PSG Lack Sharpness in Possession in 2-0 Loss to Toulouse

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Just as Paris Saint Germain appeared likely to kick into gear, they stalled drastically at the Stadium Municipal. On the back of two wins against Caen and Dijon, where the Parisian outfit scored a total of nine goals and conceded none, they fell to a 2-0 loss against an organised Toulouse.

Many will point to Serge Aurier’s 46th minute dismissal as the turning point, especially given that Toulouse scored from the spot immediately following that foul, but the truth is that PSG were poor even before that. They simply struggled to create anything meaningful in possession, and this had a lot to do with the fact that they couldn’t progress the ball forward with any great efficiency.

Even after playing almost the entire second half with 10 men, they still enjoyed a staggering 71% of possession. Ordinarily, a team featuring the likes of Angel di Maria and Edinson Cavani would be expected to create plenty of openings with that amount of the ball, but PSG only managed 12 shots for the game, six of which were blocked and only three of which were on target. In that sense, there was little action in the final third for PSG, and as Cavani watched his centre-backs continually share possession between themselves and defensive midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, he became a virtual spectator on the way to recording a paltry 14 passes for the game.

Yet even while PSG were clearly ponderous with the ball, it’s also important to credit Toulouse for a strong defensive display. They refused to sit back in an extraordinarily deep defensive position, as many teams do against PSG, and instead preferred to be a bit more proactive. That’s not to say they employed an out-and-out high press, but they were aggressive in their work without the ball, setting up in a medium block and pressing when the opportunity presented itself. This allowed Pascal Dupraz’s players to apply pressure when PSG were a little too hesitant in playing out from the back, and during a five minute stretch midway through the first half, this helped them to create a number of chances to break.

Unfortunately for Toulouse, they were wasteful in these phases, with the likes of Odsonne Edouard and Issiaga Sylla regularly misplacing passes, but PSG were equally bad when trying to work the ball out from defence. 19 minutes in, for instance, PSG were constructing what seemed to be a fairly standard attack. They shifted the ball out to Aurier along the right-hand side, but that proved to be the cue for Toulouse to press. Sylla launched himself towards the Ivorian right-back, and Aurier, at least to some degree, panicked. He forced a risky pass back into the feet of Thiago Silva, who was immediately closed down by Toulouse attacker Ola Toivonen. That meant Silva needed to be quick, and he did just enough to find Krychowiak a few metres ahead of him. But the imposing midfielder didn’t have so much time on his hands, and when two Toulouse players converged upon his position, he gave the ball away. Sylla took it and charged towards goal, sprinting in behind his direct opponent in Aurier. He then squared the ball nicely for Edouard, but for some bizarre reason, he tried to leave it for Toivonen, who was already a couple of metres ahead of the play. That meant the move came to nothing, but it was this kind of thing that PSG struggled with all game.

They couldn’t progress the ball effectively from defence, and so they held onto it for too long and gave Toulouse the opportunity to pounce. This is highlighted by the fact that Silva and Marquinhos, PSG’s central defensive duo, enjoyed 192 passes between them, while Krychowiak, who played most of the game in midfield before having to fill in at centre-back following Aurier’s dismissal, had 90. All of this proved to be padding, however, as PSG just couldn’t find a way through. “Yes, it was difficult, it was not a good match for us,” Silva said. “We didn’t manage to play, to find the spaces.”

These problems were best summed up by the second goal Les Parisiens conceded, with about 10 minutes remaining, when substitute Thiago Motta received a throw-in. He tried to play a typically unadventurous back pass to find his teammate in goal, Alphonse Areola, but he stumbled his way to an error instead. Jimmy Durmaz found himself on hand to capitalise on the misstep, and once he’d made his way into the area, the Swede clipped the ball in to give Toulouse a 2-0 win.

This lack of initiative in possession cost PSG on the day, especially when coupled with their failure to execute effectively. It isn’t the first time PSG have looked a little predictable with their ball use this season either, and for Emery, this will be a major source of concern. The capital club have already dropped eight points from their seven Ligue 1 matches so far, and if they want to mount a serious title challenge in the Champions League, improvement is needed.

The challenge for Emery is to work out how to find it.