This article was also featured on this week’s Onside Inzaghi Podcast.
Stade Louis-Dugauguez, Sedan, December 2000. Laurent Robert scores the only Parisien goal as PSG, wearing grey, are routed by former Cameroon international Pius N’diefi’s hat trick for now fifth tier side CS Sedan-Ardennes. It finished 5-1. On Sunday night, nearly two decades later, Lille were next to put five past Paris in Ligue 1. While the scoreline was unfamiliar, it was a type of defeat PSG know only too well.
Pressure came from the off. Lille midfielder Xeka’s flicked seventh minute header rebounded off Thomas Meunier for 1-0 and although Juan Bernat swiftly responded, Paris appeared brittle in what was a fraught and open encounter. Just after the half hour Bernat saw red for a supposed trip on Nicolas Pepe as the Ivorian forward bared down on goal. PSG a man, the second half turned riotous. A swift counter put Pepe through to roll home five minutes after the break before winger Jonathan Bamba crashed home a third at the end of a 31 pass move - the longest the produce a goal in Ligue 1 this season. Bamba, Pepe and Jonathan Ikone all came close before centre backs Gabriel and Jose Fonte out muscled a lethargic PSG defence, missing Thiago Silva and Marquinhos, to embellish the scoreline further.
With PSG feeling hard done by after Bernat's sending off, Julian Draxler was filmed berating the referee in the tunnel. The German, who's ineffective display received just 2/10 from L'equipe, was lead away by Alphonse Areola shouting “You have VAR - why don’t you use it? Explain that to me!” PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi piled on with “We need to raise the level of French football!" Kylian Mbappe meanwhile, well aware he was being filmed, complained “This referee takes the Coupe de la Ligue from us, he takes our players from us, he takes everything,” in reference to three penalties awarded - correctly - by Misure Bastian to Guingamp as PSG crashed out of the league Cup in January.
Mbappe later told Canal plus that PSG “played like children” and that they “must play with more personality.” Although Thomas Tuchel rejected that idea, an absence of mental fortitude has become an almost cliched PSG punchline. Despite winning 26 of 30 previous league games this season with a modicum of fuss, this was PSG’s second chance to secure Ligue 1 squandered this week. Thilo Kehrer’s header rescued a draw from Strasbourg last Sunday but a win was needed to secure their sixth title in seven seasons, while a draw here would have sufficed. Once again, mirroring various limp Champions League exits, PSG imploded when handed a relatively simple task with tangible rewards at steak.
Particularly guilty of lacking personality was German defender Kehrer who continued a poor season; positionally poor for two goals. Presnel Kimpembe again underlined how he has regressed this season, outmaneuvered by Gabirel and Jose Fonte for goals 4 and 5. Meanwhile Leandro Parades lacked impact. His 47m fee continues to baffle given that Thomas Tuchel hasn't trusted the Argentine in the bigger games since arriving in January from Zenit Saint Peters burg. Impending arrivals means he’ll soon be demoted to the bench.
Mbappe on the other hand, who has played like he has something to prove after a wayward performance in the loss to Manchester United, was the only Parisien to offer resilience or threat. A sharp turn and looped cross to assist Bernat’s equalizer remained a highlight despite PSG's ‘downright humiliation’ as L’equipe put it.
Although this dismantling remains highly embarrassing for PSG, there remain sizeable caveats. Tuchel’s side were crippled by continuing injuries to Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and Marquinhos coming into the game, while Thiago Silva and Meunier were forced off in the first half. Those absentees proved prohibitive against free-wheeling Lille outfit, their pace and power devastating this term.Galtier’s men meanwhile had much more to play for; second place meaning no Champions League qualifiers. Tuchel’s style meanwhile often breeds a more fluid spectacle, something that has and will benefit PSG, even if losses like these are possible when their intensity drops. One dimensional possession football may routinely have worn down Ligue 1 opponents previously but it meant earlier incarnations plateaued in Europe and, despite the disastrous United defeat, there were signs of European progress against Liverpool and Napoli.
Post match, Tuchel again took the chance to express concern about the size of his currently decimated squad of only just 22 senior players. PSG have regularly failed to fill their bench in recent weeks, naming only 6 subs at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy with midfield being a particularly weak area. Tuchel again stated his team miss Adrien Rabiot, the PSG coach’s frustration at the board's decision to banish the want away young Frenchman after meandering contract negotiations came to nothing is well know.
“We played with players who were unwell, who should not have played. It is not possible to work with only 16 players.” complained Tuchel, “To win here, we needed more quality and looking at the circumstances, we had a good match. I must protect my players. I do not think that we are going to win at Nantes [in midweek]. Maybe we will have to go there with just 13 players. The match this evening shows just how impressive everything we have done this season is… We are missing Lassana Diarra and Adrien Rabiot. Everyone can see that - I am going to say this to the president. Nobody has said anything because we were winning. Now, everyone has some thinking to do.”
On Monday morning, L'equipe ran the headlines ‘Lille brake PSG’ and, inside, “This dolphin is a shark’. Pepe meanwhile, taking a rare 9/10 from L’equipe who referred to him as ‘unplayable’, rightly stated 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, losing 2-1 at Nantes on Friday, Les Douges now enjoy an eight point cushion over OL in third. With just 6 games to play, second is nearly theirs.
Unfathomably, at this point last season Lille were second bottom. A 2-1 loss to Bordeaux one of eleven consecutive winless games that seemed to condemn the club to relegation. Despite an ability to squeeze the best from increasingly minimal resources at St Etienne, Chrisptope Galtier was initially bereft of ideas on how to avert their slide after inheriting a rudderless and painfully inexperienced squad left over from the disastrous Marcelo Bielsa reign.
However, three miraculos wins at the end of the campaign rescued Lille and Galtier has since set about reinventing the team and his own style, moulding a balanced, aggressive, pacey outfit. Following Sunday night’s win Pepe 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 rigor and their desire to win”.
Despite his own achievements, the 52 year old coach remains indebted to former Monaco Sporting Director Luis Campos. Campos, who was seen arguing with Al-Khelaifi in the directors box mid-match, often clashed with Bielsa over signings but his more considered view on transfer policy has proved pivotal this term. Lille’s transformation being all the more impressive given overbearing 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.
Kevin Malcuit, Fodo Ballo-Toure 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 by talented youngsters such as Bamba (23), forward Ikone (20), full back Zeki Celik (22) and striker Rafa Leao (19), all of whom have proved crucial. The experience removed as Bielsa ripped everything up and started again was re-introduced via 30 somethings Jose Fonte and Loic Remy. 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.
However, having faced administrative relegation last summer as their finances were heavily scrutinzed by authorities, this summer may also be difficult to negotiate with sales again needed and most of Europe keen to write cheques for their key players. For Campos, repeating the feat will be even tougher. For Psg meanwhile, they may not conceded five again domestically for another 20 years, this manner of defeat is becoming all too common.
by Adam White