As we move into the new club football season, Outside of the Boot will be publishing regular Tactical Previews of the sides from across Europe’s top seven leagues. The first one in a long list is of defending Ligue 1 champions, Paris Saint-Germain, led by Laurent Blanc. Firat Aktav takes a look at their basic formation, analyses their tactics, key player and their potential three key young players of the 2014/15 season.
Defending Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain are coming into the 2014-15 season as favorites just like the past two seasons. Since the arrival of Nasser Al-Khelaïfi as chairman, the club’s policy has been about purchasing star players, while investing on young players rather quietly. Following two Ligue 1 titles and repetitive quarter-final exits in the Champions League, this season it definitely will be more about continental success, while trying to defend the national crown.
Formation | How will they set-up?
After Carlo Ancelotti’s departure and with the arrival of Laurent Blanc, the team moved away from Ancelotti’s 4-2-2-2 to a rather common 4-3-3 with Edinson Cavani being deployed on the right. The signing of Cavani had suggested that PSG would keep playing 4-4-2 and Blanc did try to keep the system. After two consecutive 1-1 draws against Montpellier and Ajaccio in the league, Blanc switched to 4-3-3, the team won against Nantes, Blanc never looked back and the system has been the same ever since, so it is highly unlikely that we see a different approach from PSG this season.
Analysis | What can we expect from them tactically?
With such stability in hand, there is always the danger of becoming predictable. This hasn’t been a problem in Ligue 1 last season, as PSG won the league comfortably, 9 points clear of the 2nd placed Monaco. However the exit against Chelsea in the quarter-finals told a completely different story and pointed out two main weaknesses which could be exploited.
Ibra-dependency: When you possess a player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it is inevitable that he becomes your main attacking option. Zlatan has been the main goalscoring option for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 for the past two seasons by delivering 30 and 25 goals respectively. In the Champions League however, Zlatan helps the team build the play by dropping into deeper positions, which allows Lavezzi and Cavani to stay advanced, while Matuidi and Verratti (the former more so) make runs to the box to create overloads with full-backs advancing. The absence of Ibrahimovic can be considered as the main reason for being eliminated from the Champions League last season and this has another tactical explanation.
Attack Oriented Team: PSG are a more attack-oriented team with a number of creative and intelligent players on and off the ball, which allows them to put their opponents under constant pressure. They know how to remain compact while defending and can easily spread the ball wide after winning it to include the fullbacks in the attack. The situation against Chelsea for example, in the 2nd leg of the Champions League quarter-finals however, was nowhere near this. The absence of Ibrahimovic meant that Cavani had to move central and Lucas Moura came in for the right-wing position. This immediately meant that PSG were now a more counter-attacking team with Lavezzi and Lucas on the flanks and Cavani’s link-up play was not as successful as Zlatan’s, while he was wasteful in front of goal.
New Acquisitions: Paris Saint-Germain made one of the biggest signings of this transfer window and purchased David Luiz from Chelsea to strengthen their defense, as Alex moved to Milan on a free transfer. The duo of Thiago Silva and David Luiz has shown to be a strong and reliable partnership, especially with the Brazilian National Team in this year’s World Cup. With Silva and Luiz as the center-back duo, Brazil conceded 4 goals in 5 games and looked rather solid at the back. The absence of Thiago Silva however proved to be lethal against Germany, as Brazil conceded 7 in the historic semi-final game against the world champions (tactical analysis here). Laurent Blanc will definitely rely on this solid center-back partnership, while the 20 year-old Marquinhos could prove to be a reliable replacement in the cases of injuries or suspensions.
Another acquisition came to the defensive line as Serge Aurier joined PSG on loan from Toulouse with a clause to buy at the end of the year. Aurier’s impressive performance proved crucial in this deal, as the Ivorian right-back showed to be lethal in the first two group games for Ivory Coast by delivering two assists against Japan and rampaging down the flank against Colombia while creating the game’s best chances for his nation.
These two acquisitions mean that PSG will have a different back four from last year, while the rest of the side will remain pretty much the same. Brazilian left-back Maxwell has been the primary option for Laurent Blanc, but last year’s signing, 21 year-old Lucas Digne also played a total of 20 matches. Maxwell does have a natural understanding of Ibrahimovic, having played together with the Swedish superstar at Ajax, Internazionale, Barcelona and finally Paris Saint-Germain. This does help the 32 year-old Brazilian to secure a place in the starting line-up, however it will be up to Laurent Blanc to cleverly rotate Maxwell and Digne from match to match.
Alternative Tactics: It is highly unlikely that Laurent Blanc moves away from his 4-3-3, as he can use Ibrahimovic and Cavani at the same time, while Lavezzi’s work rate and energy helps the star strikers to shine. However the rising trend since the World Cup has been the usage of 3-men defense, as the likes of Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica and finally the Netherlands proved to the world that the strategy isn’t dead yet.
This has affected club football as well with Louis van Gaal moving to Manchester United and immediately switching to a back 3 with the Red Devils, while Guardiola has experimented the 3-men defense during pre-season. It is yet unknown whether Juventus will continue to use 3-5-2 under Max Allegri, but Laurent Blanc could turn to this formation if necessary, as PSG possesses three high quality center-backs who can influence the game from deep positions, while the full-backs Aurier and Digne enjoy bombing down the flanks and could be repositioned as wing-backs. This would also help using Ibrahimovic and Cavani as a striker duo, without being outnumbered in the center of the pitch and could prove to be a solution when Paris Saint-Germain need to defend rather deeper.
Key Player | Who will be the stand-out player for the system?
As mentioned above, when you possess a player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he becomes your main attacking option and this has been the case with PSG as well. Zlatan is the main goal scorer for PSG, while his importance in the Champions League is crucial as well, for he is the heartbeat of his team.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a big figure inside and outside the pitch. He is a constant threat in the box, he is unpredictable, he can single handedly win games if he wants and pretty much nothing is impossible for the Swedish international, especially in a team where he is the biggest of many stars.
Ibrahimovic is deployed in the classic centre-forward role and has shown how lethal he is over the years. Despite being known as a pure goal scorer, with PSG he has established himself as something more than that. Yes, Ibrahimovic has scored 76 goals in a total of 92 appereances for PSG, but his contribution to the team play has been so important, as his leadership helps the team play better, while his absence can prove to be crucial, as mentioned before in this article.
Ibrahimovic has won the national title in every league he has competed and has done it now twice in a row with PSG as well. Two back to back quarter-final elminations from the Champions League will not satisfy the superstar and he sure will want to win the ultimate prize within the remaining 2 years of his contract. His assisting and play making role in the Champions League developed under Carlo Ancelotti, while Laurent Blanc continued using the Swedish superstar in the same way. If fit and not suspended, Zlatan will try to make sure his team advances further in European competition and take more reponsibility when needed.
Talent Radar | Who will be the three key young players this season?
Despite purchasing expensive stars, PSG squad does contain a solid amount of young players, who manage to get some decent playing time already. The main focus however, will be on three rising stars this season.
Marquinhos: The Brazilian center-back Marquinhos was bought from AS Roma in the beginning of last season and managed to get quality playing time already. The 20 year-old Brazilian played in a total of 32 competitive matches and scored 5 goals, with 3 of these goals coming in the Champions League, where he made his debut. Marquinhos was the partner for Alex during Thiago Silva’s 6-week absence last season and while his crazy error against Saint-Etienne costed his team a point, he managed to put on a fine display in the other games he played. You can read a full Scout Report on Marquinhos here.
Adrien Rabiot: The second name likely to shine in the spotlight is Adrien Rabiot. The French midfielder returned from his loan spell with Toulouse in the beginning of last season and was frequently used by Laurent Blanc throughout. The 19 year-old played in a total of 34 competitive matches and managed to score 3 goals. Rabiot was another young name for Paris Saint-Germain to make his Champions League debut last season and while he couldn’t get his name on the score sheet, he still played two full 90-minutes, including one against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2nd leg, in the round of 16. Rabiot’s impressive physique for his age adds up to his quality and technical abilites, which makes him a reliable option already at this age.
Jean-Christiophe Bahebeck: As a youngster, getting into PSG’s attack may be an all too difficult task for any individual. But Bahebeck might be capable of doing the near impossible. The 21-yr-old has impressed with loan spells at Valenciennes last season and Troyes before that. As Cavani was yet to return to training,Bahebeck got his opportunity to impress in pre-season, and did so in the Trophee des Champions as well. PSG supporters and experts have been impressed with his explosive performances.
Conclusion | Final comments
PSG are coming into this season as favorites yet again. Their squad quality and depth is well above Ligue 1 and it has been showing for the past two seasons, as the team won comfortable back to back championships. This time the French giants will like to advance further in the Champions League and with such a squad, that doesn’t seem to be impossible.
Written by Firat Aktav. Follow him on Twitter @firataktav
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