Carlo Ancelotti has seemingly adopted a 4-2-2-2 shape at Paris Saint-Germain to include Lucas Moura as an extra playmaker alongside Javier Pastore. The Brazilian is in a race to be fit for Sunday’s game against Marseille – should he fail to recover he could be replaced by Jeremy Menez, or Ancelotti may opt to return to a more conservative 4-3-1-2 shape, with Pastore as the sole playmaker and Clement Chantome coming in as an extra midfielder.
For Marseille, Ellie Baup has no selection concerns and should start with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
With Marseille trailing league leaders PSG by five points, the visitors travel to the French capital needing a result, yet knowing a defeat will all but end their title aspirations.
Tactical Comparison: 4-2-2-2 vs 4-2-3-1
Both systems have similar defensive bases, yet attack in very different ways. PSG are set up to dominate the middle of the pitch with short incisive passing, from the deep midfielders through to the advanced playmakers and onto the forwards. Marseille operate with greater width and verticality, and will look to attack quickly down the flanks.
The key to the game will be the depth of the midfields. Both sides play with two tiers – PSG have Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti sitting behind Pastore and Mour, while for Marseille Benoit Cheyrou and Jacques-Alaixys Romao play behind the attacking trio of Andre Ayew, Mathieu Valbuena and Morgan Amalfitano. The interesting aspect will be how these tiers match-up. Will Matuidi and Verratti directly compete with Cheyrou and Romao for midfield supremacy, or will both be too concerned with the threat of Valbuena, Pastore and Moura between the lines? If the former occurs, both sides’ advanced midfielders should find a great deal of space to exploit; in the case of the latter, the game is likely to be stretched with little activity in the centre of the pitch.
Clearly width is another factor, and Marseille’s strength on the flanks would suggest they would prefer a stretched game with their deep midfielders covering PSG’s playmakers. With three advanced midfielders compared to the home side’s two, Baup will feel confident that Ayew, Valbuena and Amalfitano can find space around Matuidi and Verratti to attack PSG’s back four. In contrast Ancelotti will want to engineer as much space behind Cheyrou and Romao as possible for Pastore and Moura to create chances.
Defensively, PSG essentially find their back four faced with a lone striker and two wingers, giving them a spare man. Marseille’s centre backs will be occupied by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi, but with the home side playing without wingers neither full back will have a direct opponent, allowing them to provide cover to their defensive colleagues and get forward to support attacks. Attacking runs from full back will be a key aspect of both team’s plans – in theory Pastore and Moura will be tasked with tracking the runs of Jeremy Morel and Rod Fanni, but neither player is particularly vigilant. For PSG Maxwell and Gregory Van der Wiel will find Ayew and Amalfitano as more willing defenders, although both will also look to make runs behind the full backs on the break.
Tactical Adjustments: Attacking width
PSG’s 4-2-2-2 system offers very little natural width, and Ancelotti will rely on lateral movement of Lavezzi and Moura from central positions, as well as forward runs from full back, to provide a threat out wide. Marseille are the complete opposite – two wingers gives Baup’s team a constant threat on the flanks, and Valbuena will compound that by moving wide from central areas to overload the full back and create crossing opportunities.
Valbuena’s role is particularly interesting. The traditional 4-2-3-1 system looks to benefit from wingers and an advanced playmaker operating between the lines. In Marseille’s case Valbuena occupies this position but seemingly ignores the brief, constantly moving laterally across the pitch and rarely looking to hold a central position. As a result Marseille often share more in common with a 4-3-3 variation, except instead of a third midfielder they have a third winger.
PSG are theoretically vulnerable out wide, with their four midfielders occupying central positions their full backs are offered little protection. Should this be the case, Baup’s Marseille side are perfectly set up to exploit this weakness.
Individual Analysis: Lucas Moura
Moura’s inclusion would be a massive lift to Ancelotti’s team. The Brazilian is PSG’s only advanced midfielder that has the versatility to play in different ways. Whereas Pastore is nominally a central playmaker, whilst Menez and Lavezzi operate more as wingers, Moura can excel in both roles. This makes him particularly difficult to mark, as opponents constantly have to adjust to whether he moves infield or attacks out wide.
Moura also offers PSG greater attacking flexibility. Should Ancelotti want to attack Marseille through the middle, Moura has the technical ability to combine with Pastore between the lines. Should Ancelotti want to attack out wide, the Brazilian is quick and skilful enough to take on Marseille’s full backs. Moura also offers Ancelotti the option of switching to a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Lavezzi moving to the left flank to provide genuine width.
Ultimately a 4-2-2-2 with two static playmakers in advanced positions can become relatively easy to contain by defending deep in midfield and breaking out wide, yet Moura offers the tactical flexibility to create uncertainty in the opposition.
A classic clash of style and intent. PSG will look to dominate midfield and find pockets of space in central areas; Marseille will want to attack quickly down the flanks. This is an important game in the title race – the home side are still searching for an identity under Ancelotti but have the sheer quality to compete, while Marseille are a team that have been developing for a number of seasons. Their 2-2 draw earlier in the season was a good example of what to expect. PSG dominated possession but struggled to create chances and relied on the brilliance of Ibrahimovic, while Marseille counter attacked effectively and demonstrated more cohesion. The statistics also told a story: PSG attempted 7 through balls to Marseille’s 2, but Marseille attempted 24 crosses to PSG’s 16. Expect a similar pattern again.