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Opinion: PSG Might Line Up With Messi Using This 3 Following Ways

News Hub Creator 08/11/2021

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In September 2011, students from Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh University of Economics used 551,232 pieces to create a world record-breaking jigsaw puzzle. The lotus flower puzzle took 1600 kids an entire day to complete, measuring 14.85m by 23.20m and breaking a ten-year-old record. PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino, on the other hand, just has a few pieces – and he doesn't have to use them all - but solving the jigsaw may be just as difficult now that Lionel Messi has arrived in Paris.

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1. Galácticos de Paris.

Next week, Mauricio Pochettino will arrive at PSG's Camp des Loges training field on a warm Parisian late summer morning, with Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, Di Maria, and Lionel Messi - not to mention Mauro Icardi, Julian Draxler, and Pablo Sarabia – eagerly awaiting his instructions. Everyone will be looking forward to the start of the game. A simple method to handle such expectations would be to play all four of his major men together in a gung-ho 4-2-4 like Brazil's legendary 1970 World Cup winners, or a somewhat more conservative 4-2-3-1 with Messi, or perhaps Neymar, moving deeper into midfield when needed to advance play.

As exciting (or horrifying, depending on your perspective as a Ligue 1 defender) as that could be, Paris would risk being exposed defensively too readily once that first line of four is broken, with none of Pochettino's Fab Four known for their willingness to cover a full-back. Given Di Mara's advanced years, the idea of him dropping deeper to break from midfield, as he did to such effect with Real Madrid during his final year in Spain, appears to be a non-starter — at least in Champions League and major Ligue 1 games. The ‘Galáctico' alternative, on the other hand, appears likely against lesser Ligue 1 opponents, especially at home, where PSG was near too omnipotent before the fans were removed.

Pochettino's PSG, like his Spurs team, has struggled to break down defensive, bus-parking sides — Lorient exploited such flaws last season in a 3-2 win. Messi's vision, ingenuity, and ability to maneuver in tight places should help him overcome that setback.


2. Di Maria might be dropped.

Di Maria is frequently shamefully ignored, despite being perhaps PSG's most creative and consistent performer over the last two seasons - perhaps reasonably considering the attention Mbappé and Neymar naturally garner. Despite his importance to the squad, the Argentine's playing time is likely to be limited this season, particularly in European games. This is a process that was already begun to some extent last season, with significant restings throughout PSG's final months.

With Di Maria being used seldom and a responsibility to start Mbappé, Neymar, and Messi when they are fit, as well as the fact that Messi logically takes Di Mara's place on the right is a classic 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 set up, a simple swap of the two Argentines would be the most obvious alternative. PSG might keep the same mechanics in place from last season, with the addition of the world's best player on the right side.

This gives PSG the midfield covering of Marco Verratti, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Idrissa Gueye/Leandro Paredes, and effectively relies on their stars' individual talent to win games, as a flat 4-3-3 typically does because it can isolate the three strikers. Although an extremely reductionist assessment, given the identity of Pochettino's forwards, this is a more than solid foundation on which to develop, as Marco Verratti and Achraf Hakimi, in particular, will be important to moving construction and opportunity creation forward.

3. Three in the back.

Given that Marquinhos, Sergio Ramos, and Presnel Kimpembe currently occupy the center-back positions – not to mention the existence and suitability of Abdou Diallo and Thilo Kehrer – Pochettino could be aiming for a 3-4-3 formation for larger Champions League games. Unless Pochettino plans to put Angel Di Maria at left-wing-back, as Thomas Tuchel did at home a few seasons ago, such a pragmatic configuration appears to be somewhat superfluous for most domestic matchups.

Three at the back, on the other hand, would give a more rigorous defensive framework while fostering the counter-attacking game that helped PSG win the Champions League knockout stages against Barcelona and Bayern Munich last season. The fact that Kimpembe (left), Marquinhos (right), and Ramos (center) all fit into such a setup neatly underpins its potential efficacy. However, considering the expected lack of support from forwarding areas, it may leave PSG with only Verratti and Wijnaldum as midfield protection, with the exception of wing-backs Hakimi and Juan Bernat.

This could be an issue against a three-man midfield proficient at holding possession, as England discovered in their Euro 2020 final loss to Italy. In theory, winning the ball back high up the pitch and quickly responding is appealing, but relying on being able to press groups of top midfielders into mistakes is a hazardous strategy, especially when outmanned.

Given the skill levels of Pochettino's first three, Messi's presence would allow for more fluidity and interchangeability in all three of these configurations. With Messi or Neymar, or both, dropping off Mbappé between the lines of opponent midfield and defenses, a flat three might become a triangle.

Mbappé and Neymar could stretch sides on either flank, doubling up with their full-backs to create space in central areas for Messi, Wijnaldum, or even Di Maria, or overloading to hit the by-line and cut back for later runners.

Unlike Antoine Griezmann's ill-advised move to Barcelona, Pochettino's dazzling jigsaw pieces now have clear notional duties — Mbappé in the center, Messi on the right, and Neymar on the left. While putting those puzzle pieces together isn't tough, finding the correct picture may be.

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