Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-0 win over Girondins de Bordeaux at the Stade Chaban Delmas in Ligue 1’s fifth week could turn out to be a defining moment in the defending champions’ season.
The result, although an important one, is not the decisive factor though. It is the style with which PSG dispatched their lacklustre opponents that will be discussed until next week’s clash with AS Monaco in Le Championnat, not the result that moves them into the provisional top spot in France.
Laurent Blanc’s side thoroughly dominated Les Girondins, his former team, and arguably deserved to score more than the Blaise Matuidi and Lucas Moura goals that they finished with. Boasting possession of 69 percent at times, but with a match-long average of 60 percent (stats via Ligue 1.com), it is obvious that PSG are starting to pass some of their opponents to death.
The style of football that made Le President so popular with his adventurous Bordeaux side of 2007-2010 is now starting to win people over with the side from the French capital.
It may be premature to call this victory the turning point in PSG’s time under Blanc this early, but the result does have the potential to be a key moment in the current campaign.
Last season’s 1-0 win in southwestern France was a turning point in their title-winning efforts under Carlo Ancelotti, this year’s could be the moment when Blanc makes his breakthrough to the players after some early teething problems.
Why then are PSG so much better at keeping the ball under the Frenchman than they were under Ancelotti?
Firstly, a lot lies in the switch to a 4-3-3 formation that Blanc has pioneered with his team and was exhibited against Bordeaux. Ancelotti, despite being a fantastic coach and one capable of winning the biggest trophies with such a project, does not play the most attacking or fluent type of football.
His successor, on the other hand, prefers to play possession-based football that is pleasing to watch and produces teams that play exciting, attacking football. The Italian’s preferred method of success with the team was to get them playing counter-attacking football, often resulting in stalemate or narrow victories, but rarely ever creating a spectacle.
The increased maturity within the side under Blanc, something that Ancelotti would have benefited from had he stayed with PSG and not joined Real Madrid, is another factor. The likes of Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti in the three-man midfield are one year older with some crucial experience under their belts, as they showed on Friday.
That growth in responsibility means that Blanc can now play a three-man midfield instead needing to field four in the middle to retain some balance. Ancelotti never dared to play three in midfield unless there were two players ahead of the central three. Even then, it rarely worked or even looked convincing, forcing him to drop the idea early on.
An improvement out wide has also allowed Blanc to start playing his preferred formation with more confidence. Gregory van der Wiel is improving with each passing game on the right, and Lucas Digne, who made his PSG debut against Bordeaux, looked like an excellent addition at left back. Both, crucially, have the ability to move up and down the line at pace as well as being able to attack, defend and cross.
This was not possible for Ancelotti who only had Maxwell to play in Digne’s role at the time and would have worked him even harder than he already did if he made the switch. Also, van der Wiel was unreliable last year and spent the majority of the season watching from the bench.
In addition to the width at the back, Lucas Moura who scored his first PSG goal against Bordeaux looks much-improved when played on the flank alongside the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With Ezequiel Lavezzi and Hervin Ongenda able to provide further pace from out wide, not to mention Edinson Cavani being capable of playing on either side, the formation solves the team's long-standing problem with a lack of width.
One last possible reason is simply that Javier Pastore was not involved. While it might be cruel to pick on the Argentine who was unavailable through injury, many will be asking what the difference between an injured Pastore and the ghost-like presence he provides during games actually is.
Perhaps it was just coincidence. But after a string of poor early season performances, the first time the 24-year-old playmaker is not included in the side PSG play well and their ball retention is the best seen so far this season. Given how conceding possession has become one of Pastore’s worst habits, his foot injury that will keep him out for the next two weeks could be a blessing in disguise for Blanc.
It would be unfair to blame one player entirely though and the success of PSG’s possession game under Blanc evidently has a lot to do with a blend of the factors mentioned. But with this result, the defending champions will head into next week’s clash with Monaco much more confident than they would have been had they scraped another narrow victory or suffered a frustrating draw.
Blanc’s mission at PSG is to get the team playing more attractive football while still getting results. Although it is only one such result, the team are now looking more than capable of being able to do that on a more regular basis.