On a windy evening in Chicago, a crowd of mostly confused Manchester United fans watched Paris Saint-Germain score two unanswered goals and win the prestigious International Champions’ Cup trophy.
Alright, so maybe it’s not exactly the Champions League, but this actually means a lot for the likes of Jean-Kévin Augustin, who started every game this preseason and remains tied with Zlatan Ibrahimovic for top scorer. The 18-year-old had has never enjoyed such a run in the first-team, and the unrelenting quality he showed has certainly legitimized him to manager Laurent Blanc and the team. Benjamin Stambouli has been exceptional since his debut and looks to be a more than adequate replacement for a disgruntled Thiago Motta. Likewise, Christopher Nkunku has established himself as a solid talent, where before this preseason (and this tournament) he had very little chance to shine. This is why PSG’s victory over Benfica was so crucial: these youngsters, some as young as 17, gripped their chances against a quality opponent. They never were afforded that opportunity previously.
But enough about the implications of a preseason trophy; what can we take away from a victory over United?
Ibrahimovic didn’t exactly start the game off on a positive note as United goalie David de Gea, whose head appears to have taken a plane to Madrid, essentially passed the ball straight to him. A rare clear-cut miss from the Swede. He did make up for it later—and generally, from his midfield position, he did exceptionally well all game—but PSG could have gotten off to the funniest of starts had he tucked that away.
It’s fair to say that Paris had a shaky opening quarter, with the English side dominating possession and enjoying a large degree of freedom on the right through the exceptional Juan Mata and Matteo Darmian. While those two were very much in control going forward, the marauding wing-backs did come back to bite the Reds for the opener. Blaise Matuidi stuck his studs out and poked the ball home past a confused de Gea.
That was as much Lucas Moura’s goal as it was de Gea’s, and that brings me to something else interesting I observed. Lucas thrived in the first half. Often marked and out-muscled, the Brazilian may have failed to make many of his trademark runs but he was always our forward outlet. With Augustin retracted on the right flank, playing up and down the touchline, and Zlatan retreating into an extraordinarily deep, free-roaming role, it seems that Blanc has adopted a diamond midfield in all things but name. Lucas – per ESPNFC’s heat-map – played as the only dedicated ‘forward’ that PSG had in the first half, latching onto long balls and setting up others, while Matuidi bombed forward as always and Augustin looked to contribute as a deep-lying forward to fill the space.
In the toned-down second half (boring as a Chelsea match at times) Edinson Cavani came on to prompt tactical shift. Lucas was in the deeper, right-hand role to cross the ball and Cavani in the advanced, central role. Zlatan, though still a presence deep in the midfield, ostensibly played the #10 role. We couldn’t actually see this in action very much as the string of substitutes starved the Uruguayan of the ball (and Lucas arguably did a better job of it), but it can safely be said that this is the sort of system that allowed Cavani his hat trick against Guingamp.
The big Swede won the man of the match award, scoring the second goal courtesy of a Maxwell cross (football’s biggest bromance) and nutmegging de Gea in the process. That second goal ensured Paris Saint-Germain the trophy, beating the New York Red Bulls by a single goal scored.