Porto 1-0 PSG: Porto dominate with more width

October 4, 2012

The starting line-ups

PSG remained narrow while Porto played with plenty of width – and the home side’s two wingers were the key attacking players.

Vitor Pereira chose his expected line-up in the usual 4-3-3 system.

Carlo Ancelotti left out Javier Pastore, preferring Jeremy Menez and Nene. At the back he brought in Mamadou Sakho.

Porto played superior football throughout the match, and although PSG had a few chances on the break, Pereira’s side were fully deserving of the three points.


Porto were the usual 4-3-3 with relatively few surprises. James Rodriguez was keen to drift in from the flank and get involved in the play, while Joao Moutinho pushed higher up than usual and went close with one early chance.

PSG were 4-3-something, with Nene, Menez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all in roughly free roles. Menez was generally left-ish, Nene to the right and Ibrahimovic dropped deep from a centre-forward position, but it was rare that the trio combined. They also drifted back when PSG lost the ball, with no key defensive tasks other than to make sure Fernando was occupied.


PSG’s lack of width was a problem when attacking, but it also caused problems defensively. The two full-backs, Gregory van der Wiel and Maxwell, had little protection against Porto’s wide players, who often got the ball after clever combinations down the flanks. On other occasions, Porto simply got the ball out quickly to the wingers to run with the ball – this was most obvious with Silvestre Varela on the left.

The best way for PSG to get support out wide was to shift their midfield three across, but the speed of Porto’s attacks meant this wasn’t always possible and this would leave the central midfield zone understaffed, where Moutinho was the key player.


Usually Moutinho spreads play calmly, but here he was the most advanced of the three Porto central midfielders, bursting forward with the ball. His distribution was still crucial, however, and it’s interesting that the player he passed to most frequently was Varela, 13 times.

That was the key combination – Moutinho dictating the play, Varela providing the pace. Rodriguez drifting inside was another important feature – he was both a passing option and a goalscoring threat. It’s also worth pointing out that Jackson Martinez was quiet in front of goal but finished with Porto’s highest pass completion rate, which is very rare for a striker.

PSG passing

PSG were frustrating. In possession they passed very slowly, allowing Porto to get into a 4-1-4-1 shape without the ball. Their three central midfielders passed to each other: Chantome most frequently passed to Verratti (9 times), Verratti to Matuidi (16 times) and Verratti to Matuidi (12 times). That’s a perfect illustration of their passing pattern, with no link between those three and the trio of attackers and incisive passes.

Marco Verratti’s distribution was risky close to his own goal but conservative higher up the pitch, and the best chance of good distribution from the midfield was when Nene or Menez dropped deep and looked to chip the ball for Ibrahimovic over the top. PSG’s transitions were also disappointing – with three players staying high up the pitch they should have been able to break quickly, but aside from one decent move in the second half they lacked a clear plan to transfer the ball forward swiftly.

Sporadic width came from the full-backs, but neither Maxwell or van der Wiel really took advantage of the fact Porto’s wingers didn’t want to retreat past a certain point (roughly in line with their central midfielders). Presumably the plan was that Porto’s full-backs would pick up their opposite numbers in these situations, but this was an avenue not fully explored by the away side.

Porto left v PSG right

The more the game went on, the more it seemed the key battle was Porto’s left-winger against PSG’s right-back. And it was in terms of positions rather than specific players, because Christian Atsu replaced Varela and Christophe Jallet came on for van der Wiel, who got into poor positions and looked vulnerable. The Jallet is hardly a star of the squad – in fact, he frequently looks woefully out of place alongside the other players in the side, but van der Wiel has yet to convince either. That is certainly PSG’s weak spot, and Porto did well to target it.

In fact, Porto’s best chance summed up what they did well – Porto won the ball high up the pitch, Moutinho stormed forward and slipped in Varela for a one-on-one, but Sirigu made a fine save. It was a shame, from a tactical point of view, that this move didn’t prove the crucial goal.

Other subs had little impact upon the game – Lavezzi replaced Menez, but only lasted five minutes before going off with a thigh strain, so Pastore came on.

In the end James Rodriguez won the game with a fine curling shot from a Moutinho cross. This was shortly after a set-piece and the positions of various players are atypical – Fernando got a flick-on – but in the sense that the goal came from the left, Moutinho was involved and James Rodriguez (who had gone close twice before) provided the finish, it was a goal one could vaguely have predicted.


Porto actually had less possession than PSG because of the midfield numbers game – only 47%, but they had width, attacking drive and clever combination play throughout the game.

Moutinho was the star man, but Porto’s left-winger getting one-versus-one against PSG’s right-back was the key tactic.

More on Ancelotti’s tactics

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