5 Ways PSG Have Improved from Last Season
Last season Paris Saint-Germain won their first Ligue 1 title in 19 years, eventually finishing a comfortable 12 points ahead of second-placed Olympique de Marseille.
Despite such a wide final margin, the success was not as straightforward as the final table suggests.
More often than not, PSG were unconvincing and played dull, unattractive football under former boss Carlo Ancelotti. While the now-Real Madrid coach’s success last term with the side from the capital in Le Championnat and Champions League cannot be argued with, there is no doubt that PSG have improved this year.
Now led by Frenchman Laurent Blanc, the team are in sensational form: 11 games into the season, PSG sit top of the table, leading title rivals AS Monaco on goal difference, and have yet to lose a match.
More than that, the defending champions have looked thoroughly convincing so far and are in better form in the Champions League.
Here are the five main areas in which PSG have improved from last season.
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Perhaps the most noticeable improvement between PSG this season and the team from last term is their ability to retain possession.
Under Carlo Ancelotti, the side from the capital struggled to dominate games and keep the ball away from their opponents.
Now, under Laurent Blanc, PSG are passing their opponents to death at times and control matches far better than they ever did under Ancelotti.
The Italian struggled to get the side to adapt to a three-man central midfield and quickly gave up the idea. Blanc has made that work this season and the results have been impressive, with Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta playing key roles.
PSG have not dropped below 52 percent in overall possession so far this season in any league match (statistics via ligue1.com).
They only dropped to 44 percent against Olympique de Marseille because of a raft of late defensive substitutions to protect their 2-1 lead at the Stade Velodrome. Despite being down to 10 men, PSG still dominated possession for the best part of 70 minutes in Provence.
That impressive benchmark figure of 52 percent goes as high as 72 percent of the ball over 90 minutes vs. Ajaccio in their 1-1 draw in August. Only a virtuoso goalkeeping display from Guillermo Ochoa prevented Blanc’s side from winning.
Last year, PSG failed to dominate their opponents as convincingly as they should have done. This year, the defending champions are showing no mercy.
This year PSG are showing fantastic character.
Laurent Blanc’s side fought back from 1-0 down with 10 men to beat bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille 2-1 at the Stade Velodrome. They then overturned a two-goal deficit to salvage a point at AS Saint-Etienne last weekend.
Last season, PSG would arguably have lost both of those matches.
The improved team chemistry is partly down to the squad now being more familiar with one another after last season’s title victory. Another reason for this stronger sense of unity is that the players are more mature, and some of them have now experienced a title win and know what it takes to be champions.
Marco Verratti in particular has shown far more maturity this season. Although he still averages one yellow card every two games (player stats via ligue1.com), he has embraced his more responsible role under Laurent Blanc.
PSG are less of a team composed of individuals and more of a genuine unit now. They now rely less on moments of individual brilliance and more on team moves to score their goals.
Of course, the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani are still capable of providing the occasional moment of magic. However, there is less of the dependency on the Swede than there was last year.
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Statistically speaking, PSG are three points better off at this point of the season than they were last year.
At present, the capital club have 25 points from 11 matches. Under Carlo Ancelotti, the side had 22 points from 11 games (league table statistics via ligue1.com).
The Italian and PSG also did not have AS Monaco to contend with but still found themselves two points behind Olympique Lyonnais. PSG currently lead Les Monegasques by virtue of their superior goal difference.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement of Laurent Blanc’s since taking over has been to instil a high level of acceptable performance within the squad. An "average" PSG performance now means that the team are still be difficult to beat because of their superior ball-retention skills.
For example, the last time PSG conceded two goals before Sunday’s draw at Saint-Etienne match was against Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions league quarter-final back in April.
Unbeaten in 22 league matches at present, PSG are without defeat in 30 games across all competitions. Their last competitive defeat was away to Stade de Reims in March.
Exactly half of those 30 encounters came under Ancelotti during his longest unbeaten run as PSG coach. The side went 15 games without defeat between March and May of this year.
Should the capital club beat FC Lorient at the Parc des Princes on Friday, Blanc will have eclipsed that with 16.
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Currently PSG have scored 20 goals and conceded just seven, two of which came against Saint-Etienne last weekend. Last year, the side had scored 17 and also conceded seven at this point (statistics via ligue1.com).
The statistics show that PSG are more potent going forward this campaign but just as tight at the back.
Considering how difficult the side from the capital found it to break down every opponent last season, the French transfer record signing of Edinson Cavani appears to be having the desired effect.
It is also worth noting that PSG have yet to fail to score in any match so far this season in Ligue 1 or the Champions League. Under Carlo Ancelotti, the team failed to score in six separate matches across all competitions.
PSG last goalless performance came in the 1-0 defeat away to Stade de Reims, their last competitive loss.
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By this point last year, PSG had lost once to Porto and were not in control of what was a relatively straightforward group on paper. This year they are thoroughly dominant and top group C with nine points from three matches.
In the process, Laurent Blanc’s side have scored 12 goals and conceded just one. Only Real Madrid have scored as many as the Ligue 1 leaders so far, but they have also conceded one more goal than PSG.
The French champions did enjoy a favourable draw in this season’s opening stages, but the group is arguably very similar to last year’s (Champions League group A via UEFA.com).
Benfica and Porto are not too different in terms of ability and, if anything, PSG faced the more difficult side last year. But Olympiakos and RSC Anderlecht are arguably as challenging, if not more, than Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb.
PSG scored 14 times overall in last season’s competition. Under Blanc, PSG have evidently learned to dominate their opponents on both the domestic and continental stages.