Newly promoted RC Lens played host to reigning Ligue 1 champions PSG in what was the latter’s first game of the season. For those who had not paid much attention to PSG’s situation leading up to this season, they would have expected to see a resounding win for the champions, but this could not have been further from the reality due to a number of reasons – that eventually resulted in Lens claiming all three points following a 1-0 victory.
Fresh off the back of Champions League final defeat, PSG’s misery was compounded by the loss of experienced players (such as captain Thaigo Silva to Chelsea) and then an increase in absentees from the squad due to many star players contracting COVID-19. Stand out players that missed the match as a result of the virus included the likes of Neymar, Mbappé and Di María and, as it would any team, this greatly effected PSG’s performance on the night.
However, this crisis did free up spaces in the starting line up for 18 year olds Ruiz-Atil and Kalimuendo, whilst 20 year old Bułka started between the sticks for the Paris club. That is not to say that PSG did not have any experienced or proven players in their squad, with a midfield three of Gueye, Herrera and Verratti and a defence that included Bernat and Kimpembe, whilst Sarabia was also fit to start on the right wing. So high are the standards that PSG have set themselves over the last decade, that they would still have been hoping to have enough quality to get something out of the game, despite Tuchel playing it down in the pre-match press conferences.
This should take nothing away from Lens’ performance though as in the end they did enough to deserve all three points. They impressed against Nice in their opening game of the season and were perhaps unfortunate to lose in that match, but they didn’t let that effect them as they continued to work very hard for one another. The players seem to understand the system very well and they are an organised team defensively, who also carried a threat on the counter attack through the likes of Kakuta, Banza and Ganago – who scored the only goal of the game after a poor pass out from the young PSG goalkeeper Bułka. No time has been a good time to face PSG with the dominance that they have displayed in recent years in Ligue 1, but this was probably the best opportunity to date and Lens grabbed it with both hands.
PSG set up in a fluid 4-3-3 system, with what was a particularly makeshift starting eleven. Several players were forced to play out of position, such as Kurzawa (who played right back) and Thilo Kehrer (played at centre back), whilst Ruiz-Atil made his competitive debut from left wing and Kalimuendo also made his first appearance, playing as the sole striker. They dominated possession, ending the game with 78%, but really failed to threaten the opposition goal, only managing to get one of their eight shots on target. They lacked a cutting edge in front of goal and Verratti was forced to drop deeper and deeper as he was closely marked by the Lens midfield. In the end, perhaps the closest they came was from a Herrera free kick that sailed just over the bar. Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch, the defence never looked comfortable when faced by counter attacks and a momentary lapse in concentration cost them as Bułka’s stray pass was picked off and dispatched into the top corner 12 minutes into the second half.
Tuchel will be hopeful that some of his key players can make quick returns, as the team that faced Lens lacked conviction and firepower, and he will be wary of allowing any other teams to get too much of a head start at the top of the table. Generally over the last 5-10 years, PSG have had the league tied up by the closing stages and so they have been able to turn their attention to the European competitions if they were still in them, and so they will not want to be playing catch up domestically whilst also chasing that coveted Champions League trophy come the closing stages of this campaign.
- A1 – Very good, could play higher
- A2 – Strong potential to play higher
- B1 – Good, strong player at level
- B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
- C – Average for the level, rewatch
- D – Below average in this match
- Nationality: French / Moroccan
- Age: 18
- Date of birth: 26/08/2002
- Current Club: PSG
- Career: Barcelona (Y), PSG
- Position: Centre Midfield
- Secondary Position: Attacking Midfield / Left Wing
- Preferred foot: Right
Ruiz-Atil played on the left wing for PSG in this game, and demonstrated his technical ability on countless occasions as he was a bright spark for his team on his debut. Although on paper he operated as a left winger, he could frequently be seen drifting centrally or dropping into deeper areas to involve himself in build up play or trying to link up in front of goal rather than attack the by-line in wide areas.
The youngster was very creative with the ball at his feet, displaying great skill to beat a man or find an intricate pass to a teammate in tight spaces and to be fair, a lot of what he attempted came off for him and in this way he was able to add a bit of creativity into what was an otherwise fairly toothless PSG front line without their star performers. By dropping into deeper and central areas, he was able to take the ball on the turn between the lines and drive at the opposition defence, something that the rest of his team struggled with, and this made him a threat through his directness and almost fearlessness when going forward.
He also showed he was able to pick a pass and was inventive in the final third. However, maybe a bit of naivety shone through on occasion when he made the wrong decision, trying to pick a pass rather than have a shot on goal. With the ball at his feet, he showed a willingess to take on defenders and link up with teammates around the penalty area, but he seemed to show a reluctance to pull the trigger himself when there was an opportunity to shoot. A couple of times he worked his way into promising positions before trying to be too clever and pick an extra pass rather than having an effort at goal. On the one occasion that he did pull the trigger, it was one of his side’s best efforts as he picked the ball up around 25 yards out before injecting some pace into the attack, skipping past a challenge and seeing his shot fly just wide of the upright – had this found the top corner it would have been a moment of brilliance from the 18 year old but in reality it was just a glimpse of his capabilities.
His skill and close control allowed him to find teammates in tight spaces, and he linked up well with his fellow 18 year old Kalimuendo around the edge of the box, but unfortunately they weren’t able to find that killer ball for their side. Ruiz-Atal showed his ability to skip past challenges, but at the current moment in his development, he stands at just 5’6 and has a very slim build which makes him very agile but also means that he can be brushed off the ball with ease at times by bigger, more aggressive opponents. Furthermore, his positioning of drifting into central areas meant that there was not much width down the left hand side and it made the pitch narrower for his team as they failed to stretch the opposition at any stage. By dropping deep he was able to see more of the ball and have an impact on the build up play, but he sometimes left Kalimuendo isolated at striker which lessened their combined effectiveness.
Overall, it was a good game from Ruiz-Atil given the circumstances, before being withdrawn with just over 20 minutes to play. He was creative on the ball and looked to make things happen for his team, but he struggled with the physicality of the game at times and his decision making understandably left room for improvement, given that it was his first taste of senior football. With the superstars of the PSG team likely to return to action over the next couple of weeks, the 18 year old may have to settle for a couple of substitute appearances as well as continuing in the youth set-up, unless the club decide to try and send him out on loan which may be beneficial for the player’s development.
- Nationality: French / DR Congo
- Age: 18
- Date of birth: 20/01/2002
- Current Club: PSG
- Career: PSG
- Position: Striker
- Preferred foot: Right
On his professional debut in senior football, Kalimuendo was handed the striker role, spearheading the makeshift PSG forward line. The youngster looked sharp on the ball and seemed able to compete physically, but struggled to get into the game for long periods and as a result, rarely seemed a threat to the Lens goal.
He only managed to touch the ball 35 times before being withdrawn on the 73rd minute, and this wouldn’t be too much of a problem if it wasn’t for his team as a whole having 78% possession and the areas in which he was generally seeing the ball. He mainly received the ball with his back to goal and did this job well, using his strength to hold off defenders and bring midfielders into play, but this meant that he was always passing backwards and due to a lack of runners going beyond him, PSG as a team struggled to progress into the final third and cause problems for the defence.
He was occasionally able to link up smartly with the likes of Ruiz-Atil and Sarabia on the edge of the box, frequently making clever first time lay-offs to his teammates, but failed to pose much of a threat himself. The PSG youth product was efficient with his passing, completing 17 of his 18 attempted, whilst he stands at 5’10 and has a strong build that allows him to be explosive when running with the ball and gives him the ability to hold off or get away from defenders. He displayed his ability to be dangerous when making runs in behind, but didn’t do so often enough which resulted in him failing to stretch the opposition defence that often, whilst he was caught too static once or twice when his teammates were looking for some movement.
His control allowed him to free up space for a shot early on that was blocked, whilst he saw another tame effort easily dealt with by the Lens keeper. Although he seemed to possess all the tools to be an effective front man, perhaps understandably he was lacking some confidence and seemed to lack a bit of self-belief when taking on defenders or shots on goal. Overall though, it was a solid display from Kalimuendo, who brought others into play effectively and made good use of his physicality, but struggled to threaten before being withdrawn for the final 15 minutes.
Kalimuendo and Ruiz-Atil were both called upon as last resorts given the absentees from the squad, and despite holding their own and likely having bright futures ahead of them, they probably don’t feature much in Tuchel’s plans for this season. As a result, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them return to the youth set-up or sent out on loan to gain valuable first team experience that they got their first taste of in this match.
- Nationality: Polish
- Age: 20
- Date of birth: 04/10/1999
- Current Club: PSG
- Career: Chelsea (Y), PSG
- Position: Goalkeeper
- Preferred foot: Right
In what was only Bułka’s second competitive first team appearance for the club, he made a costly error that tarnished what was an overall decent performance aside from the mistake. The youngster seemed a bit shakey at first, making one or two poor clearances on his weaker left foot, and coming off the line to claim a ball only for it it be cleared away by a defender before he could get there. The 20 year old will also have been relieved to see a Ganago strike hit the post and deflect wide after some great footwork from the Lens forward. However, after that, he began to pass the ball confidently and he played some crisp passes to the feet of the defenders even when he was put under pressure. He also began to seem more competent when clearing the ball, happy to use either foot to get rid of the danger.
However, this growing confidence was what lead to a disappointing mistake from the young shot stopper. With the ball at his feet, he looked to play a pass to the incoming Verratti on the edge of his own area (a pass that never seemed on) and undercooked his attmpet to find the Italian midfielder, seeing it cut out by Ganago just inside the area before he got the ball onto his right foot and found the top corner with expert precision. It was an unfortunate mistake, but it comes with part and parcel of being a goalkeeper that errors are more severely punished than anywhere else on the pitch and it will be a learning curve for the Polish keeper. Despite this, he showed good mental strength to continue following his instructions to play out from the back and was accurate with the rest of his passes.
Otherwise, Bułka seemed comfortable when faced by the opposition, holding onto some routine saves with ease and looking to release the ball quickly. He only had one other real save to make, where the ball was swung in and the Lens player got a touch on it from point blank range, but the keeper spread himself well to divert it away from goal and keep his team in the game for the final 10 minutes. At 6’6, he was able to competently deal with aerial balls and punched clear very well on one occasion to take responsibility from a corner, but aside from that he was rarely tested in this department.
Bułka’s performance will be remembered for his mistake that cost his team – which is the sad truth that goalkeepers face. However, on the whole he did show some promising signs and, at 20, is still very young for a goalkeeper to be playing senior football at this level. Bułka found himself in goal as a result of regular starter Navas being in quarantine, whilst Sergio Rico was ineligible for this match and PSG had just confirmed the sale of Areola to Fulham, it is unlikely that he will see much more first team football with PSG this season, but he could go out on loan or be used in the clubs youth teams.
- Nationality: German
- Age: 23
- Date of birth: 21/09/1996
- Current Club: PSG
- Career: Schalke 04, PSG
- Position: Right Back
- Secondary Position: Defensive Midfield / Centre Back
- Preferred foot: Right
This was a disappointing game from Thilo Kehrer who really struggled whilst playing as a central defender for his team in this match. Naturally a right back, the German was moved to a more central role due to absentees from the squad, and had a hard time coping with the strength, intensity, pace and skill of the Lens front two consisting of Ganago and Banza.
Although he is 6’1, he has a relatively slim build which made him an easy target for the likes of Ganago who was a real handful. He was muscled off the ball on several occasions, displaying weakness and a lack of aggression in the challenge, whilst he also committed some clumsy fouls by getting too tight to his man and running into the back of him. Most of Kehrer’s defensive issues seemed to stem from a general lack of awareness of where his opponent was, failing to check his surroundings and allowing the forward to nip in front of him or run off his shoulder. This almost lead to his team conceding when Ganago hit the post, as the Lens striker pulled off his shoulder from a Lens goal kick before nipping in front of him, turning, and driving past the German defender, then cutting inside and seeing his shot hit the upright. One of the few defensive positives was that he did show a decent level of aerial ability at times throughout this match, leaping well to win headers and prevent Lens from countering.
On the ball, Kehrer was comfortable and able to recycle possession effectively, but did no more than that. He often played short forwards or square passes and looked to the midfield to provide the creativity rather than trying to be overambitious. This resulted in him finishing the game having completed 100 of his 102 attempted passes in the match, but the manner of this passing was not particularly urgent and was often at a slow pace which allowed Lens to retain their defensive shape before looking to counter. The 23 year old rarely ever stepped out of defence with the ball and, as mentioned previously, preferred to play short passes into one of the three central midfield players.
This was a disappointing performance from Kehrer who looked very shaky when defending and was consistent yet unspectacular with the ball at his feet. Due to him playing out of position in a very makeshift team, I would like to see him again in his more natural role, but this display didn’t fill me with confidence.