Monaco 1-1 PSG: Ranieri switches to a diamond to prompt a Monaco fightback

February 12, 2014

The starting line-ups

For the second time this season, France’s top two played out a 1-1 draw.

Claudio Ranieri will be without Falcao for the rest of the campaign, and Dimitar Berbatov was only on the bench. He played a 4-4-2 system that became 4-2-2-2 when the wide players advanced, and drifted inside.

Laurent Blanc was without Edinson Cavani. He continued with a 4-3-3 system, with his new signing, Yohan Cabaye, also only on the bench.

This was a reasonably interesting match, where PSG dominated but Monaco did well to get themselves back into the game and remain outsiders for the title – see Sports Betting Info.

PSG start on top

PSG dominated possession in the opening minutes, finding space deep in midfield to control the game.

Monaco’s centre-forwards started off playing disciplined defensive roles, attempting to keep the side compact, but Thiago Motta was able to drop away from them to find space, and Marco Verratti moved into very deep, right-of-centre positions to collect the ball (see below). Their discipline allowed the PSG full-backs to advance.

In almost every big game PSG have played recently, the advanced positioning of Maxwell has been very important. He pushed on extremely high, taking advantage of James Rodriguez’s lack of interest in defending. He played one dangerous cross for Zlatan Ibrahimovic midway through the first half – those two have an excellent relationship, having played together for four different clubs.

Maxwell’s forward running was related to Javier Pastore’s narrowness. The Argentine drifted inside into his favoured number ten position, further helping to overload Monaco in midfield. In the first 10 minutes, Monaco’s system was  very boxy and they were unable to deal with players between the lines. Blaise Matuidi made some excellent runs in behind the defence from deeper positions.


Pastore turned in a corner to give PSG an early lead, and this changed the game completely. Whereas Monaco previously sat deep and won possession in their own half, now they pushed much higher up the pitch and pressed Monaco in deep positions.

This worked excellently. Both strikers are hard-working, and Monaco won the ball from Verratti – previously given as much space as he pleased – to create a goalscoring opportunity for Lucas Ocampos. He was also involved in some excellent play in his usual zone down the left, running past Gregory van der Wiel before crossing dangerously into the box, where PSG didn’t have a spare man and therefore looked vulnerable despite the aerial qualities of their centre-backs. Thiago Motta, superb in the first fixture between these sides, used the ball well but could have contributed more defensively when the ball was wide, getting between the centre-backs to use his height.

The more Monaco pressed, the quicker they won the ball and the more possession they had. This was crucial because their best attacking outlets throughout the game were the full-backs, who pushed forward to take advantage of Pastore and Lucas’ half-hearted defending. Both tracked back, but not particularly effectively. Meanwhile, Ibrahimovic was isolated upfront, and extremely quiet.

Ranieri changes shape

Ranieri changed shape at half-time to a diamond midfield

Ranieri, the tinkerman himself, made a drastic change to Monaco’s system at half-time. Surprisingly, he removed Ocampos – maybe Monaco’s most dangerous attacker – because he wanted to move to a narrow diamond midfield, and therefore had no use for a winger. Geoffrey Kondogbia, a hard-working, energetic midfield replaced him – in theory, a negative substitution when Monaco were chasing the game.

But this changed the shape of the game. Now Jeremy Toulalan was holding, Joao Moutinho was to the left and Kondogbia to the right. James went to the top of the midfield and allowed Thiago Motta less time on the ball.

The surprising thing with the new formation battle was that PSG’s full-backs didn’t advance more, considering they’d appeared so threatening in the first half. This was partly due to simple lack of adventurousness at 1-0 up, and partly because Monaco were now seeing more of the ball because they had numbers in central zones.

Fabinho forward

Indeed, Monaco’s possession dominance now encouraged their full-backs forward. They were extremely brave throughout the second half, with Fabinho and Layvin Kurzawa practically playing as wing-backs – the latter put one brilliant cross into the near post towards Emmanuel Riviere, which showed the threat.

Monaco could afford to play like, though – they had a 2 v 1 at the back against the increasingly isolated Ibrahimovic, plus the protection of Jeremy Toulalan, who had no direct opponent and is comfortable at centre-back, too. This was a 4-4-2 diamond, but not far off a 3-5-2 at times, too.

Both sides made substitutions which changed little – Ranieri introduced Dimitar Berbatov for Riviere, while Blanc attempted to bring more tenacity to the midfield with Cabaye on for Verratti.

The crucial change, however, was Jeremy Menez’s introduction in place of Pastore. Presumably, Blanc wanted Menez to counter-attack into the space created by Fabinho’s forward darts, but he had a crucial impact in the opposite way. He failed to track Fabinho’s overlapping run, allowing the Brazilian to cross dangerously into the box, and Thiago Silva turned the ball into his own net.

In stoppage time,  it nearly got worse for PSG – Menez again completely failed to track Fabinho, and only a poor first touch denied the Monaco right-back a one-on-one with Salvatore Sirigu – in the end, the angle was poor and PSG defenders got across to block. But Fabinho’s advanced positioning in the second half was the game’s key feature – and owed much to Ranieri’s switch.


A 1-1 draw, but Ranieri got the better of Blanc here. His half-time substitution changed the shape of the game and allowed the Monaco full-backs to overlap into increasingly dangerous positions, creating the home side’s best moments. Blanc, meanwhile, only changed the game in a negative sense with the Menez substitution – this allowed Fabinho to become the key player.

Ultimately, however, the draw favours PSG – five points clear at the top of the league.

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