Valencia 1-2 PSG – A masterful away performance for 89 minutes is followed by 3 minutes of madness.

Starting XI’s

Valencia started in a 4-2-3-1 but played with a very narrow midfield five, asking their full backs to get forward and provide the width.

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Carlo Ancelotti again picked Ezequiel Lavezzi in a more central role handing Brazilian Lucas Moura his Champions League debut on the right.

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Tactical observations

  • The most interesting trend to develop from the start was PSG sacrificing their left hand side defensively. This is not the first time they have asked Javier Pastore to play on the left of their midfield in the Champions League (he did it very successfully in their last match) and there are clear advantages to this system but it does give their opponents a real opportunity to double up against Maxwell. Valencia right back Joao Pereira doesn’t need to be asked twice to get forward at the best of times and without a natural left sided player to mark he had the freedom to attack the flank from the start. Six times in the first 30 minutes the Portuguese international got forward but each time PSG handled it through a combination of poor delivery and good defending.
  • Another reason for Valencia being so poor in the final third was the close proximity of the trio behind Roberto Soldado. Sofiane Feghouli appeared to want to get central a lot but as Ever Banega pushed on, it meant Pereira was all alone against Maxwell and,¬†effectively, the Argentine midfielder was wasted as he didn’t do any of his tasks properly.
  • Pastore’s deployment on the left meant that, with the ball, he, Lavezzi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic could interchange often and pass around Valencia’s markers. Ibrahimovic loves to come deep and his teams are often successful when he maintains possession and finds advancing runners. This also meant Valencia’s centre backs played high to avoid having to play running towards their own goalkeeper, situations they looked very uncomfortable in.
  • Getting runners advancing beyond Ibrahimovic, is exactly how PSG almost opened the scoring after nine minutes. The Swede was cynically chopped down by Adil Rami and, with the referee playing a good advantage, Lucas Moura sprinted on to the ball and hit a rocket off the post.
  • A minute later the visitors were ahead when Pastore’s excellent movement brought him over to the right where he connected on a fine move with Lavezzi who smashed it beyond the poor Vicente Guaita in the Valencia goal.
  • Lucas had a fine Champions League debut up against Andres Guardado on the right flank. The Mexican will be having nightmares about the Brazilian when he sleeps tonight, as the winger excelled defending deep against his opponent and then shone when he could show his pace with the ball. At one point he ran 70 yards without breaking a sweat and it was a shame when he was removed after 53 minutes with what looked like a slight injury.
  • By then PSG were 2-0 up, scoring two minutes before half time, after Pastore, once again, had drifted centrally and found space to convert an excellent cross by Lucas who had again got the better of Guardado.
  • At half time Valencia were precariously close to being out of the tie and needed to make changes. Jonas and Banega were removed for Sergio Canales and Nelson Valdez as Ernesto Valverde recognised the need for width from an area other than full back.

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  • Carlo Ancelotti and PSG responded by asking Pastore to play a far more defensive role in the second half rarely leaving the left flank at all. It was fascinating to watch their tactical maturity develop on the biggest stage as they sat deep with the lead and countered brilliantly. Ibrahimovic’s hold up play combined with Lavezzi’s speed caused Valencia many problems as they chased the game. It should have been 3-0 when Lavezzi shot straight at Guaita, after a great long ball by Verratti, and again when sub Clement Chantome put the ball in the net after a brilliant sequence of play with Ibrahimovic. The goal was incorrectly ruled offside as the ball to Chantome came off a Valencia player.
  • The Spanish side stayed in the game and looked the biggest threat with long balls over the top of the PSG defenders, who sat deep throughout and were only out of their comfort zone when having to retreat with a striker on their shoulders. Soldado and Valdez both came very close through this route as Tino Costa’s passes were now effective with the removal of Banega in front of him.
  • It came as no surprise, then, into injury time when a free kick over the top of PSG’s defence was met by Adil Ramy who poked home a late goal.
  • For the very first time in the match things hadn’t gone the way of the visitors and two minutes later, seconds before the final whistle, Ibrahimovic was given a straight red for going over the ball in a standing tackle. The decision was very harsh but now means the visitors will have to play the second leg without their talisman.
  • All-in-all for 89 and a half minutes this was a complete performance from PSG away from home in the Champions League. They started with great tempo, defended really well, forced a change of shape out of their opponents, always looked a threat when they attacked, scored two and should have had at least one more. However, just when it seemed like they had figured it out three minutes of madness ensured the tie isn’t yet over.

PSG 2-1 Porto – On Pastore playing on the left & the movement of Porto’s front three.

Both these sides had already booked their place in the last 16 of the Champions League but top spot was up for grabs in this final Group A match Tuesday night in Paris.

For the home side it presented them with an opportunity to turn the corner. Carlo Ancelotti’s future was reportedly on the line entering the game after picking up just 4pts from their last 5 league matches and the biggest surprise in his team selection was the omissions of Nene and Marco Verratti.

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Porto boss Vitor Pereira insisted his side were in Paris to win the group and brought back many of his regulars after resting them last Friday in the domestic cup loss to Braga.

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PSG use Menez, Lavezzi and Maxwell to get more width early on

A big part of PSG’s problems this season has been how narrow they have played. They have struggled to create chances in wide areas mainly because of the amount of central players Ancelotti has tried to feature in the side. In this match there was a clear indication from the start that the home team would stretch the play, particularly down the right side. The inclusion of Lavezzi from the start occupied Alex Sandro and Jeremy Menez alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic offers a lot more than the standard striker normally would. The French international worked very hard with regular lateral runs that confused the defenders and it was no surprise that it was the former Roma man who got the beating of Nicolas Otamendi in the 29th minute, winning a free kick that led to the goal.

Porto struggle to defend set pieces 

PSG’s improvement in wide areas helped them get nine corners in the first half alone. Porto struggled to defend these and once again failed to get a commanding clearance on Maxwell’s free kick which was brilliantly headed home by Thiago Silva in the 29th minute.

Brilliant movement from Porto’s front three – a lesson for any team playing this system

It would prove to not be Porto’s evening but their front three still had an excellent night. Jackson Martinez, who would score an equalizer just four minutes after Silva’s header, was an excellent reference point centrally but showed signs of his versatility by occasionally moving left to allow James Rodriguez to get into the game. James is a very intelligent player who loves to come deep and when he did he had the luxury of Jackson to his left and Varela to his right. All three started the way the graphic above shows but interchanged brilliantly and never made their team too narrow because they occupied opposing full backs and helped their own full backs get forward.

The Pastore Project continues

The placement of Javier Pastore on the left was a strange one and at first seemed like a way of just getting the playmaker on the pitch. The Argentine rarely got forward beyond Danilo, coming narrower into his comfort zone, and therefore Maxwell had to be the one to get forward and bring width to the left. The PSG left back did this regularly early until Danilo played a huge part in the equalizer and forced him deeper. The goal wasn’t a good one for Pastore who allowed Danilo to easily get by him before sending in a cross for Jackson Martinez to poke home.

Despite the setback, Ancelotti stuck with Pastore as a left midfielder for the majority of the game (even when they went 4-1-4-1 when Verratti replaced Ezequiel Lavezzi) with a 2-1 lead and he seemed to grow in confidence in his battle against the forward-thinking Danilo. Clearly Pastore is suited to being a central player and looked at his best when he did play two long balls from central areas for Menez to successfully run on to. However, despite the defensive issues against Danilo, the placement of the Argentine helped PSG on the counter. With Danilo enjoying the freedom of the flank, he often would leave gaps behind him and when the play broke up the first man to start the counter was Pastore, which given his intelligence and passing ability makes sense.

In the 51st minute he broke immediately in this fashion with Menez and the pair intelligently worked a 1-2 around the impressive Nicolas Otamendi only for Helton to palm away Menez’s effort. Having Pastore play left, but not hugging the touchline, also helps PSG fall into a 4-3-3 with the ball with Lavezzi running on and Menez tucking left. Pastore can then feel comfortable joining the attack centrally, which is what happened late in the game when he had an excellent volley saved by Helton. Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have scored on the rebound, one of three really good chances he missed on a quiet night for the Swede.

Helton’s howler hands PSG the group

It was a real shame that an excellent football match was decided by a shocking goalkeeping error as Helton allowed Lavezzi’s shot underneath him at the near post. Helton, who is clearly Porto’s weak link, cost his side top spot in the group and now gives them a chance to meet the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United or Borussia Dortmund in the last 16. For PSG it was the slice of luck they needed and although they are far from the finished article they now have a real good shot at a Champions League quarter final, particularly if they can avoid Real Madrid and keep Javier Pastore confident. He remains a very key figure, no matter where they decide to play him.

Kristian Jack