The surprise comeback to a 2-2 result in the first leg meant that PSV had quite an advantage going into this match. But the main advantage for PSV was created by their opponents themselves as Lille clearly proclaimed their Europa League campaign to be their lowest priority target, ranked behind their aim of qualifying for Champions League football next season and defending their first place in Ligue 1. PSV, on the other hand, fielded a full strength squad to face this reduced Lille side, where big names such as Gervinho, Hazard and Sow were left out of the starting eleven with the match against Lyon in mind.
PSV’s 4-2-3-1 and Lille’s 4-3-3 produced a mirror image of formations with both three-men midfields mainly neutralizing each other. Lille’s two central midfielders Gueye and Dumont effectively countered PSV’s double pivot. Particularly Gueye frustrated Engelaar’s passing game quite well. And since Engelaar does not half contribute what Afellay did in that same position in terms of offensive passing, Gueye frustrating his passing game meant that PSV had to take advantage of their wing play.
And the wings were where they dominated the game from early on. Lens on the right wing and Dszudszak on the left regularly had the better of their direct opponents, Lens in terms of pace and Dszuszak in terms of technique. Man-in-the-hole Toivonen was confronted with Lille captain Mavuba who played a very conservative conservative holding role, mostly dropping between both centre-backs in Lille’s build-ups. This meant that Ola Toivonen mainly posed a threat during the moments that PSV won possession early in Lille’s build-up.
The main problem for PSV in the early phase of the game was Berg’s inability to finish the chances provided to him by PSV’s dominant wingers. He managed to hit the post once from quite close and did not capitalize on a few other chances. Berg, who was the preferred striker going into this season, did struggle to live up to expectation earlier this season too and lost his spot to young Jonathan Reis, who unfortunately severely injured his knee, rendering him unavailable for the remainder of the season. Early in the season 11tegen11 has stated that PSV had a striker problem as Berg’s main successes have all come in a two striker 4-4-2 system, mainly during his time at Groningen. His sub-standard performance against Lille underlined this issue.
A goal down
Despite dominating the opening stage of the game, PSV managed to go a goal down against the run of play for the second time this season. Just like in the Sampdoria match a defending error formed the base for an opposing opening goal. PSV simply ran into the trap of the Lille keeper playing a long goal kick towards towering striker Tulio de Melo who simply won the header from Bouma (1.78m vs 1.91m) with Marcelo (1.90m) having to defend the pace of Frau.
Up until the half-time whistle, the goal did not change the pattern of play. Lille, understandably, was happy enough to sit back and look for high balls towards Tulio de Melo or quick balls into space for the wingers to run onto. Meanwhile PSV, unable to play through the centre due to Lille’s narrow three-men midfield, kept on failing to finish the crosses that kept coming in. Frankly speaking, their main threat was Dszadszak’s inside dribbling when looking for the right-footed shot from outside the box.
A highly controversial moment decided the fate of the game as Balasz Dszuszak used his wit in quickly taking a direct free kick just outside the edge of the box. While Lille keeper Mouko was still occupied with placing the defending wall, Dszudszak found the far corner empty and neatly curled the ball just inside the post. Understandably, Lille felt hard done, but to the letter of the law referee Iturralde handled the situation correct. The referee is obliged to either blow his whistle or give any other sign that the free kick may be taken. The fact that this sign was not visible or audible to the Lille players may harm the spirit of the game, but was, strictly spoken, not against the rules.
Another important consequence of this incident was Frau’s first yellow card, given for complaining, which was quickly follow by his second, at the hour mark, for a foul around the midline area. Lille, reduced to ten men then also saw their manager, Garcia, sent to the stands. They chased the game by bringing Hazard and Sow onto the pitch.
The advantage in midfield was quickly exploited by PSV as Toivonen used his freedom to set up Lens in behind Lille’s defensive line. A simple, but deftly executed one-two with Berg was enough for the tap-in and, quite frankly, a ticket to the final 16 of the Europa League. Lille, as mentioned above, did finally introduce their Ligue 1 top scorer, Moussa Sow, but the Senegalese striker was unable to alter the fate of the game. In the end PSV managed a third goal to flatter the score when Lille effectively had surrendered. Iif they hadn’t already done so before the kick-off in Lille that is, when deciding to field an upgraded “B” team…
In the end
It’s difficult to assess the value of this double match-up from a PSV perspective as in the first match Lille fielded a far from full-strength team and, in spite of that, gained the upper hand, only to allow PSV to come back to 2-2 in the final minutes of the game. And it this game, matters were fairly balanced until a rather controversial incident, followed by a red card for goal scorer Frau, determined the fate of the game.
All in all, PSV did qualify for the final 16 of the Europa League and with the other Dutch teams, Ajax and Twente, also still in contention, this year may develop as one of the better European seasons of recent years. From a Dutch perspective that is, and yes, from a Europa League, rather than a Champions League perspective too.