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'Fantastic Four' can't mask PSG's comical defending

China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-15 09:53
From left: Neymar, Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe, and Mauro Icardi form Paris Saint-Germain's potent attacking quartet. [Photo/Agencies]

The compliments have been pouring in for a Paris Saint-Germain strike force nicknamed the Fantastic Four because of its destructive impact on oppositions defenses.

Led by Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and very ably supported by winger Angel Di Maria and prolific poacher Mauro Icardi, the quartet has notched 32 goals in the past seven games.

It's not hard to see why they are revered by fans and French media-hence the nickname. The four have been working so well together that coach Thomas Tuchel has even seen fit to leave PSG's 198-goal, all-time leading scorer Edinson Cavani on the bench.

Yet the Fantastic Four's honeymoon period could be coming to an end after Monaco spoiled the party on Sunday night with a 3-3 draw.

It was the first time for several weeks that PSG had been tested by such a quality side, and the way Monaco carved holes in the host's defense will have been noticed by PSG's next opponent in the Champions League, Borussia Dortmund.

Because, for all of PSG's undoubted attacking thrust, its defense remains glaringly fragile.

This will be a concern for Tuchel, especially since cash-rich PSG has not reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League in the last three seasons, with the German former Dortmund boss under pressure to ensure at least progress into the last eight.

The defending against Monaco, a side brimming with attacking flair yet only eighth in the French league, looked muddled, hasty and even panicky. A team with more self-belief would doubtless have come away with a victory.

Every time Monaco attacked at speed, combining with quick passes or stretching the back line by switching flanks, a sense of panic invaded a creaking PSG defense marshaled by 35-year-old Brazilian centerback Thiago Silva.

The visitor had enough chances to win, and Silva was fortunate his late handball following a Monaco corner went unpunished when a penalty appeared the correct decision.

The game produced a number of worrying stats for Tuchel. It was the first time PSG has conceded three goals this season and the first time since May 2012 that it has conceded twice inside the first 15 minutes of a league game. Monaco's 16 shots, meanwhile, was the highest allowed by PSG since October 2018.

It was not all the defense's fault, which is where Tuchel needs to be more decisive.

Playing with the Fantastic Four is very entertaining to watch but it means PSG is top-heavy in attack, which in turn impacts on the midfield and that can mean less help for the defense.

Tuchel has some thinking to do over whether to continue playing his four forwards together.

Impressive debut

Robert Moreno showed impressive tactical nous and intuition during his first league game in charge of Monaco.

Had it been a boxing contest, he would have beaten his opposite number Tuchel on points.

With his team trailing 3-2, he replaced former Arsenal and Barcelona playmaker Cesc Fabregas with ex-Leicester City striker Islam Slimani. Five minutes later, the slick Slimani equalized.

Moreno then protected the draw by hooking his best player, the French league's 14-goal top scorer Wissam Ben Yedder, and replaced him with Adrien Silva for the last 10 minutes.

Combative midfielder Silva won tackles, selflessly harried and generally put himself about, thus taking the pressure off a tired Monaco side.

By contrast, Tuchel appeared too conservative in his decision making.

Striker Icardi had a very quiet game yet Tuchel waited until the 86th minute to substitute the Argentine. When Cavani replaced Icardi in the 86th it immediately galvanized PSG, but it was too late to unsettle Monaco which had by then gained in confidence.

Moreno said he was not overawed by playing at defending champion PSG, which leads nearest rival Marseille by five points at the top of the Ligue 1 standings.

"I don't think it's a problem playing at Parc des Princes. If you want to play with style you can do that anywhere," he said on French TV. "That's what I said to my players: that we can win every game."

The teams meet again on Wednesday at Monaco's Stade Louis II.

AP via Xinhua

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