For the majority of this season, Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc has continued to play with a standard 4-3-3 formation, with last summer’s big signing, Edinson Cavani, playing wide on the right. The Uruguayan has spoken about his desire to play in the centre, but replacing Zlatan Ibrahimovic just isn’t an option.
In an attempt to combine both players and keep them both happy, Blanc could turn back to playing 4-4-2 next season. However, to make the formation work, he would need to bring in a new playmaker, someone to play the number 10 role. Without spending the majority of his transfer budget on a big-name target, the perfect player could be right under his nose in Ligue 1, and it is someone he knows extremely well.
Being the coach of Paris Saint-Germain is quickly becoming one of the toughest managerial jobs in football. Although the club—formed in 1970—is set to win just their fourth French title, it seems that winning the league alone is not good enough for the Parisian fans and owners. The pressure is now on Blanc to play attractive football while also challenging for the Champions League.
When Blanc first came into the job, he made a point in saying that the only way to combine both Ibrahimovic and Cavani in the same team was to play two up front, but ever since the away win over Bordeaux, 4-3-3 has been the preferred formation. This is more down to the success of the midfield trio than anything to do with the three forwards.
The success of Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta has a huge part in PSG's success; the trident has worked to perfection, and all three complement each other perfectly. Blanc has been lucky with injuries and suspensions and has been able to play all three more often than not. He also has Yohan Cabaye and Adrien Rabiot, who can slide into the team without too much disruption.
Blanc will be loathed to switch this winning element too much, but in order to appease Cavani and Ibrahimovic, there does need to be a tweak or two to the current tactics.
The move to playing 4-4-2 would echo back to Blanc's days as coach of Girondins de Bordeaux, where he won the title back in 2009. One of Blanc’s greatest achievements during his time in the famous wine region was the resurrection of talented French playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, and the PSG coach again is the man to save the 27-year-old’s career.
Gourcuff moved from Stade Rennais to AC Milan in the summer of 2006 for just under €5 million, but the move was far from a success. Gourcuff made only 36 league appearances in his two years at the Italian club. Initially, he was sent to Bordeaux on loan, and his impressive season saw the club spend €13.6 million to make the deal permanent.
Two years later, and Gourcuff was on the move again, his performances had impressed French power-club Lyon, and OL would spend €22 million in their quest for Champions League success.
Poor form and injuries have limited Gourcuff’s time in Lyon. In four seasons, he has made fewer appearances than he did in his years in Bordeaux. He struggled to adjust to the tactics of former boss Claude Puel, and the last two years have been plagued with injury. It seems that Lyon and owner Jean-Michel Aulas are ready (in French) to cut their losses with Gourcuff and will look to move him before his contract is up in 2015.
For Lyon, the problem they have struggled with whenever they previously considered getting Gourcuff off the books is finding a club that is not only willing to pay a transfer fee, but take on his large wage packet, too. That is something that would be absolutely no problem for PSG.
Blanc has always kept a flame burning for Gourcuff. Back in 2012, when picking his national team squad for the 2012 UEFA European Championship, he called the midfielder into his pre-tournament squad despite the player's lack of form, basically just to get a closer look at his former star. Ultimately, Gourcuff didn’t make the squad, but Blanc's desire to try and shoehorn the playmaker into a 23-man squad showed the appreciation the coach has for the player.
There is little doubt that PSG will be linked with an array of stars this summer. Already, the club has been linked with moves for Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, per Goal.com, Real Sociedad forward Antoine Griezmann, per ESPN FC and Miralem Pjanic at AS Roma, per Eurosport. With financial fair-play soon to take effect, the chance of landing all three players in one summer swoop is unlikely, and Gourcuff would represent a much cheaper option than the Roma playmaker.
Tactically, Blanc would be able to utilise the same 4-3-1-2 formation that both Lille and Lyon have implemented successfully this season. That would keep the midfield trio intact, moving Cavani in from the right-wing and partnering him with Ibrahimovic in attack. PSG's width would then come from the full-backs, something that Gregory van der Wiel and Lucas Digne are well-equipped for providing on a daily basis. They are two of the best defenders for being able to attack and defend in equal measure.
The inclusion of a more central playmaker would provide PSG with that player who is able to play between the lines and would be ideal against the opposition that sits back and looks to frustrate the champions. That has been an area that PSG have failed to deal with effectively at times. Having that extra bit of creativity and guile in the centre of the pitch could prove to be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Blanc has been criticised recently for lacking a Plan B and tactical versatility this season, which is interesting because it’s something he did very well at Bordeaux during their league and Champions League campaign. His 4-4-2 diamond became 4-1-3-2 and 4-1-4-1, depending on the situation, but he has looked rigid in this season’s 4-3-3, with few signs of flexibility. Moving to 4-4-2 next season would give him the opportunity to open up more options for him and his team.
Gourcuff may not be the blockbuster name that the PSG fans will demand to see brought into the club this summer, but so much about the move would make sense. It was only a few seasons ago that the midfielder danced past PSG's defence to score the goal crowned Goal of the Season in 2009.
Gourcuff hasn’t quite hit the same heights since scoring that wonderful goal, but once again under Blanc, he could find his feet and rediscover the form that made him one of France’s most exciting players.
When he is fit and in form, there are not many sights more majestic than Yoann Gourcuff in full flight. It hasn’t quite happened at Lyon, but under Blanc, playing for a manager he can trust, the partnership could take both player and club to the next level.