PSG are quickly emerging as a top European outfit. After Carlo Ancelotti guided them to a Ligue 1 triumph and a respectable Champions League finish, Laurent Blanc did the same. Tom Mackinnon looks at what happened differently in the two reigns.
How do you replace one of the greatest club managers of all time? Well Paris Saint-Germain tried. When Carlo Ancelotti left for Real Madrid in the Summer of 2013, there were more than a few worried Parisians. The appointment of former French National Team coach Laurent Blanc did little to ease their worries. The changes the former Manchester United centre-half brought to the nouveau-riche club were clear, but not drastic. The change in formation and the marquee signing Edinson Cavani were the two clear changes Blanc brought to PSG.
The most evident change in the Blanc era is the change from the attacking 4-2-2-2 of Ancelotti to Blanc’s more pragmatic 4-3-3. During Ancelotti’s spell Matuidi and one of David Beckham, Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta or Clement Chantôme held the midfield, favouring the experienced Italian Motta over the youthful Verratti. However Blanc prefers the threesome of the anchor Motta, the runner Matuidi and the mercurial grace of Verratti. Ancelotti would opt for a similar approach in big Champions League nights but not during Ligue 1 duties.
However Blanc’s alterations weren’t completely defensive, the introduction of Gregory van der Wiel in to the right back position does not fit the defensive tag slapped on the managers back. Van der Wiel offers a new dimension to PSG’s play compared to the more defensive minded Christopher Jallet, who was favoured under Ancellotti. The attacks are more varied under Blanc, previously most attacks started on the left with Brazilian left-back Maxwell. Van der Wiel’s introduction gives PSG more options to vary their attacks, because of this Blanc’s PSG scored 84 goals, a whopping 15 more than Ancelotti’s 69, with both managers conceding just 23 each.
Another key attribute to PSG’s recent success is that of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Zlatan’s role in the two managers system didn’t vary drastically and he produced similar goal tallies under the managers (30 for Ancelotti and 26 for Blanc, winning the top scorer on both occasions). Under Ancellotti, Zlatan had more licence to roam, yet, under Blanc, you can still see Zlatan going past two or three players in his own half. Both managers realise his incredible ability and this is highlighted in their teams’ style of play. With Zlatan’s impressive tally of 76 goals and 28 assists in 92 games for the Paris outfit, Zlatan’s ‘free role’ was continued by Blanc from Ancelotti.
The signing of Napoli and Uruguay forward Edison Cavani for €64.5 million raised many an eyebrow in the footballing world. As Neapolitans cried into their olive bowls, Parisians threw their baguettes in the air in celebration. However, the critics were out upon; realising Blanc’s 4-3-3 system, and where and how Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edison Cavani would fit in. This of course meant that one of Ibrahimovic or Cavani would have to play out of position and we all know what Zlatan is like. It is well known that Cavani is unhappy about playing on the right wing under Blanc, however it does bring out the best in Zlatan, Lavezzi and Verratti. Cavani’s reluctance to play wide of the Swedish national team captain can be seen in his goal scoring tally, 16 goals in 30 games. For the fee commanded from an internationally renowned player to only get 16 goals is somewhat underwhelming, to say the least. However underwhelming Cavani’s goal tally, his contribution in other areas is great. His defensive work rate and aerial prowess (defending and attacking) are incredible when you compare that to the lackadaisical-genius of Zlatan. All things considered, a PSG team with Cavani is, inevitably, better than that without the Uruguayan.
Previously, French league football was faltering, with little to no big names and a one horse race for the title, with Lyon winning 7 titles in a row. But with the great investment of Paris Saint Germain and more recently, Monaco, those days are gone. Owned by Russian billionaires, Monaco are rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in not just in Ligue 1 but European football. From Ligue 2 to Champions League football, and title contenders in Ligue 1, in two seasons. Their meteoric rise to success has been greatly accredited to their rich owners. The signings of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho have raised their profile from sleeping giants to world class opposition. Cash rich Monaco were never something a Carlo Ancelotti led PSG ever had to deal with and this shows as Blanc’s PSG won the league with more points than Ancelotti’s but with a smaller gap between PSG and second place. The one positive PSG can bring from Monaco’s resurgence is that another Champions League worthy team is a direct competitor to themselves.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, David Luiz and Thiago Silva weren’t bought to beat Ajaccio, Evian and Toulouse, they were bought to compete for and win the Uefa Champions League. With the seemingly imminent arrival of Angel Di Maria, the last piece in the puzzle could arrive this summer. The depth of world class talent the Parisian side is acquiring under Blanc is striking fear in European heavy weights, particularly after beating Chelsea and Benfica in Paris under Blanc, and drawing with Barcelona home and away under Ancellotti’s stewardship. With both managers falling at the quarter finals against European heavyweights Barcelona and Chelsea respectively, it is difficult to draw differences between the two managers campaigns’ in the Champions League.
The differences in the two managers reigns are visible but not immense, the most evident is the change in formation, but more subtle changes like the attacking full back change and altering Verratti from a sporadic youngster to an influential talisman. These subtle changes were mixed with a change in personnel up-front too, once again, win Ligue 1 and get to the quarter finals in the Champions League. If PSG are going to win the Champions League in the foreseeable future then Blanc will have to find the right balance and cohesion between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, which is easier said than done with two of the bigger egos in World football competing for one position.