Six Lessons for the Fallen

Luis Suárez said he had no choice but to nutmeg this guy. Yeah, right…

Lesson 1:

David Luiz is not a centre-back and should not be ever considered as one.

There’s a reason why 1-7 happened last year in Porto Alegre. There’s a reason why Paris Saint-Germain blew an important away match in Bordeaux. There’s a reason why current French champions were trailing 1-2 in Marseille before two monumental blunders from OM players managed to turn the game around. And, above everything else, there’s a reason why Jose Mourinho, upon hearing the £50 million offer for one of his players has decided to let him go. David Luiz, the man involved with all the events I mentioned above, is the reason. Or, to be more specific – his qualities as a footballer are. He is a good passer, he’s athletic, he can out-tackle and outrun many of his opponents as well as score an occasional free-kick goal, or a header – like it was against Chelsea. But God forbid to ever call him a defender! He has no common sense, his spatial recognition is poor, he moves out of the position way too much and he’s too quick to forget that if he messes up, there’s nobody behind him to fall back onto. Whenever PSG can play with Verratti and Motta, stringing the passes together and controlling the game with possession, he’s actually quite useful because his technical abilities can shine while his defensive shortcomings aren’t exposed. But faced with Barcelona, it was quite obvious it’s going to be the other way around.

21 minutes passed on the clock when he, not exactly fully fit, entered the fray yesterday. What was even more significant, though, is that he subbed his injured compatriot Thiago Silva. He had to replace the man who’s been basically his mentor and a tutor; the man who could instruct him and navigate him to a sturdier performance; the man whose companion makes Luiz feel strong and confident. Ex-Chelsea player never had such good partnership with Marquinhos, who spent a lot of time rotting on the bench or recently, fulfilling the right-back duties. From the moment Silva’s thigh gave in, this was just a house of cards begging to fall apart. For a while, “the other two Brazilian centre-backs” in Parisien lineup had just enough skill and good fortune to stay unscarred. The damage wasn’t done until late in the game, when PSG midfielders’ legs started to give in and Barcelona began to channel their counterattacks through the wings. Left to their own devices against Luis Suarez, Luiz got nutmegged twice and his player, the player he was supposed to keep quiet, broke through on his own, scoring two sensational goal. Yes, a lot of credit has to go to the Uruguayan, who’s having the hell of a season – but ask yourself, would Thiago Silva ever allow himself to get manhandled like Sideshow Bob did?

 

Lesson 2:

How hard you work makes all the difference.

There was a time this season, when French champions were able to take out Barca on their home ground. It was in September, to be specific. Barcelona has just registered a six-game streak without a goal conceded in La Liga and were heavy favourites to take three points in the capital of France. And, despite that, they’ve lost 2-3. Today, this CL group stage game on Parc des Princes seems like a distant, almost ancient memory – a shadow of PSG’s former self. Back then, it all started very well for Laurent Blanc’s side. Although David Luiz’s opening goal was immediately answered by Messi’s tap in, it gave the team a lot of confidence. Later on, we’ve seen tiny midfield agent Verratti winning many tackles and even scoring a corner-kick header which made no sense whatsoever, as the ball came to the far post after getting through the crowd of towering players, Jeremy Mathieu included. We’ve seen Busquets and Rakitić kept very quiet. We’ve seen Javier Pastore causing massive marking problems for Dani Alves and Jordi Alba. However, let’s not forget: despite that unexpected winning result, PSG still had below 40% of ball possession – just as they did yesterday. They still kept passing with 83% accuracy – exactly the number they’ve reached yesterday. And, they only had 5 shots on target – only one more than they’ve had yesterday.

So, what made the difference that translated into two separate scorelines? The answer is: 29 tackles. 29 tackles Cavani & Co. attempted in September; tackles, which total number plummeted to only thirteen yesterday. Last year, there used to be a pressure on Barcelona’s players all across the pitch, including their own half. Most of the time, this effort did not allow PSG to win the ball back. However, when it was put in regardless, Barca had to either switch the possession to the wings or play the long balls in order to escape the pressure. First option was hard to execute because Alves and Alba had to watch out for pacey Lucas and Pastore lurking wide; second option was never to Catalans’ taste anyway. Laurent Blanc might’ve had a blueprint in form of that old performance – but recreating it was beyond PSG’s abilities. Ironically, the injury Andres Iniesta sustained on Wednesday from Pastore’s challenge, further hampered home side’s efforts. Xavi, the replacement of his Barcelonian “twin”, has put his own footstamp on the game, failing only two out of 55 attempted passes. To this, there was no answer from Parisiens. They just weren’t combative enough – and not forcing Blaugrana to speed up the tempo with many challenges means you’re going to be much more exhausted than them near the end of the game.

Lesson 3:

Those, who can’t pass, can’t win.

How much is Marco Verratti worth? Transfermarkt.com says: about £22 million. But to Paris Saint-Germain, this man’s valuation approaches infinity. Sidelined on Wednesday with a suspension, the Italian could only watch the demolition of his team in the middle of the park, as there was no suitable link between French side’s midfield and their front lines. For a team with possession rate below 40%, this was an essential factor: not having a player capable to take calculated risks with through balls in the final third meant that the only service they could provide for Cavani was coming from the wings. PSG’s second-choice #9 got on the end of one or two cross, but he was always under enough scrutiny from Gerard Pique to not score his chances. Meanwhile, as he was struggling, Adrian Rabiot (only 28 passes, 26 completed) and Blaise Matuidi (39 passes, 36 completed) were heavily losing the battle against Busquets and Rakitić. Especially the Croatian had a somewhat quiet, but also very impressive game with 66 successful passes out of 69 attempted. Without the ability to hold on to the ball, there was no ability to “gel” the attacking play either and those, who were expected to provide an attacking outlet, were forced to drop too deep to make any difference once the interceptions were made.

Adrian Rabiot had to be utterly disappointed with his performance.

It was also a harsh lesson of top-class, modern footballing for Yohan Cabaye. He’s been a notorious second, or third choice player for Blanc and this game, more than anything else, proved that there were some good reasons behind that. With vastly insufficient match experience (the clash with Barcelona was only his third, full, 90-minute appearance this season), former Newcastle star looked visibly lost. In a standard PSG lineup, two missing players of yesterday – Motta and Verratti – had set, clearly defined roles for tackling and passing, respectively. Cabaye did not fit into either of roles – at least not successfully enough for it to make a difference. He ended up with 53 touches, 40 passes, 2 interceptions, 2 take-ons, 4 fouls and 1 shot. It’s a summary that does not do him justice: he’s been simply invisible out there, and not in Rakitić’s way. His first-half tackle on Iniesta was about as horrendous as him overall impact on the struggle. If anyone wondered why Arsene Wenger once came up with the absurd idea of offering only £8 million for him back when he played on St. James’ Park – there’s the answer. Was the player intimidated by a recent rumour that he still remains on Arsenal’s radar? Impossible to say – but it did not take Sherlock Holmes to see that he’s been an outcast at Parc des Princes.

Lesson 4:

One size doesn’t fit all.

I’ve mentioned Blaise Matuidi already. His work rate has been sensational this season – can you imagine he covers the average of 130 meters per every minute spent on Champions League pitches this season? Yes, he’s a relentless runner. In a three-man midfield with tactical roles very strictly defined from the start, having him busting the gut the way only he can is an unbelievable asset. Unfortunately, though, when both of his main partners are unavailable and the replacements are Cabaye alongside Rabiot – he is expected to do more than that; possibly even more than he’s capable of. Yesterday, aside from his usual cup of tea in the left sector of the pitch, he also tried to turn himself into a threat in the final third. He would attempt some dribbles and killer balls – things he usually leaves to Pastore and Verratti, as he’s simply badly suited to try them himself. Alas, he had very little choice but to do it anyway; with his ambition and extreme sense of responsibility for the result, he felt obliged to give more than 100%, including the qualities he never possessed and will likely never have. There was one key pass he’s made in the first half that could’ve been a threat – and that’s pretty much all the success he had. Again, very brave performance from him – but he simply isn’t a complete, “all-around” footballer some people want him to be.

Lesson 5:

Space and pace will make you suffer.

The first goal conceded by PSG was connected with two key resources Barcelona is quick to exploit when they’re given a chance. It all started with space. At first, Lionel Messi, who stayed in the final third for longer than usual, got rewarded, when the home side’s buildup failed. He was in a perfectly empty, central part of the pitch – the place normally covered by Thiago Motta, but on this occasion, covered only with a fresh air. From the moment Leo controlled the pass and started running, alarm bells were already ringing over Sirigu’s goal. FCB’s virtuoso only had to run and wait for a proper moment to spray the pass. Once he did, it was the time for pace factor to kick in. Neymar, who’s been away from van der Wiel long before the decisive attack was unleashed, had no trouble breaking through, knowing that he cannot possibly be caught anymore. We all know the final results. This was the reason to either defend deeper than PSG did or to field Zoumana Camara alongside Thiago Silva and leave the right-back position to Marquinhos. Once Blanc’s “Dutch” choice paid off with a consolation goal, it was too little to late to reap it’s benefits. To make it clear: I don’t think Serge Aurier, the young, quick and win-hungry defender, would prevent this tragedy from happening. But ultimately – we’ll never know; and there were more calamities than this one.

Lesson 6:

Miracles do happen – but not on Camp Nou.

This tie is over. It has to be said. Laurent Blanc should cut losses now and field a second-string squad for a rematch. There’s absolutely no point in trying to win the Camp Nou rematch by three goals: this was only accomplished once, by Bayern Munich, and only because Blaugrana didn’t care about the game anymore after losing the first match 0-4. This is not the case now and PSG manager should not bother. He’ll likely be under pressure from the likes of Motta and Ibrahimović, to play the strongest lineup possible, because those two players – and Maxwell – have a score to settle with Catalan club. But there’s still one more big, domestic trophy to win for the team and they should focus on it. Olympique Lyonnais would be delighted to see their main rivals for the French crown wasting their legs and effort in a futile chase for a revenge on FCB. “We need a miracle now” – said Salvatore Sirigu. “Coming back from this will be very hard, very complicated” – added Cavani. And what about PSG boss? “We were dominated tonight, but my team will look totally different in a rematch”. But does this mean they’re going to keep on fighting, or that there will be countless changes in the starting eleven? Either way, even a gigantic improvement cannot save them from getting eliminated here.

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2 thoughts on “Six Lessons for the Fallen

    1. In that game, I think he would’ve been better as a right-back. Aurier was injured and van der Wiel was too slow to handle Neymar. Also, Luiz knows Neymar from Brazilian team, so that’s a plus.

      Liked by 1 person

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