Paris Saint-Germain vs. Lyon: 6 Things We Learned in the Coupe De La Ligue Final
Paris Saint-Germain lifted their first domestic cup of the QSI-era on Saturday night with a challenging 2-1 victory over Olympique Lyonnais at the Stade de France.
Edinson Cavani gave PSG the dream start after just three minutes, bursting in to provide the final touch after some excellent work between Maxwell and Ezequiel Lavezzi down the left-flank.
The favourites dominated the first half and took a 2-0 lead in somewhat controversial circumstances. Brazilian forward Lucas Moura won a header on the edge of the penalty box. Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes had raced out to challenge Lucas, he made minimum contact with the forward, both went to ground and referee Stephane Lannoy pointed to the penalty spot.
Lopes was given a yellow card. His next action was to pick the ball out of the back of the net after Cavani confidently converted the spot-kick. The Uruguayan forward could have had a hat-trick after Lucas’ great run found him free inside the box, but the former Napoli man spooned his effort over the bar.
Lyon came out brighter in the second half, making the final a spectacle with French forward Alexandre Lacazette finding the corner of Nicolas Douchez’s net with 34 minutes to go.
Unfortunately, Lyon couldn’t take advantage of this slim sliver of light: They took over control of the midfield but couldn’t find a way past the Parisian defence. Brazilian stalwart and PSG captain Thiago Silva looked a little uneasy ahead of second-choice ‘keeper Douchez, but they would ultimately hold on for the 2-1 victory.
Paris Saint-Germain’s victory means that the second Europa League spot in France will be taken by the team that finishes fifth in Ligue 1. That spot is currently being held by Lyon, but only three points separate them from Marseille.
Remi Garde will have to pick up his troops for Wednesday’s away trip in Toulouse. Marseille have the chance to close the gap on Sunday night as they host Lille. With two Europa League places up for grabs, it’s all to play for in Ligue 1.
Read on for a few more things learned from Saturday’s Coupe de la Ligue final.
Naive Lyon Caught Cold in Fast Start
Lyon’s task on Saturday night was always going to be a challenge. Taking on the league leaders and one of the best teams in Europe is tough with your best players available, but Garde had to go up against PSG with several key players missing.
PSG’s dominance in the midfield area has been the key to their success this season: The trio of Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi are one of the best units in European football, and the key to Lyon’s success in last weekend’s 1-0 victory was their ability to disrupt and outwork the Parisian midfield.
This time, PSG came out of the blocks very quickly and instantly targeted Lyon’s right flank. Mouhamadou Dabo’s lack of playing time combined with the inexperience of Corentin Tolisso led to the opening goal.
After beautiful interplay between Maxwell and Lavezzi, the Brazilian left-back majestically lifted the ball over Lopes with Cavani stealing in to provide the finish.
Replays showed that Tolisso was too slow to react to Maxwell’s danger in the box, and Arnold Mvuemba wasn’t alert enough to close down Cavani’s shot. The Lyon midfield had been caught half asleep, and they were not active enough in protecting their defence.
A full strength Lyon would have contained at least two of Clement Grenier, Yoann Gourcuff and last week’s star-man, Jordan Ferri. Lyon would have stood a much better chance to withstand the initial PSG onslaught with a few of their star players in midfield.
Unfortunately, for Lyon and Garde, those players weren’t available on the night, and it was a great example of the young squad that Lyon have to play with in recent years; they don’t have the strongest bench to cope with losing players of that quality.
There are positive signs that Garde is moulding an excellent young team at Lyon, but against a team as strong as PSG on Saturday, the Ligue 1 champions had too much experience on the night.
Edinson Cavani Hungry Like the Wolf
After the criticism that Uruguayan striker Cavani had received in recent weeks, the spotlight was firmly focused on the forward coming into Saturday’s final.
With only three minutes on the clock, the weight of relief was lifted off Cavani’s shoulders as he stormed in to add the finishing touch to Maxwell’s excellent left-wing run.
Cavani had only scored twice in the last nine games, so it was clear to see just how much the goal meant to him; his performance was a lot closer to what has been expected of him after the €64 million move from Napoli in the summer.
The striker looked motivated, hungry and desperate for goals. He was close to converting a wonderful over the top pass from Verratti, but his second touch let Samuel Umtiti back in to clear the danger.
After Moura was fouled by Lopes, Cavani grabbed his second of the game from the penalty spot and it spurned on the Uruguayan’s overall performance, finishing Man of the Match per WhoScored.com’s rating system.
He could have scored a first-half hat-trick when Lucas did very well to put a chance on Cavani’s plate, but he couldn’t compose himself in time and the shot spooned over the bar.
In the second half, Cavani’s role was more defensive as he protected the midfield as Lyon mounted their comeback. The confidence he gained in the first half helped Cavani show his commitment and desire, and he looked a much better player than what he had in the last few weeks.
Cavani looked sharp and hungry, two qualities that PSG will need for the last few weeks of the season.
The Crucial Decision to Award PSG a Penalty
Paris Saint-Germain completely dominated Lyon in the first half, and the score could have easily been three or four nil at half-time. However, the decision taken by referee Lannoy to award PSG a first-half penalty was crucial in the Parisian’s 2-1 victory; a decision that he looks to have gotten wrong on the night.
Brazilian Moura darted into the box, leaping the highest and winning the initial header. Goalkeeper Lopes charged out and attempted to punch the ball clear, but his contact with Lucas was definitely outside the box. At the very most it should have been a free-kick to PSG, but there is some doubt over whether the contact was even enough to award a foul at all.
Lopes seemed to connect arms with Lucas, but it was purely accidental and not enough to warrant a clear foul. Luckily for Lyon, Lannoy only awarded Lopes a yellow card and the ‘keeper could stay on the pitch to face Cavani’s penalty.
With Lyon’s second-half comeback still to go, it is unclear how the game would have gone had Lannoy not awarded PSG the penalty at all; it would have been an even closer contest, and Lyon would have only needed a single goal to bring things level.
For all of the good play from both PSG and Lyon, it was this one decision from the referee that was crucial in Paris Saint-Germain lifting the Coupe de la Ligue. It is no wonder that Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas was livid with the decision after the match.
Alexandre Lacazette Showed He Is Worth the Interest
There has been plenty of talk in recent weeks regarding the future of Lyon forward Alexandre Lacazette. The 22-year-old has enjoyed an excellent season in Ligue 1, scoring more goals than any other French-born player, helping Lyon reach the final and push for a Europa League place.
After scoring 14 league goals this season, the French international has been linked with moves to Arsenal and Newcastle United, and Lyon were hoping that Lacazette could fire them to cup glory on Saturday night.
In a first half full of frustration and isolation, Lacazette had played a very withdrawn role beside Bafetimbi Gomis. For the majority of the first 45 minutes you could have been forgiven for thinking the young forward wasn’t even on the pitch.
That would all change in the second half. Lyon’s performance undoubtedly improved after the break with both Gomis and Lacazette enjoying better support and more touches on the ball. Then with over half an hour left in the game, Lacazette fired his team back into the cup final.
Cutting inside from the left wing, the forward picked up the ball and fired a beautifully placed shot inside Douchez's right-hand post. It was finish of a forward high on confidence and one that gave his side hope.
His ability to turn the first-half frustration into a positive second period should mark highly on the reports from on-looking scouts and officials. Lyon has insisted that Lacazette won’t be leaving this summer, but everyone at the club has a price. If one of the big clubs were to match Lyon’s asking price, then Aulas would have to listen to their offer.
If he does leave this summer, the goal in Saturday’s final is just a glimpse of the quality that he possesses. This is not a one-season wonder: Lacazette will play in a multitude of cup finals in his career to come, and he will be hoping they are more successful in the future.
Garde Outshines Blanc in the Tactical Battle
Both Garde and Laurent Blanc are tipped for huge futures as head coaches, and there are signs from both that they are deserving of the praise they have received this season.
However, on Saturday night, despite his side losing the game 2-1, Garde showed a little more tactical know-how than his PSG counterpart.
With his side down 2-0 with 35 minutes to go, Garde brought off right-back Dabo and brought on another forward in Jimmy Briand. Tolisso used his versatility to cover at right-back, and Lyon changed from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3; the change had an instant effect.
The three Lyon forwards stretched out the PSG defence: With right-back Christophe Jallet still looking to get forward, the movement of Briand and Lacazette troubled the defence.
In an uncharacteristic move from Silva, he gave away the ball cheaply in midfield, and Lyon’s new attacking trio made him pay. Lacazette drifted in from the wide-left position, picked up the ball and shot past Douchez. It was the perfect piece of movement from forward, made only possible by Garde’s tactical change.
On the other hand, despite being put under pressure from Lyon, Blanc changed very little during the whole game. All of his changes were like-for-like moves: Central midfielder for central midfielder and wide player for wide player, leaving the PSG formation in the exact same shape and the tactics the same as he set out before kick-off.
It is something that Blanc has been criticised for in the past, and it was evident to see on Saturday. Luckily he doesn’t face the sort of sides that could benefit from this on a regular basis, but if PSG are to complete at the highest level of the Champions League, it’s something he’ll have to develop very quickly.
Life After Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Paris Saint-Germain’s poor performances since Zlatan Ibrahimovic limped off during the first leg against Chelsea had caused a stir in the French capital. Could PSG continue to play and compete with the best sides without their talismanic Swedish forward? On Saturday night, the answer looking to be swaying back to "yes."
The poor performances had been equated to Cavani’s uninspiring showings as the main central striker. He had been near invisible against Chelsea, and his movement and desire against Lyon left a lot to desire.
Now, after a few weeks of teething problems, the trio of Cavani, Moura and Lavezzi looked to be a lot more comfortable with each other and more in tune with the movement that each player finds more natural.
Saturday night’s trio looked more balanced as a unit without the influence of Ibrahimovic. There is no way that any side would choose not to play without the giant Swede, but it was clear to see the signs of progression in this team without the pressure of playing the game in a way that suits the former Barcelona man.
There is no way that Zlatan is going to be leaving the Parisian capital any time soon, but it will have been encouraging for the PSG fans and staff that there is definitely still life without Zlatan.