Valencia, PSG and the Futility of Possession Statistics

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Valencia, PSG and the Futility of Possession Statistics
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Ezequiel Lavezzi celebrates his goal against Valencia with teammate Zlatan Ibrahomovic.

Shortly after referee Paolo Tagliavento blew the final whistle at the Mestalla, UEFA released the official statistics from Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-1 win at Valencia.

Despite having only 37 percent of the possession and failing to win a certain corner, PSG managed to launch 14 shots (Valencia managed only 12), 10 of which hit the target (Valencia ended up with just seven shots on goal).

The guests played an effective counter-attacking game on the Spanish coast, and their pre-match team talk might well have been delivered by Gandalf from Lord of the Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

PSG used their time exceptionally well on Wednesday, allowing their opponents time and space in the middle of the park but closing in on them when they approached the goalmouth. And although Tino Costa and Daniel Parejo passed the ball with precision in buildup after buildup, they failed to create any meaningful chances until Costa’s free kick in the 90th minute found defender Adil Rami, who directed the ball into the back of the net.

But by then, the Ligue 1 leaders had struck twice—a pair of away goals that put them in the driver's seat both on the night and in the tie.

It took only 10 minutes for them to get their first.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Lucas Moura played a vital role in Javier Pastore's goal in the 43rd minute.

Following some good interplay between Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore, the ball found its way back to the former, who beat Vicente Guaita with a hard drive that the ‘keeper should still have been able to save.

And then with only two minutes remaining in the opening half, it was Pastore’s turn. Lucas Moura did much of the legwork on the goal, getting in behind makeshift left-back Andres Guardado on the right flank before cutting sharply inside and firing a pass across goal to his teammate. Pastore, who has struggled at times this season, needed only a single touch to put the ball past Guaita.

That goal, the manner of it, was PSG’s game plan to a tee. With midfielders Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi collapsing in front of defenders Alex and Mamadou Sakho, Valencia could find no space through the middle and spent much of their 63 percent of possession on the perimeter, making short passes or playing crosses to the opposite flank.

It was never the sort of possession that was going to result in reward, and time and again, Verratti or Matuidi created a turnover that unleashed PSG’s ferocious attack.

Moura, who played only 53 minutes due to an ankle injury, was especially dangerous on the break, needing only two or three steps to leave Guardado or whatever other player was marking him to be left in the dust. With the 20-year-old in full flight, PSG were able to have the ball in the attacking third in a matter of seconds while Valencia seemed to agonize over how to best make use of all their time on the ball.

PSG didn’t have that much time. But they had enough. And the time that they did have was spent well, spent in direct action and meaningful chances. That’s why they’re a goal up heading back to France.

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