Coming from the PSG academy, Presnel Kimpembe is one of the few academy players who has asserted himself in the first team. With PSG most commonly known for its talented attack, its defence is also key to the club’s recent success. The World Cup champion has played 26 games this season at a good level. In this tactical analysis, we will explore how he effectively cuts attacks and starts the build-up.
Kimpembe has been gaining Thomas Tuchel’s confidence with his performances. He has been an important asset this season, leading PSG to a Ligue 1 title victory and the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League. He played especially well in the recent second leg game against Borussia Dortmund where he had to mark Erling Haaland, Europe’s trending striker. In this scout report, we will see how Kimpembe’s characteristics fit into PSG’s playing style.
Interceptions and stepping up
One of Kimpembe’s specialities are his interceptions. He excels at reading the game and knowing where a pass is going to then attack it.
With PSG normally being dominant in Ligue 1 and controlling possession, when they lose it, the recovery has to be quick so that the opponent does not counterattack. This is similar to what Barcelona have done for years.
An example of this is in Figure one. Here, the Borussia Dortmund player is receiving the pass and is looking behind. Kimpembe is already moving when the pass was made and knows the player is not fully aware of him. He takes advantage and intercepts the ball, neutralising the attack effectively.
This also proves that Kimpembe is an intelligent player who can read the game well and anticipate certain actions.
Another reason why Kimpembe is good at interceptions is because he likes to step up from his defensive line and surprise the opponent player.
Usually, the centre backs do not step out of their position to tackle a player as this would leave space behind. But Kimpembe does this well and takes the opponent by surprise, making it easier to take the ball away.
This is proven by his 11.77 recoveries per game which is a very good statistic.
In Figure two, Haaland has just controlled the ball and is looking down. Kimpembe reads this situation and quickly goes to tackle the ball. We can see how much he stepped out of his defensive line. He should be careful because if one time he does not tackle the ball correctly, he leaves a lot of space behind him.
Speed and Closing down
Another main attribute to have for a centre back in a team that dominates possession and position themselves high up the pitch is speed. Kimpembe has to be quick because since PSG’s centre backs are sometimes on the halfway line, there is a lot of space behind them.
This means that if the opponents have a counterattack, a fast striker could potentially be very dangerous for them.
Fortunately, Kimpembe is an athletic player who covers distances well. This is great to catch up with strikers and also when the ball is played behind the left-back and he has to quickly cover for him.
An example of his speed is shown in Figure three. Here, Haaland who is a quick striker, has lots of space to run into. However, Kimpembe manages to catch up with him and we see in Figure four that he gets to the ball before Haaland and clears it.
This is impressive as Haaland is in great form and is known for his speed among other things. Even with all this, Kimpembe could outrun him.
A further attribute Kimpembe does well is his closing down. His positioning when he is in front of a striker who wants to shoot is very good. He makes sure to close down as many shooting angles as he can which then makes it a lot harder for the striker to finish correctly.
Figures five and six show a great example of this when Marseille’s striker is through on goal. Kimpembe has the acceleration to catch up to the striker and immediately positions himself between the ball and the goal.
This positioning makes the striker have to go on to his right foot for a shot but Kimpembe reads this well and clears the ball.
However, there are a few times when he loses concentration which make him not clear the ball well or have to run back to cover for a mistake. These losses of concentration are something he needs to work on.
But overall defensively, Kimpembe is a solid centre back which is proven by his 5.37 defensive duels with 65.38% success rate. This shows that he does not have to make as many defensive duels as other Ligue 1 centre backs as PSG usually dominate possession.
However, when he does have to make a defensive action, he deals with the trouble well as a 65.38% success rate is high. He just needs to fix those few mistakes made when he loses concentration because they are only a few but could be very dangerous for PSG.
On the ball
To be a centre back in such a high-profile team as PSG, you need to be good on the ball. Kimpembe meets these expectations as he is very composed in possession.
It is important to mention he makes 73.62 passes per game with a 95.51% success rate, making him the 2nd best Ligue 1 centre back in terms of passing. He is only beaten by Thiago Silva in this aspect, emphasising PSG’s desire to control possession.
Also, because PSG usually dominate possession, some teams try to press them high to make it difficult for them. This situation is common as PSG like building up from the back even when pressured which is risky and needs Kimpembe to be calm under pressure, which he is.
This is also the case in important games such as in the Champions League. In Figure seven, Dortmund is pressuring PSG in the build-up. Kimpembe then receives the ball from the left-back and on his first touch makes an accurate pass to a midfielder.
With such composure, he effectively broke Dortmund’s pressure.
PSG’s centre backs are very important in the build-up as they are usually the ones starting the play. This is suited to Kimpembe as he has the vision and technical ability to start the play from deep.
With PSG liking to stretch teams wide, this leaves space through the middle for passes that break lines. Kimpembe tries these passes when he sees a viable option. If not, he patiently passes the ball between the other defenders and the midfielders.
When he does see a chance for a pass through the middle, he does not hesitate as we see in Figure eight, where Mbappé is making himself available and Kimpembe makes a strong pass to his feet.
In fact, he makes 25.94 forward passes per game which is one of the highest in Ligue 1. This shows how one of PSG’s tactics is to try to get the ball to the talented advanced players as quickly as possible.
Kimpembe also has 0.61 xGBuildup. This is the “xGChain not counting the xG value of the actual shot and the xA value of the shot assist” (Wyscout). This metric is most useful to evaluate player contribution in deeper-lying playmaking or build-up play.
This statistic is impressive for a centre back and proves how important he is for PSG’s build-up from behind as he creates value from a deeper position.
Courageous in playing from deep
A further characteristic of Kimpembe in this analysis is his bravery when playing on the ball. This leads him to take more risks than most centre backs but if done well, this also provides advantages to the team.
He is not afraid to carry the ball upwards if he sees the chance to contribute to the play from a more advanced position. When going forwards, this generates a superiority for PSG in the area where he goes, facilitating the creation of the play.
To show an example of his bravery on the ball for a centre back, in Figures nine and ten he actually makes a one-two pass with Marco Verratti. This allows him to incorporate himself in the midfield and immediately looks for a dangerous through ball to Mauro Icardi.
These types of actions are not common in centre backs because when they go up, they leave space behind and if they lose the ball, the opponents could exploit this. Therefore, Kimpembe needs to be careful when going up as one mistake could be costly to PSG.
He also likes continuing with the ball once he intercepts it as this means he has momentum in the play and the opponents are transitioning into defence. In essence, when he does this, he is starting the counter-attack.
Another way to prove Kimpembe likes going up is his 2.75 offensive duels with 67.5% success rate, the 8th best Ligue 1 centre back in this factor.
These successful offensive duels make him get to advanced positions that centre backs are not usually in, such as in Figure 11. Here he had intercepted the ball and carried forward, surprising the opponent’s defence.
Overall, Kimpembe fits well into PSG’s system of dominating the game and having technical and athletic defenders. He is solid defensively where he steps out of his position well but should work on those losses of concentration as they might lead to an opponent’s goal.
Furthermore, he is a technical player who is calm under pressure and has no problem starting the play from deep and even advancing forwards. When making these forward moves, he should be careful not to lose the ball. However, he is asserting himself as PSG’s starting centre back and future captain as Thiago Silva is getting older. Also, if he keeps going like this, he will assert himself into France’s starting eleven.