Perhaps being one of the more low-profile PSG players, this season Juan Bernat has consolidated himself as PSG’s starting left-back. The Spaniard has demonstrated a good level in Ligue 1 with PSG winning the league after the season was cancelled. Additionally, he has played well in the UEFA Champions League where PSG are now in the quarter-finals. Bernat even scored in the second leg of the round of 16 against Borussia Dortmund to complete the comeback. In this tactical analysis, we will examine how Bernat is behaving in this star-studded PSG side.
Bernat has proved his worth since he was young, breaking through the ranks of Valencia to then be bought by Bayern Munich and now, PSG. In this scout report, we will see how Bernat is a complete player, excelling in both defensive and attacking responsibilities. However, Thomas Tuchel dictates in what style Bernat plays depending on the opposition. Against weaker teams, he flourishes in attack and against stronger teams, he is more conservative.
Against strong teams (Borussia, Marseille and more), Bernat is more conservative. There are a few reasons for this, one of them being that PSG have such a talented attacking force and midfield. This means that they do not need the help of the full-backs in attack in these games.
Another reason is that PSG’s attack is not based on crossing the ball into the box as much as other teams. PSG focus their attack with their talented attack having the ball at their feet, taking advantage of players such as Neymar and Mbappé, among others.
Moreover, Neymar and Mbappé usually play on the same flank as Bernat and sometimes they lose the ball trying complicated actions with their skills. This means that there has to be someone behind them to cover for their mistakes.
It is important Bernat stays behind because if PSG lose the ball in the left flank with him attacking, a strong team could punish them. A good example of Bernat knowing his role against big teams is in Figure one, where Bernat has just recovered the ball and passed it to Mbappé. At this moment, you can see how his body stance is now more relaxed as he knows he does not have to go help in attack but rather stay behind.
One more reason that Bernat has to be more conservative in these games is that Neymar and Mbappe very rarely track back with the opponent right-backs. The opposing team knows this and takes advantage of it with the right tactics.
Figure two shows the example against Borussia Dortmund where Jadon Sancho moves closer to the ball and Bernat follows to mark him. At the same time, Achraf (Dortmund’s right back) makes the run in behind. All this happens with Neymar looking at the ball, not focusing on the opponent right-back.
Here is another example in Figure three of the same movement against Marseille. The right-back makes a move behind Bernat, who is covering the right midfielder who has come inside. In this analysis, we see that this time Mbappé is the one who does not track back.
As a result, this means that Bernat has to then sprint back in the hope of catching the opponent right back before he produces danger. Even though this causes PSG issues, Bernat is a quick player who can make up the lost ground in these moments.
His defensive abilities are proven with his 8.54 defensive duels per game with 59.38% success rate, both solid numbers.
Instead of attacking, what Bernat does is be more secure on the ball. He does not try forward passes as much but opts for secure passes to maintain possession against stronger teams. With him being a very technical player and a good passer, he excels at this. In fact, he is in the top 10 between fullbacks when it comes to completed passes.
He does 60.67 passes per game with a 90.65% success rate, both being very good statistics in Ligue 1. To show the extent to which Tuchel believes in Bernat’s technical and passing ability, he was even played in the midfield position in a Ligue 1 game, shown in Figure four below.
Furthermore, Bernat creates 0.47 xGBuildup per game which is one of the highest in Ligue 1. The xGBuildup is the “xGChain not counting the xG value of the actual shot and the xA value of the shot assist.” This metric is most useful to evaluate player contribution in deeper-lying playmaking or build-up play, showing Bernat’s passes and decisions help create chances from the back.
A different aspect that Bernat uses more frequently against stronger teams is his dribbling skills. Instead of to attack, he uses them to get out of complicated situations when pressed in order to maintain the ball.
This season he does 3.96 dribbles per game with 49.23% success. An example of him using his effective dribbling when pressed is in Figures five and six below. In Figure five, we can see Bernat is being intensely pressed and is in a difficult situation. Then, in Figure six, Bernat manages to turn well and is now heading towards goal.
This transition from a difficult situation to him being liberated and out of pressure is one of many that Bernat creates during games.
Against weaker teams, Bernat is given more freedom to attack as weaker teams usually defend in a low block and so it is harder to play through them.
Also, if caught on the counterattack, a weaker team is less likely to produce danger. When weak teams defend in a low block, Bernat and PSG’s right-back stay very wide as we can see in Figure one.
This makes the opponent team stretch out which makes finding passes through the middle easier. Additionally, with this method, they can use the full-backs to attack too.
Another reason Bernat is allowed to advance is that he attacks well. In fact, he has four assists, the most out of any full back in Ligue 1. This is impressive as he predominantly attacks against weaker teams which is not that often.
To prove it, all four of his assists have come when playing against weaker teams such as Toulouse, Nimes, and Amiens. These three teams are now at the bottom of Ligue 1.
The way he gets these assists is by staying wide and coming inside to make a run which takes defenders by surprise. In Figure seven we see how Bernat has made a run in behind the right-back who is not able to make contact with the ball. Following the moment in this image, Bernat controls the ball and easily assists a teammate.
Another effective way they allow full-backs in the attack is by focusing their attacking force in one side, drawing the opponent defensive line to that flank. This then creates space for the full-back who has stayed wide and can take advantage of the space, such as in Figure eight.
Lastly, an interesting pattern Bernat produces in his dribbling is his tendency to cut inside. This happens both against stronger and weaker teams. By doing this, he does something unusual and unpredictable for defenders.
Normally, left-backs prefer to dribble into their better foot but Bernat does the opposite. This allows him to surprise defenders with his dribble, such as in Figure nine against Brugge. Here, by cutting inside, he gets rid of two defenders.
Overall, Bernat has proved that he can both attack confidently and be defensive-minded. This is vital nowadays where full-backs are expected to cover both responsibilities. He also understands his role in the team well, knowing he has to stay back against stronger teams and let the attackers do their job.
However, knowing his dribbling and technical ability, it would be interesting to see Bernat attack more against stronger teams. This is because usually the marquee player (Neymar, Mbappé) draw many defenders in due to their talent. Consequently, this allows more spaces for their teammates, which Bernat could exploit and surprise the defence.