Liverpool can ruthlessly expose PSG flaws

 • by Sam McGuire
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When it was revealed Liverpool were in the same Champions League group as Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli it was seen as a win for football neutrals as well as supporters of the three clubs.

The trio play the game the right way. They look to get the ball on the deck and rarely, if ever, retreat into safe mode in an attempt to frustrate the opposition. In league competition alone during the 2017/18 campaign, the three sides scored a combined 269 goals.

Gameweek one throws up a mouthwatering clash between PSG and Liverpool.

The Parisians top scored with 108 – 20 more than Liverpool – as they romped to the Ligue 1 title last season. Manager Thomas Tuchel has wasted no time in his new role at the Parc des Princes after taking over from Unai Emery in the summer. The French giants are already firing season, averaging three goals per match in their opening four games.  

Many believe the match at Anfield on Tuesday evening will pit the two best forward lines in world football today against one another.

It’s true. Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino vs Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani is a must not miss event. And the last time Jürgen Klopp faced off against Tuchel it was a seven-goal thriller with the Reds edging it thanks to a late, late Dejan Lovren header against Borussia Dortmund. 

Goals are guaranteed and entertainment won’t be in short supply.  However, while the forwards dominate the headlines, it will, in fact, be the defensive players who are the game-changers on the evening, and they could ultimately be the ones to decide the match.

Liverpool’s perfect start to their Premier League campaign has been centred around their defensive performances. The Reds have conceded just the one goal in their four matches and have shown a new-found resilience to grind out results.

Klopp’s men haven’t been at their fluid best yet but it’s by far the most balanced they’ve looked since the German tactician was appointed in 2015.

PSG, on the other hand, are still adapting to Tuchel’s style. The goals they’re scoring are papering over their defensive issues but there might not be anywhere to hide under the bright Anfield floodlights.

The French champions have conceded four goals in four matches and their expected goals against total in these is 4.22.

A goal against per game might not seem like much but so far this term they’ve only faced mid-table Ligue 1 sides and are struggling to nullify them. For context, Liverpool’s xG for the season to date is 2.15.

Without meaning to disrespect these clubs, Caen, Guingamp, Angers and Nimes, they aren’t the strongest sides in Ligue 1. But three of them finished their matches against PSG with an xG of higher than 1.1.

It was to be expected, too. Tuchel is a notorious tinkerer, not too dissimilar to Rafa Benítez, and he’s always looking for perfection.

He’s deployed a 3-4-1-2 system this season with Àngel Di Maria operating as a left wing-back and Brazil centre-back Marquinhos playing in a midfield two beside reported Liverpool transfer target Adrien Rabiot due to Marco Verratti being sidelined with an injury.

This makeshift midfield partnership isn’t the most balanced. It’s not helped that Tuchel has been using Neymar as an attacking midfielder behind Mbappé and Cavani. He’s not the most diligent defensively when there’s a turnover in possession and it results in Rabiot and Marquinhos regularly being overloaded in the middle third.

The PSG boss has made the whole situation a little more complicated by looking to bed summer signing Thilo Kehrer into the backline while the existing defenders are still coming to terms with the new system.

All in all, it’s perhaps the ideal time for Liverpool to play PSG. The pockets of space left by Marquinhos and Rabiot in midfield are the sort of areas the Reds do most of their damage.

The screenshot above shows the distance between both PSG centre-midfielders. Rabiot went to close down the ball but wasn’t quick enough and Angers were able to play past the half-hearted press.

Neymar’s position is circled in red. Most players in this instance would be switched on defensively to any pass into the central area, and they wouldn’t be against following any runs.

But Neymar isn’t like most players. For all of the magic he possesses, his work rate isn’t something to be admired.

As a result,Angers are able to work the ball down the right channel and in behind the PSG midfield. Marquinhos is in no man’s land, Rabiot is still making his way back and Neymar isn’t even in the picture having allowed the man he was closest to, circled in red, to make his way forward.

It’s three vs three and with Neymar’s man following up it gives the away side an overload depending on which position he decides to attack.

This can happen. Teams are regularly countered if they aren’t fully up to speed with the pressing traps, which the PSG players seemingly aren’t yet. But having Neymar in a central midfield area when out of possession is going to exacerbate the situation.

If Liverpool can orchestrate counter-attacking situations with Naby Keïta being the player to join the front three just as he did against West Ham United, then it could be a long night for the PSG defence and a learning experience for Tuchel on Merseyside once again.