Down on the South of France, Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-1 victory over Montpellier on Saturday night confirmed the club’s third consecutive Ligue 1 title. It has been a mixed season, with plenty of ups and downs along the way for the Parisians. Now, planning can continue for next season and despite possibly winning an unprecedented domestic treble, work needs to be done.
Fighting on four fronts has exposed holes in Laurent Blanc’s squad and has pointed the finger at a few players who may have to leave or adapt before PSG can take that next step. Even Blanc himself is not faultless in their issues.
The former Marseille and Barcelona defender has done remarkably well to turn well-document problems around, and in the last few weeks they have played some of the best football over the last three years. Some situations should never have reached the point that they did, and Blanc’s blueprint needs to address all elements of the squad.
Ever since he was appointed as coach of PSG, Blanc has favoured playing 4-3-3. Through various changes in personnel, it has taken slightly different forms, but the philosophy and ideals behind it remained the same.
In the last few weeks, Blanc has tinkered slightly, and you could now say the formation more resembles 4-3-1-2. The benefits of this system have been clear to see with the thrashings of Lille and Guingamp.
Next season, that should become Blanc’s Plan A. He can still use the 4-3-3 when the time is right, but having a playmaker like Javier Pastore in that No. 10 role has been so crucial to PSG’s success.
Changing it slightly has put the team’s attacking intent in Pastore’s hands and he has thrived, while also helping to get the best out of Cavani over the last two months.
One problem with playing 4-3-3 was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s desire to drop deep in order to control more of the game. At times it caused confusion between Pastore, Marco Verratti and Ibrahimovic, as all three struggled to find the positions where they could all be effective.
The Swedish talisman has a contract that runs until the end of next season. Due to his decreasing ability and recent injury record, it would be a bad decision if PSG extended it beyond the next 12 months. Nevertheless, if Blanc can learn how to extend the best out of Ibrahimovic, there’s no reason it can’t be beneficial for all parties.
It’s a two-way street, though. Zlatan would have to respect that he is no longer the player he once was and can’t compete in over 50 games next season. Use him wisely, and you could get 25-30 performances at his best level, rather than 40 where he doesn’t always make an impact.
Perhaps one change that could help everyone at times is to play the 4-3-1-2 with Ibrahimovic as the No. 10—leaving space for two attackers in front of him and taking away the opportunity for him to get caught up in the space other players are trying to accommodate.
You are not going to play him there ahead of Pastore, but as an option, to swap things around, it could have a positive impact.
Ibrahimovic needs to understand that it’s no longer his team. Pastore’s emergence as the team’s creative force needs to be embraced, which means Zlatan playing with them, rather than fighting his own battles.
Commit to Promoting from Within
Before PSG start chasing huge-name transfers, they need to make at least two signings to give them more options within the squad. If they don’t have the funds due to Financial Fair Play restrictions, then Blanc needs to make a decision to promote from within.
Bringing in another centre-back, central midfielder and centre-forward would plug most of the gaps that the current squad showed when they were stretched to their limits this season.
When you look through the various France international youth squads, you will see plenty of players who are part of PSG’s set-up or are on loan from the capital club gaining experience.
One huge black mark against Blanc’s season has been his reluctance to bring youth players through into the main playing squad. According to WhoScored, apart from Adrien Rabiot, who turned 20 in April, only one player aged under 20 years old played any league minutes this season.
That was Presnel Kimpembe, and he played for just 14 minutes. The centre-back has been named in France’s squad for the under-20 Toulon Tournament this summer, and Blanc needs to look from within next season and give players such as Kimpembe and Jean-Kevin Augustin more time off the bench next season.
You only have to look at the huge wins against Lille and Guingamp at the Parc des Princes this season. They should have been able to play some minutes in those types of games, rather than another 15 minutes for an established player off the bench.
Stick or Twist
Now that FFP is part of the footballing world, clubs need to look more intelligently toward whom they sell and who they bring into their club.
It is very easy for fans to suggest that PSG sell Cavani and sign someone like Paul Pogba and whatever striker is the flavour of the month, but it’s not quite as easy as that.
PSG are already a few players short in their squad, so for every player sold, they will need to be replaced. The hardest part is to sell then replace without losing any quality.
Hypothetically, you could sell Cavani, Yohan Cabaye and Lavezzi for €70 million this summer, giving you a possible total of €125 million to spend on around five or six players. Are you then going to be able to bring in replacements of a certain level that will actually make the squad any better?
Some players may want to leave if they are unhappy, you are never going to stop that, but selling just for the sake of selling is a bad business move in the current football landscape.
PSG could be looking at a strike force without both Cavani and Ibrahimovic in the next 14 months. You then have to look at whom you would bring in to replace them. That is no easy task.
The flip side is hoping that you can discover another player in Blaise Matuidi’s mould. You pay under €10 million and watch him develop into a fantastic player that is the heartbeat of your club. That takes patience, though, a trait that clubs with money find hard to stick with.
Rather than looking short-term, clubs that want to build success need to look long-term. That involves not spending your whole budget on one big-name player and utilising the youth system you already have.
Paris Saint-Germain are on the verge of having a very good squad, but one or two wrong decisions at this crucial stage could see them fall further away.
This is a huge summer for Blanc and PSG, but the blueprint for success is there, if they have the bottle to follow it through.