With four goals in his first five matches in Ligue 1, Radamel Falcao is in good form going into Sunday’s mouth-watering clash with Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital.
Statistically speaking at least.
Two of those goals have been penalties and we have yet to see the same player that terrorised defences in La Liga and across Europe with Atletico Madrid. However, El Tigre will undoubtedly be the player that PSG are most concerned about come Sunday.
In order to combat the predatory Colombian, Laurent Blanc has a number of decisions to make in defence. Most notably, he will need to choose between Brazilian duo Alex and Marquinhos as Thiago Silva’s central defensive partner.
Alex missed Tuesday’s Champions League victory over Olympiakos FC through injury though and could miss out again against Monaco according to L'Equipe (h/t ESPN FC). If that happens, 19-year-old Marquinhos will follow up his PSG debut with a maiden Ligue 1 start and a first home appearance.
Between the two, assuming both make Blanc’s final squad for the match, who is the most suitable candidate?
In a game of such importance, experience counts for a lot. One of Monaco’s greatest strengths so far this season has been their reliable defence and that is largely down the massive combined presence of Eric Abidal and Ricardo Carvalho in the middle.
PSG boast Silva though who is arguably a far superior defender with as much experience. The Selecao captain has no obvious weaknesses, whereas both of Monaco’s central defenders suffer from a lack of pace due to their old age.
Alex offers a similar level of sageness to Silva, but he has considerable drawbacks in terms of his lack of mobility. Claudio Ranieri’s side could look to exploit that, particularly with pace, but the cumbersome defender has the strength and physical presence to compete with Falcao.
Marquinhos cannot offer the same level of physicality, but is far more agile and faster on his feet as he showed against Olympiakos. This will arguably make him the better match-up against the Colombian because it will be more difficult for the 27-year-old to escape from his young opponent that it will be to get past or around Alex.
There is of course the danger that with Silva and Marquinhos being two ball-playing central defenders, it is going to take time for them to make an unnatural pairing compatible. There are bound to be mistakes made.
PSG cannot afford for one of those mistakes to happen in Sunday’s match against Monaco. Conceding a penalty against a team boasting the likes of Falcao could prove fatal. The goal machine has not missed any of his last 10 spot kicks.
For that reason and that reason alone, Blanc will likely lean towards Alex if at all possible. The 31-year-old, while not perfect, offers a solid and reliable presence alongside Silva and has the experience required playing in a match of such importance.
Falcao will not be the only threat that the Principality outfit pose PSG at the Parc des Princes though.
Wide men Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Lucas Ocampos have arguably been just as, if not more, valuable to the current Ligue 1 leaders so far this season than the Colombian.
Without the pair’s service, the South American and current top scorer Emmanuel Riviere would probably not scored as many goals as they have done so far (stats via Ligue1.com). Stopping both of them is as important, if not more, than keeping Falcao quiet.
Silva will likely take the task of sticking to Falcao when possible, but the threat of Ferreira Carrasco and Ocampos cutting inside against PSG’s full backs is still great. Particularly after Vladimir Weiss’ goal for Olympiakos in midweek exposed Maxwell, Marquinhos and Silva.
If the defending champions want to keep the former Atletico Madrid man quiet, they are better off concentrating on silencing Monaco’s wing wizards.
The danger of over-concentrating on El Tigre and failing to nullify the productivity of two tricky wide men, particularly ones with pace of which PSG have little, is great. Maxwell will need to improve after his role in the Weiss goal in Greece and the continually ameliorating Gregory van der Wiel also needs to put in a quality performance.
Monaco also have two excellent full backs in Fabinho and Layvin Kurzawa backing up Ferreira Carrasco and Ocampos.
Given PSG’s lack of width when playing in the 4-3-3 formation that Blanc appears to favour, there is little presence on the wings. That will mean a busy night for Maxwell and van der Wiel, unless Blanc opts for a 4-4-2 likely putting Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura in front of the pair.
Keeping possession will once again be of paramount importance, but by selecting Marquinhos ahead of Silva, Le President would perhaps give himself some valuable flexibility. The Brazilian is more likely to be able to step out to help his full backs. This is particularly true on the right where van der Wiel will be seen as vulnerable and Marquinhos played a number of times for AS Roma.
With so many things to consider, Blanc’s team selection may well determine whether or not PSG can beat Monaco on Sunday. Blanc cannot afford to switch things around too much in the hosts’ midfield as Ranieri boasts as much, if not more, quality in the same areas. Falcao obviously cannot be left to his own devices, but the danger in underestimating the quality of Ferreira Carrasco and Ocampos is great for PSG.