How Manchester City Exploited the Defensive Positioning of PSG's Front Three
Defending with only seven players might not be possible in the modern game.
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Against Manchester City on matchday 5 of the UEFA Champions League, Mauricio Pochettino did exactly what everyone wanted him to do.
“Enough with trying to make three superstars press,” people said. “Who cares if they don’t want to? Accept the reality, do the pragmatic thing, and defend in a deeper block of seven. It’ll be solid enough and the benefits of leaving outlets free for the counter-attack will be enormous.”
It sounds nice in theory. The midfield three can shuttle over aggressively to help the fullbacks with overloads and block off any nearby options. Eventually, this will lead to a turnover and the mouth-watering trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappé can attack acres of space.
Except, I’m not even sure that it sounds nice in theory. Right off the bat, you have to worry about how to defend the far side. As hard-working as your CM’s might be, it’s a lot to shuttle from flank-to-flank and cover all that horizontal space down a man for ninety minutes.
It only gets harder when you think about PSG’s opponent: Manchester City. Ever wonder why all those positional play diagrams tend to show the defending team in a 4-4-2?
It’s because the philosophy arose partly as a means to destabilize the most common defensive structure of the time (and still the most common defensive structure of today), which is — you guessed it — the 4-4-2.
In other words, someone like Pep Guardiola has specifically designed his system to produce numerical and positional superiorities in all relevant areas against a fully-manned defensive shape. If City already have the inherent tactical advantage against a block of eight, how much more of an edge will they receive if you take one player out of the second line?
Their 2-1 win over PSG answered that question rather comprehensively.