Lille hammer ‘beginners’ PSG as they close in on the Champions League | Football
Stade Louis-Dugauguez, Sedan, December 2000. Laurent Robert scores PSG’s only goal as they lose 5-1 to Sedan, who now play in the fourth tier. On Sunday night, nearly two decades later, Lille became the latest team to put five goals past PSG in a Ligue 1 fixture. While the scoreline was an unfamiliar one, it was the type of defeat PSG know only too well.
Lille put PSG under pressure from the start. Xeka’s flicked header rebounded off Thomas Meunier and into the next to give Lille the lead and, although Juan Bernat swiftly responded with the equaliser, PSG appeared brittle in what was a fraught and open game. After Bernat was dismissed for bringing down Nicolas Pépé, the second half was a riot.
Pépé rolled home five minutes after the break before winger Jonathan Bamba crashed in a third. Bamba, Pépé and Jonathan Ikoné all might have scored before centre-backs Gabriel and José Fonte outmuscled a lethargic PSG defence that was missing Thiago Silva and Marquinhos to embellish the scoreline further.
Kylian Mbappé said PSG “played like beginners” and “must play with more personality”. Although Tuchel insisted that he disagreed with Mbappé’s explanation, it has become an almost clichéd PSG punchline as mental strength again proved non-existent. Despite winning 26 of their 30 league games with a modicum of fuss, this was the second time in a week that PSG have thrown away the chance to win the title. A win against Strasbourg last Sunday would have sufficed, but they could only draw; and a draw against Lille would have been enough, but they were beaten. Once again – mirroring a host of limp exits from the Champions League, PSG imploded when handed a relatively simple task with something tangible at stake.
Particularly guilty of lacking personality was German defender Kehrer who, as he did against United, looked terrified and was positionally very poor; Presnel Kimpembe again underlined how he has regressed this season; and Leandro Parades failed to make any impact. Despite his €47m fee, he looks likely to be demoted to the bench next season.
Mbappé, playing like he had something to prove after a wayward display in the defeat to United, was the only PSG player to show resilience or threaten consistently. His sharp turn and looped cross to set up Bernat’s goal remained a highlight. On top of the humiliation, PSG also suffered collateral damage via a (typically) needless Marco Verratti booking for berating the referee late on, meaning he will miss their league game at Nantes on Wednesday.
Although this dismantling will be frustrating and embarrassing, there are caveats. PSG had injuries and Christophe Galtier’s men had much more to play for: if they secure second place, they will not have to enter the Champions League qualifiers in July. Tuchel’s style tends to create more fluid games, something that has benefits PSG, even if defeats like these are possible when their intensity drops. Their one-dimensional, possession-based football may have worn down Ligue 1 opponents in previous seasons, but it meant they plateaued in Europe. Despite the disastrous defeat to United, there were signs of genuine progress in Europe this season against Liverpool and Napoli.
Nevertheless, Pépé – who was awarded a rare 9/10 from L’Équipe, who deemed him “unplayable” – pointed out that Lille “could have scored more” as Galtier got his pre-match wish for his team to “play without restraint.” After Lyon’s latest catastrophe – they lost 2-1 at Nantes on Friday night – Lille now enjoy an eight-point cushion over Lyon in third.
Unfathomably, this time last season Lille were second bottom and seemingly destined for relegation. Galtier had taken over a rudderless and painfully inexperienced squad after Marcelo Bielsa’s disastrous reign and looked bereft of ideas. However, three somewhat miraculous wins in a row rescued Lille and Galtier has since set about reinventing the team and his own style, moulding a balanced, aggressive, pacey side who have far exceeded expectations this season. On Sunday night, Pépé described Galtier as “a great coach, just like his tactics –on a daily basis, he is there for us, in football or otherwise.” Galtier, meanwhile, praised his team’s “intensity, tactical rigour and especially their desire to win.”
The 52-year-old Frenchman owes some thanks to Luis Campos, the club’s sporting director. Often at odds with Bielsa over signings, Campos’ more considered transfer policy has proved revolutionary. Their transformation is all the more impressive given the financial issues that could yet instigate swathes of summer sales. Campos has managed to simultaneously generate transfer revenue, improve overall quality with well scouted additions and help Galtier build a more well rounded squad.
Kévin Malcuit, Fodo Ballo-Touré and Ibrahim Amadou and Yves Bissouma were all sold for eight-figure fees, while underperforming first-teamers such as Yassine Benzia, Junior Alonso and Anwar El Ghazi were replaced astutely by forward Jonathan Ikoné (20), full-back Zeki Celik (22), striker Rafael Leao (19) and Bamba (23), all of whom have proved crucial of late. The experience clearly lacking as Bielsa ripped everything up and started again was also re-introduced via thirty-somethings Fonte and Loïc Rémy. Campos has quietly built one of Europe’s best squads in terms of value for money and given Galtier the tools to take them into the Champions League. Meanwhile, although PSG may not conceded five again domestically for another 20 years, this manner of defeat is becoming too common.
• Tuchel’s post-match interview was something to behold. He made a string of excuses for the defeat, principally blaming the size of his squad: “Against Nantes on Wednesday, we might have 12 or 13 players. We cannot go on like this.” However, he has excluded Stanley N’Soki from consecutive squads and refused to delve deeper into the youth set-up aside from selecting Christopher Nkunku – who is reportedly unhappy with how much he has been involved – and Moussa Diaby and Colin Dagba.
• Montpellier rebounded after their defeat to Nice last weekend, vaulting above their southern rivals with a 2-1 win against Toulouse. The winner was scored by veteran Souleymane Camara, who has started from the bench this season following the arrivals of Andy Delort and Gaëtan Laborde. Though the two younger strikers have both reached double figures for the season, Camara’s two goals have been scored in barely 100 minutes of play, giving him a rather remarkable ratio. While young players such as Mbappé and Pépé have been at the fore this season, it is always nice to be reminded what a dash of veteran guile can do for a side.
• Lyon slumped to their third successive defeat in all competitions with a 2-1 loss at Nantes on Friday. With Marseille (despite Mario Balotelli going off injured) and Saint-Étienne both winning, Lyon’s grip on third now seems in real danger of disappearing, especially with matches against Marseille and Lille to come in the next few weeks. Whether the impending dismissal of Bruno Génésio can lift the team’s spirits remains to be seen but, unless something changes quickly, what had once seemed a promising season for Lyon looks in real danger of being an unabashed disappointment.