Predicting PSG's 1st-Choice Starting XI for 2014-15 Season
UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) sanctions have limited Paris Saint-Germain to just two recruits so far this summer in David Luiz and Serge Aurier. This means that the French champions must continue to search for new ways to sidestep the new legislation in order to push on with their ambitious business plans ahead of the new season.
Meanwhile, coach Laurent Blanc will approach the campaign knowing that there is more than a good chance no other player will be added to his squad before the end of the transfer window.
If anything, there might even be one or two departures.
With that in mind, he can now start making plans in terms of the style that he wants PSG to play with this coming campaign. Bearing in mind how predictable the French capital outfit had become by the end of last season—especially in Ligue 1—it is almost certain that Le President will look to develop one or more alternative systems to last term’s method.
Here is how they could line up when at full strength.
Central to a departure away from last season’s successful 4-3-3 will be disgruntled striker Edinson Cavani. Blanc will need to find a way to accommodate him without asking him to play wide on the right as he did last campaign.
The only way that this can happen is if PSG go with the front two that El Matador was probably expecting to be a part of when he first arrived at Parc des Princes. The Uruguayan told Ovacion Digital (h/t Sky Sports’ Tim Oscroft) recently that this season he expects tactical changes from Les Parisiens’ coach.
One of those alterations will surely be to play two central strikers.
With that settled, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will likely remain in his current role—which often sees him naturally dropping deep into a No. 10 position anyway—continuing to be the main focal point of the attack. However, the main difference will be that PSG will probably dispense with their wide options up top, instead going with a dynamic, creative player behind both Cavani and Ibrahimovic.
Both Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura proved too inefficient in front of goal last year to be considered reliable attacking options. Because of that, Blanc will almost certainly look to play the vibrant Brazilian in a role that utilises his creative ability. However, he will also ask him to become more prolific in front of goal, despite relying mainly on Cavani and Ibrahimovic to plunder the goals.
Lavezzi will be a good alternative to one of the front two midmatch—thanks to his energy and determination—while Javier Pastore could also thrive in the role that will likely be assigned to Lucas initially. This front three does not give PSG much in the way of width in the attacking third though, but that should not be too much of a concern because they will still get plenty of the ball.
The success of Blanc’s 4-3-3 formation last season was largely down to the introduction of a three-man midfield unit early on. It would be a major surprise to see him move away from this as the current setup enables PSG to take control of games early on and keep the ball away from their opponents.
It is that unit that will ensure that Les Parisiens’ attacking talents enjoy plenty of possession.
Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and one of Marco Verratti or Yohan Cabaye should once again comprise this trio. The big concern will be whether or not Motta stays fit though.
Last season was a rare, injury-free campaign for the 31-year-old, but should the Italian international pick up an early injury this coming season, that could see Cabaye playing the deep-lying role that he occupies with the French national team instead of Motta.
Matuidi’s role in midfield is untouchable because nobody can match his irrepressible, all-round style with ferocious drive and awesome physical power. Verratti to his right—in a slightly more advanced role—has already shown himself adept at working in that position and continues to develop rapidly.
That brings us to the area in which PSG are most likely to make heavy changes this season.
With three very attack-minded full-backs in the team following the arrival of Aurier, Blanc may well see the full-back positions as the two areas that will provide this team with its width. Gregory van der Wiel was excellent in attacking positions for the team last year, while Lucas Digne is developing into a complete left-back and is now arguably ready to usurp the ageing Maxwell.
104 – Serge Aurier has played 104 games in Ligue 1, more than any other current player under 22 years old. Parisian.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) July 24, 2014
Blanc will almost certainly be looking for his two most vibrant full-back options to get forward and contribute in attack when possible but also to defend responsibly. Aurier and Digne are two of Le Championnat’s best at finding that balance and may well be Le President’s first-choice domestic starters.
Moving into the middle, Blanc will go with captain Thiago Silva and new signing Luiz as soon as it is possible. Of course, there is the chance that the latter’s versatility sees him pushed into midfield—if Motta were to get injured, for example—but that would not be the tactician’s ideal scenario.
Cadena Ser: FC Barcelona has submitted a 40 million bids fro Marquinhos. If PSG want Di Maria (FFP), they may have to accept Barça's offer.— Xoel Càrdenas (@XoelCardenas) July 24, 2014
Being able to move Luiz into midfield every now and again would ease the Marquinhos problem by allowing the 20-year-old valuable playing time. The young Brazilian has been linked with numerous moves away from Paris since Luiz’s arrival—most recently to Barcelona for €40 million, as per Cadena SER (h/t Xoel Cardenas’ tweet)—but the capital club do not want to see him leave.
In an ideal world, all three would play. But that does not seem like a possible scenario at this stage, certainly not without one of the key midfielders picking up an injury.
Lastly, that leaves Salvatore Sirigu in goal.
There is no competition, and the Italian is far and away PSG’s No. 1 goalkeeper. Nicolas Douchez is a distant second. It would have been interesting to see Alphonse Areola backing Sirigu up this season, but Les Parisiens have made the wise choice of loaning him out again instead, ensuring that he gets as much first-team experience as possible.
Overall, with or without the potential arrival of Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria, as per French outlet RMC (via Ian Holyman of ESPN FC), PSG have an extremely strong first-choice squad ahead of the coming season.
They are arguably still behind one or two clubs in Europe, but this team is stronger than the one that reached last campaign’s UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
If Blanc can find a way for Cavani and Ibrahimovic to permanently coexist, then PSG could go further than the last eight in the continental competition, while also dominating the domestic landscape once again.