After his Argentina team were defeated 4-1 on penalties by Chile in the Copa America final this summer, Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore is currently enjoying some well-earned rest before joining the French champions for the International Champions Cup summer tournament.
The 26-year-old has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in the past 12 months, going from a peripheral figure at Parc des Princes to one of Laurent Blanc’s key men.
El Flaco’s immense improvement in the French capital has seen him regain his place in the Argentine national team, establish himself as one of Gerardo Martino's integral players and earn a contract extension until 2019.
Pastore was PSG’s first major investment under Qatar Sports Investments’ (QSI) ownership back in 2011, when he arrived from Palermo for around €42 million. However, after an impressive debut season, the playmaker followed it up with poor 2012-13 and 2013-14 campaigns.
The 2014-15 season witnessed Pastore’s spectacular rebirth, and now the player is rightly considered a key part of Les Parisiens’ ambitious project once again.
The question for Blanc now is how to best utilise the gifted South American after seeing his form over the course of last term remain largely consistent, as well as noting how he flourished when he was allowed to occupy his natural No. 10 position once again.
There are a number of options open to Le President for the coming campaign, and most of them have Pastore playing in his preferred playmaking role.
In PSG’s first pre-season game, a 3-0 win over Wiener Sportklub in Austria last weekend, Blanc went with a 4-2-3-1 formation to get the best out of the numerous attacking talents he had available to him with all of his international stars still on holiday.
After Thiago Motta’s declaration of his intent to leave the French champions this summer to Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t ESPN FC’s Ian Holyman), the French tactician’s hopes of continuing to play a Barcelona-esque 4-3-3 formation have taken a hit.
Should the Italy international ultimately leave, it would be possible for PSG to continue lining up in that system.
Marco Verratti could move to the deep-lying role that Motta has made his own in recent years, with Blaise Matuidi and Pastore in front of him. Adrien Rabiot could also come into the starting XI to fill the void left by the Azzurri star, while David Luiz's stepping up out of defence is another possibility.
Neither of these two options would guarantee Pastore a role in the midfield three ahead of Verratti or Matuidi though, and the Argentina international is not as effective when played further back.
That means that keeping faith with the 4-2-3-1 could be a better option, as it will allow Pastore to retain his favoured No. 10 role. Verratti and Matuidi would roughly keep their positions on the pitch, and Blanc could add three more attackers to the mix to benefit from El Flaco’s creativity.
Another possibility (something we saw a bit of at the end of last season) is a 4-4-2 diamond that would see Pastore deployed behind two centrally based attackers. The PSG No. 27 fared well behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani in that setup, but he also impressed when the Swede was injured and it was El Matador and the speed demon Lucas Moura in front of him.
One of those two formations, which will keep him in his favoured playmaker role, would suit Pastore best, and considering Blanc’s preference for the 4-3-3, the 4-4-2 diamond is only a minor alteration and will not cause PSG to lose too much stylistically.
Whichever system he is deployed in, though, Pastore will be a key figure for the capital club this coming season.
Along with pint-sized midfield terrier Verratti, El Flaco is arguably Les Parisiens’ most important player, and captain Thiago Silva even stated his belief toward the end of last term that the Argentine is now more important to PSG than Ibrahimovic.
It was hard to disagree with the Brazilian’s assessment last campaign, and Pastore is likely to grow in influence in the new season. Having witnessed his spectacular rebirth in 2014-15, the 2015-16 term could bring the South American’s best work yet.
Bleacher Report is Official Media Partner of the International Champions Cup North America.