Paris Saint-Germain convincingly defeated OGC Nice 2-1 on Sunday, Feb. 13 at the Parc Des Princes to go into their mid-week bout against FC Barcelona on a four game win streak in all competitions.
The Catalan club were most certainly rooting for “Les Aiglons,” in the hopes that they would be able to pull off the impossible and put a dent into the Parisians good run of form before their most important match of the season.
PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino’s starting 11 gave us a glimpse into what he plans to do on Tuesday, Feb. 16 in the UEFA Champions League; he decided to go with a 4-2-2-2 formation, with Keylor Navas as the goalkeeper, and a backline that consisted of fullbacks Layvin Kurzawa and Thilo Kehrer, along with a center back pairing of Presnel Kimpembe and Marquinhos. Idrissa Gana Gueye and Leandro Paredes made up the two center midfielders, while Kylian Mbappe and Julian Draxler lined up as the left and right midfielders, respectively. Finally, Mauro Icardi and Moise Kean formed the strike partnership.
Of course, Neymar Jr. will not be able to participate in the first of the two legs due to an injury to his left abductor, which he sustained in Paris’s Coupe de France bout against Ligue 2 side Stade Malherbe Caen.
As a result, Draxler is going to be one of the likely candidates to replace the Brazilian in that creative role. Although his role on Tuesday is still up for debate, he definitely did enough to impress the manager, scoring Paris’ first of the afternoon; Mauro Icardi’s shot ricocheted off the post, before falling in the German international’s path, simply smashing it into the net to give them a 1-0 advantage 20 minutes into the contest.
Despite the early goal, the Parisians did not look secure in possession of the ball or when defending. Nice was able to find a lot of space in the final third, and wasted a lot of golden opportunities, something a team like Barcelona will not do. However, the Eagles were able to cash in on a dreadful mistake by the ultra-reliable Marquinhos in the second half. The Brazilian center back’s poor square ball in his own half was intercepted by right midfielder Rony Lopes at the edge of Paris’s box; he only had Kimpembe to beat, who he dribbled towards before cutting out and rifling it crossbar down into the net to level it up at one in the 48th minute.
The Parisians were very lucky to not go 2-1 down in the 60th minute, as Nice had a four on two opportunity in Paris’ final third. Forward Myziane Maolida played a through ball to left midfielder Amine Gouiri, who’s shot was just barely pushed onto the crossbar by Navas to keep it all square.
While the team was not defensively sound, their build-up play on attack demonstrated how much the squad has embraced the Argentine manager’s new style of play. This was most evident in the 75th minute, when Mbappe played a great ball to Icardi at the far post, who headed it toward the near post to an unmarked Kean, who simply headed it into the net and gave Paris the 2-1 advantage.
However, that goal did not change their defensive frailties at the back. The last 15minutes saw PSG hang on to dear life; left back Hassane Kamara played a ball into the box to unmarked Nice center back Jean-Clair Todibo, who’s header went way over the crossbar from only about four yards out. Once again, this should be a sign of concern for Pochettino, as a much better team in Barcelona will not waste these chances.
Despite the lackluster performance, the Parisians were able to hold on until the end to get all three points. Olympique Lyonnais’ 2-1 loss to Montpellier Herault SC means Paris moves up to second in the table at 54 points, and with LOSC Lille’s draw to Stade Brestois 29, they are now only one point behind first place “Les Dogues.”
Pochettino spoke about how the squad will prepare for the first leg of their Round of 16 bout against Barcelona: “On a tactical level, we won’t be able to work a lot on the field, but we will be able to use video,” he said. “It’s something we’ve been preparing for several weeks, so that the players can understand the game plan for this match.”
Crucial midfielder Marco Verratti is still recovering from a hip injury he sustained on Feb. 8, but French media outlet “L’Equipe” are confident that the Italian will be in the starting lineup on Tuesday. His introduction to the squad would most likely see Gueye play more of a defensive role in midfield, while Paredes and Verratti play just above him in more attacking roles. Furthermore, Alessandro Florenzi will be the likely candidate at right back, which would relegate Kehrer to the bench. With all that said, the rest of the squad will most likely remain unchanged.
The only possible movement at the back could be Mitchel Bakker taking Kurzawa’s role at left back against the Catalans, solely due to the fact that he is much better defensively than Kurzawa. Nevertheless, Kurzawa has a much bigger impact on the attack than Bakker, which is why Pochettino will most likely start the French international. Be that as it may, nothing is set in stone as of yet.
Verratti and Draxler are two of the possible Neymar replacements, with all reports indicating the former is set to play in that attacking role. Since the Argentine manager’s arrival at the club, he has consistently raved about his desire to get more out of the Italian international offensively, something that needs to work if the team hopes to create opportunities in the final third.
All-in-all, Paris must be more disciplined at the back, and make sure to not leave massive holes in the midfield or defense, something that was prevalent against Nice. Moreover, as is always the case when facing Lionel Messi, Paris must force him to drop deep to get the ball, as that limits his ability to create clear-cut chances for the squad. Moreover, runs in behind by forward Antoine Griezmann must be monitored, along with the versatility of Francisco Trincao on the wing.
The emergence of a quality front three in Griezmann, Messi
, and Trincao makes this task that much harder for the Parisians. However, the absence of center back Ronald Araujo will truly hinder Barcelona’s defensive quality at the back. As a result, Paris must exploit this if they wish to get a good result at the Camp Nou.