Lyon – Paris Saint-Germain (L1, 8th day): OL – PSG, two defenses on a thread

When they will meet on Sunday at Groupama Stadium, Peter Bosz and Christophe Galtier will certainly be able to talk about the same fear: that of seeing one of their central defenders join the infirmary. The OL coach and the PSG coach both know that they have a limited range of choices in this sector. Not exactly for the same reasons, though. But for the coaches of the two clubs, everything was decided during a transfer window of which they could well pay the consequences in the more or less long term this season.

Lyon: Thiago Mendes, the part of the risk

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On paper, the central defense was perhaps the sector to strengthen in priority for Lyon during the off-season. The recruitment of Jérôme Boateng last summer had turned into a fiasco. The experienced Damien Da Silva has never really been seen as a potential starter. Jason Denayer had almost disappeared from the radar in December. And the young Sinaly Diomandé had suffered a major injury which had condemned him to a white season from the fall. Bosz had thus regularly opted for a hinge formed by the young Castello Lukeba and Thiago Mendes, a training midfielder whom the Gones coach had pushed back a notch.

In the end, OL ended the season with the 11th defense in L1 (51 goals conceded). This is what suggested that Lyon needed to recruit a central defender this summer. But the hypothesis of enlisting a leading element in this sector was quickly ruled out, despite the departure of Denayer at the end of his contract and the club’s desire to part with Boateng. Bosz wanted to rely on his Lukeba-Mendes hinge and the Brazilian had extended his contract with this in mind. Even if it means changing the former Lille resident to a position that is not his at the start over time.

This is the bet taken by the Dutch technician. “It was a collective decision that was madeexplained Vincent Ponsot, OL’s football director, in an interview with the Olympique et Lyonnais site on Thursday. The coach, by supporting his arguments, believes that Thiago (Mendes) could play in this position. We are convinced of that today. (…) He was within the expectations of Peter (Bosz). That is to say a defense that plays high with preventive marking. He met the coach’s criteria. It was an acceptable option.

Acceptable, but not ideal. Thiago Mendes is not the only one responsible for Lyon’s defensive shortcomings displayed last week in Lorient (3-1) then in Monaco (2-1). But his difficulties in competing with Monegasque striker Breel Embolo in the air at Louis II have highlighted the limits of the bet taken by OL in general, and Bosz in particular. The Gones coach still has the possibility of reviving Boateng, Da Silva or Diomandé to remedy the problem. But he doesn’t seem willing to question his own principles. And Lyon seem condemned to live according to the qualities and faults of Mendes in a defense where a possible absence of Lukeba could prove very problematic.

Paris: The transfer window did not follow the system

Christophe Galtier had quickly expressed his desire to set up a system with three central defenders when taking over from Mauricio Pochettino this summer. An evolution of the Argentinian 4-3-3 towards a 3-4-1-2 intended in particular to highlight the Parisian pistons, Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes. Going from two to three elements in the center of the defense and from three to two players in the midfield involved a considerable effort during the transfer window: the need to inflate the contingent of central defenders and reduce that of the central midfielders.

Quite the reverse happened. In check on the Milan Skriniar file, Paris did not register the slightest reinforcement in defense. He also separated from Abdou Diallo and Thilo Kehrer, leaving his squad with only three professional centrals (Marquinhos, Sergio Ramos and Presnel Kimpembe), four including the young El Chadaille Bitshiabu (17). Conversely, he totals five players for two positions in the axis of the midfield after having recruited Vitinha, Fabian Ruiz and Renato Sanches to inflate a sector where Marco Verratti and Danilo Pereira already appeared. Not to mention the two most promising players in his U19 team, Warren Zaire-Emery and Ayman Kari.

“What worries is the lack of reaction from Galtier”

At the exit of the transfer window, the Parisian workforce was thus more cut out for a 4-3-3 than for the 3-4-1-2 favored by Galtier since the start of the season. The consequences are already being felt. With the difficulty of giving playing time to all Parisian circles, but also the glaring lack of solutions in central defense. Paris feared an injury to Sergio Ramos after the Spaniard’s multiple physical glitches last season, but it was ultimately Presnel Kimpembe who found himself first in the infirmary, for six weeks, after being hit against Brest ( 1-0).
Galtier is thus forced to align the versatile Danilo in defense to maintain his system with three centrals. And he has his fingers crossed that Marquinhos and Ramos stay healthy despite PSG’s insane schedule. In the event of a glitch, he possibly has the options Nordi Mukiele, recruited instead to double Hakimi’s position, and Bitshiabu. But they do not release enough reliability given the requirement of results within the club of the capital. Galtier could thus find himself obliged to change the system during the season. Because his three-way defense is already hanging on a thread.

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