocket in between players and in between the lines to be available. That makes them harder to defend as if they would just stand still in these spaces. When Messi and Neymar receive the ball while moving into this space, they can also transfer their dynamics forward, making it even more difficult to stop them.

To find the superstars in between the lines, it’s necessary to unsettle the opponent and create passing lanes to find them in these strategically beneficial positions. At times, the structure alone is enough. The midfield box (consisting of Verratti, Vitinha, Neymar and Messi) can often create an overload, allowing PSG to find the 10s directly. Additionally, the front five has a lot of advantages against the back four. Due to the overload, defenders are often pinned and fail to mark every player, leaving one free. The high and wide positioning by the wingbacks stretching the pitch horizontally and creating depth, alongside the central occupation by Mbappe with the goal to pin the centre backs and create depth, often enables Paris to find Messi and Neymar in between the lines.

Marquinhos finds Neymar in between the lines, as Mendes’ positioning pins the opponent’s right back, and Paris has a 2v1 overload. In this situation, it’s Messi, who pins the centre backs.

However, it’s not always that easy for Paris, especially against low blocks. Therefore, different methods are necessary to unsettle the opponent. Under Galtier, the team often slowly moves the ball from side to side to create gaps and decisional problems for the opponent. Then Messi or Neymar can be found in between the lines and speed up the attack. To switch the play successfully, the structure again is the key.

Very important when switching the point of attack is the relay player. That’s basically a player positioning diagonally in behind the ball-carrier, to provide a safe back pass option. In particular on the wing, the relay player is of huge importance. When Paris is stuck in the wide channel and can’t progress forward, the relay player regularly helps as an outlet and allows PSG to create dynamics again. For example, through switching the play or attacking back inside from a different angle again, after attracting pressure with a back pass.

Tactical Theory: The concept of the relay player

– different occupations on the field
– strategical benefits@SundayShare #SundayShare
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In his diagonal position (usually in the ball-near half-space), the relay player is able to access the centre more easily and can find the link player positioned to switch the play.

On the wing, either the ball-near 6 or the ball-near halfback can act as a relay player. Usually, the ball-far 6 or the central centre back is the link player. Additionally, when a halfback moves higher, the ball-near 6 often drops into the backline to provide cover and act as a relay player for the halfback.

Mendes is stuck on the wing and therefore plays the ball back to Vitinha in the left half-space as the relay player. From this strategically better position, Vitinha can switch the ball to the other side to Hakimi to create dynamics again. On the right side, PSG has a 2v1 overload to exploit.

However, Paris wouldn’t always switch the play with a long diagonal pass like the one above. Mostly, switches through short passes are the better option as they are normally faster, allow PSG to attack open gaps easier and the opponent faces more decisions when the ball moves through different players/zones (constantly having to decide for the opposition between moving up on the ball-carrier or not).

The switches through short passes are preferably done through the block, as they are faster, and it often creates a dilemma for the opponent when and who to move up. Nevertheless, if that isn’t possible, Paris would switch the play around the block through the back three. That is still faster than a switch through a back four, as the distances are closer. 

At the end of a switch, a dropping forward is often found, something I have mentioned earlier. Or a player in between the lines due to the opened gaps, as the opponent will make mistakes sooner or later by having to shift over and over again.

When Paris eventually finds Messi or Neymar in between the lines, PSG can use their positional superiority to create chances. The option Messi or Neymar choose from depends on the reaction of the opponent.

The positioning in the pockets alone without receiving is often enough to unsettle the opponent and create decisional problems, on who should mark the player in between the lines. When the player then eventually receives the ball, a decision by the opponent needs to be made.

When one defender decides to step up to press, spaces somewhere else open. However, if no defender decides to step up, the player in between the lines can turn and threaten the backline with a dribble or pick a pass in behind with a forwards-facing view. 

Dribbles towards the opponent’s backline are often done by Messi and Neymar after receiving in between the lines, as that’s their biggest strength. If no defender moved up initial, the receiver could aggressively attack the backline forcing a defender to ultimately step-up. In turn, this allows PSG to exploit the space created. The dribble alone attracts the defenders, pinning them and eventually allowing the other Paris forwards to dismark themselves or move in behind on the blind-side.

That’s why the Paris forwards instantly make runs in behind after a player receives in between the lines. With these runs, they can either exploit space in behind, or it acts as a decoy movement, pulling a defender away and opening more space for a dribble or another player. Especially Mbappe looks to exploit spaces on the blind-side.

It is further crucial that the receiver between the lines is well supported. Again, the concept of the relay player can be applied here. Additionally, the close positioning by the front three allows for quick combinations to eventually break through.

Neymar receives in between the lines. This triggers Mbappe to instantly run in behind. However, the Frenchman quickly stops his run and slightly moves backwards for a one-two. This unsettles the opponent and allows Neymar to get in behind.

Exploiting the opponent by positioning in between the lines and in between opponents is a big chance creation method by Paris. However, the individual ability by the forwards shouldn’t be neglected either. The superstars are able to increase the attack in seconds and surprise the opponent with an incredible change of dynamics. Especially quick combinations often allow Paris to get out of tight situations and increase the tempo.

PSG regularly uses fast one-two’s to beat opponents and attack with a dynamical superiority. The one-two between a wingback and a 10 has already been mentioned in the build-up section. However, in the attack phase, these one-two’s can occur all over the pitch. 

Even if it’s just a simple combination, it’s usually very difficult to defend, as the passes are executed with high speed, which exploits the visual difficulties opponents have when facing these combinations.

An amazing quote by Judah Davies in his article about the blind-side on one-two’s: 

“The aspects mentioned above inherently refer to the other main reason one-twos can be effective which is the speed that they take place at. Whilst it is difficult for defenders to track both the movement of the ball and the runner this is only the case if the actions take place at speed. With a one-two taking place at speed the defenders will have to prioritise quickly making them more prone to errors of judgement.”

Judah Davies

Quick one-two by Messi and Neymar pulls a defender out of position and enables Messi to get in behind and exploit the space with a dynamical advantage.

Another combination, which follows the same principle as the one-two is the third man-combination. However, in this combination there are three players involved, while in the one-two one player occupies two positions of the triangle. Since three players are involved and everyone is already in his position, the third man combination can usually be executed with higher speed. Again, these combinations are very difficult to defend due to the high tempo and the visual difficulties for the opponent, as the first pass usually attracts pressure and focus, leaving the third man out of sight. 

PSG often uses third man combinations to dynamically break through. For example, in the form of an up-back-through combination. To enable these quick combinations, close distances on various horizontal and vertical lines as well as supporting the ball-carrier with different options are key.

Verratti finds Mbappe in between the lines, who is under pressure due to his closed body position. However, Messi supports him with a diagonal back pass option in a close distance. As soon as the back pass was played, Neymar started in behind on the blind-side of his direct opponent. Messi recognizes his teammate due to his now forwards-facing view and can find Neymar in behind (up-back-through combination).

The individual ability by the front three can also be exploited in another big way – clever movements. The superstars have such an incredible understanding of time and space and continuously move in the right spaces at the right time to help out, attack gaps, create spaces etc. 

Constantly dynamically occupying spaces makes it incredibly difficult for the opposition to stop them, as they move into spaces rather than staying in them, creating unpredictably, and allowing them to transfer their dynamics forward.

The front three always tries to stay in a close distance to be able to combine. However, the players aren’t fixed in their starting positions. They can roam around fluidly and create temporary overloads in a specific area. It’s not uncommon that Paris overloads one half-space with two or even three players to break through with quick combinations or attract pressure and switch the ball to the underloaded side.

PSG overloads the left half-space, which allows Mendes to find Messi in between the lines, as Mbappe pins the two centre backs. As Messi receives with time and space, he makes a short dribble attracting the focus of the defenders. Messi receiving in between the lines triggered Mbappe to run in behind. Additionally, Messi’s dribble attracting focus of the defenders allows the Frenchman to move on the blind-side (Mbappe moved wide first, to get in the blind-side and then sprinted forwards). Mbappe eventually receives in behind after a well-timed pass by Messi and ends up scoring.

Similarly like in a lot of sequences above, runs in behind are important for PSG to create chances. However, not just when a player receives in between the lines, runs in behind are made. Also, when the ball is in a deeper zone and the ball-carrier has time and space, this usually triggers the forwards to attack the opponent’s backline with a run in behind. The timing to start the run occurs usually when the ball-carrier looks up.

Again, these runs can allow Paris to get in behind or act as a decoy movement to drag defenders away and create depth. Very important is that the run is done with full speed and the runner has a potential chance to get the ball. If that’s not the case, defenders won’t follow the runner.

If the runner wants to receive in behind, the PSG players usually try to position themselves on the blind-side of their opponent, making it impossible for the defender to both follow the ball and the Paris forward simultaneously. However, if that isn’t possible, double movements can be used to create separation and space in behind (quickly moving deeper to drag the defender out of position, before changing the direction to exploit the opened gap in behind).

Additionally, these runs are preferably done against the movement of the defenders. Paris often looks to attract pressure with a back pass, triggering the defence to step up and then exploit the space in behind with a clever run.

The back pass to Paredes attracts the opposition’s defence to move up. Messi notices this and quickly moves in behind (against the grain of the defenders) as soon as Paredes looks up. Messi eventually gets the ball and beautifully scores with a bicycle kick. Also notice how Hakimi stretches the play, opening even more space for Messi to exploit.

These runs in behind can also often be combined with another player moving deeper, to drag a defender out of position and open space in behind for the runner. 

As Verratti has time and space and looks up, Messi runs in behind. Additionally, Neymar drops deeper, pulling a defender with him and opening more space for Messi. Verratti plays an accurate high ball in behind to Messi. Alongside this counter-movement, this scene again shows the fluidity by the front line with overloading the left half-space.

However, not only the forwards make these runs in behind. The wingbacks also often break through with a dynamical advantage, often running in behind diagonally on the blind-side. Additionally, a 6 can make a surprising vertical run to exploit gaps and spaces in behind. As they usually start from a deeper position, they can reach a higher speed early and break through with a dynamical advantage. Moreover, they often go unnoticed as they are less of a threat from this deeper position. Vitinha regularly showcases amazing dynamics and timing with these runs.

Neymar dropped deeper and pulled a defender out of position. Vitinha notices this and starts a run in behind. In the meantime, Neymar laid the ball off to Mendes, who can find Vitinha in behind.

As a surprising tool to break down a defence and find the runner in behind, Paris often uses chips over the defenders. Especially Messi shines in those moments. 

Just mentioned shortly above, the wingbacks can also be a threatening attacking force, either with runs in behind or beating their direct opponent with their electrical pace to make use of the space in behind. The major role for the wingbacks is to stretch the pitch horizontally, by positioning themselves near the touchline and creating space in the centre. However, when the final third is reached, the ball-far wingback usually tucks inside, to have more numbers in the box and create a better counterpressing structure.

Last but not least, PSG is still extremely effective at counterattacks. The pace of the forwards, especially Mbappe, obviously helps. However, the movements, the timing of the passes and holding minimal width, to exploit a fanned-out defence is outstanding. 

Pressing principles

The defensive side of the game by Paris Saint Germain was often seen as their biggest weakness. With superstars like Messi, Neymar and Mbappe not willing to track back, it was at times fairly easy for the opponent to outplay them. 

Even though the likes of Messi and Mbappe still don’t track back too much when in a low block, Christophe Galtier established an efficient high pressing approach, where everyone is involved, and which allows Paris to win the ball back high up the pitch on a regular basis.

There are basically two different formations PSG used when pressing high. The 3-4-2-1 or the 3-4-1-2, depending on the opponent. However, to adapt even better to the opponent, little asymmetries are often used. What’s important however is that the principles remain the same.

In the 3-4-2-1, often used against a double pivot, Mbappe starts the press by guiding the opponent wide with a curved run, covering the sideways pass. The role of Neymar and Messi is to stay narrow, control the double pivot and prevent progressions through the half-spaces if possible. This in turn forces the opponent wider. The wingback would then step high up the pitch to put the opponent’s wide player under pressure. PSG then basically plays with an oscillating back four, with the other defenders shifting across, forming a back four and potentially man-marking opponents. The wingback looks to press the foot open to the field of his opponent (often with a curved run). This closes the diagonal progression inside and doesn’t allow the wide player to open up, forcing him backwards. That’s when Paris traps the opponent, as Mbappe or a 10 closes down the back pass option for the opponent. Now the opposition usually hesitates and plays a long ball or backwards to the keeper if that’s possible. Both options aren’t ideal for the opponent. 

Very important in the pressing approach is the role of the double pivot. They are focused on restricting central progression. The 6s usually move in a ball-orientated manner. When the ball is on one side, the ball-near 6 marks a player there, while the ball-far 6 moves slightly deeper to provide diagonal coverage (acting as a midfield libero and closing down space in between the lines, sometimes even marking a player there).

As a variation of this pressing approach, the 10s could also move wider on the opponent’s widest player or press a centre back and the 6s could step up on the double pivot if needed.

Messi guides the centre back wide with a bended run. The fullback gets the ball but is under immediate pressure by Hakimi. Messi cuts the back pass option, allowing PSG to trap Lille here. Additionally, Vitinha man-marks the ball-near 6, Neymar moves over on the ball-far 6 and Verratti stays deeper to control the space in between the lines.

Moreover, as the halfbacks often have to move out wide and aggressively forward, the backline can be stretched, and spaces open up behind. However, Marquinhos as the central centre back is often well-aware of these situations and provides cover. He is very good at anticipating passes and helps out when an opponent broke in behind as the halfback was out of position.

Nevertheless, it’s important that the halfbacks are aggressive, as the midfield is only covered by two men. Stepping up on opponents in the half-spaces is necessary, to compensate the lack of horizontal coverage. 

Lille switches the ball from right to left. The double pivot by PSG can’t cover the full width of the pitch, meaning there is temporarily an open gap, where Lille finds a player. However, Ramos recognizes this, aggressively steps up on this player and wins the ball.

Moving on to the 3-4-1-2, which is often used against a single pivot. In this approach, the strikers normally start the press with a bended run, forcing the opponent inside, where PSG has three players and man-mark the options there. Key is the number 10 in this formation, who shuts down the single pivot.

Messi forces the centre back inside with a bended run. The centre back decides to play a high ball into the centre under pressure, where PSG is man-orientated and eventually wins the ball back.

However, it’s also no problem for Paris, when the opponent accesses spaces wide. PSG would then shift over with the same principles as mentioned above. Cutting of back pass option by the striker, providing diagonal coverage in the centre and the wingback stepping up on the widest player. 

Here are the basic principles quickly summarized:

  • aggressive pressure wide
  • cutting back pass option
  • diagonal coverage by double pivot
  • oscillating back four
  • aggressive halfbacks

As an exception, against opponents with a double width occupation, Paris often presses in an asymmetric 3-5-2, with Neymar moving deeper like an 8 and pressing the widest player, while the other 8 (initial player from the double pivot) presses the widest player on the other side. This allows the wingbacks to stay deeper and mark their man there. 

If Paris presses a double width occupation with the wingbacks, pressing the first (deep) wide player would allow the opponent to easily access the spaces left behind by the wingback. Then, the opponent would face equal numbers against PSG’s backline.

As shortly mentioned before, the problems still lie in defending in a low block. Even though Neymar supports defensively more often, the double pivot still has to shift long distances, which is very tiring, allowing the opponent to outplay Paris fairly easily. 

Paris hasn’t played against a very good in-possession side, which should be able to exploit their low block. It will take the Champions League knockout stage to find out, how the French will perform against these teams. However, if PSG is able to dominate the opposition with their high press approach and structured offensive play, they may be able to win these games.

Conclusion – Christophe Galtier at PSG

Paris Saint Germain look as good as ever under their new coach Christophe Galtier, who improved the team in many areas. In possession, the French seem to be unstoppable in the final third with their outstanding dynamics and more suitable structure to the individual qualities of the various superstars. Additionally, their build-up looks promising combined with the intense high press principles. 

However, there are still a few problems, which should be addressed by Galtier. Moreover, Paris hasn’t really faced a big contender in this season so far. It remains to be seen, how far PSG will come in this Champions League season and how they will handle troubles (e.g.: the relationship of Mbappe and Neymar) outside of the pitch.  

I hope I was able to give you a good insight into the tactics of Paris Saint Germain under Christophe Galtier and how they started the season successfully. Feedback is appreciated in any form whatsoever!

If you want more content from myself or connect with me, my twitter account is the best place to go: @Chris17_t

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