As ever, the summer transfer window has seen a lot of changes at Paris Saint-Germain.
For once, the club has let go of some of its superstars rather than bringing new ones in, as Lionel Messi and Neymar have gone their separate ways.
Contrary to their usual trend, the incomings have mostly been exciting young talents.
This shift in transfer policy led by new sporting director Luis Campos may reflect a change in the club’s approach. Perhaps they have finally realised that assembling an XI of superstars might not work as well as a team where all the players complement each other.
Of course, it is important to have the right head coach to ensure the final part, and PSG have acted in that regard. They brought in Spanish tactician Luis Enrique, who has already implemented some interesting ideas.
But first, the basics. A Luis Enrique team always tends to have a clear identity of being incredibly dominant in terms of possession and territory, which was immediately evident from his very first game in charge.
PSG are the best team in the league so they have been the best in both boxes and, in accordance with Enrique’s preferences, do not tend to use long balls and crosses a lot.
As far as results go, PSG got off to a rocky start as they failed to win the first two matches despite completely dominating.
They lacked an attacking edge in those games, which can probably be explained by the absences of Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé. Since they joined the fold, the defending champions have looked unstoppable barring a blip against Nice.
With that in mind, let us now zoom in on the tactics they have employed. Enrique already seems to have a clear first-choice XI in his preferred 4-3-3 formation, with Marquinhos and Milan Škriniar at the back, Achraf Hakimi and Lucas Hernández as the full-backs, young Warren Zaïre-Emery and Vitinha on either side of Manuel Ugarte in midfield, and Dembélé and Mbappé on either side of Gonçalo Ramos up top.
Enrique’s team have done a lot of circulation of passes around the back line, although ball progression has not been a challenge for them.
The main reason is they have come up against opponents who have ceded territory and looked to defend in their own half, so this is still an aspect worth examining against different types of teams.
One aspect where PSG do seem to have faced problems is in building out from the back under pressure. Barring Vitinha, they lack press-resistant midfielders who can comfortably receive the ball in tight spaces and evade challenges to help them break forward.
Their first-choice number six – the most important midfielder in the build-up – is a bit of a weak point in this regard, as Ugarte has a short passing completion rate of just over 90%, whereas the centre-backs are above 97%.
Of course, getting Vitinha more involved might seem a simple solution to this issue, but it is not quite so straightforward. The reason is the Portuguese midfielder is already playing a dynamic role on the left with unique attacking responsibilities.
In his own half, he does function as any number eight in a 4-3-3 by operating in and around the left half-space, but further up the pitch, he is told to go out wide towards the touchline.
Taken in itself, this might seem to be a slightly puzzling usage of a technically excellent midfielder who should surely do better in central midfield, but there is good reason behind this.
That stems from the fact that the starting left winger in this PSG team is a man who is more dangerous and likes to play a more central role – Mbappé.
His touchmap from the season so far reflects the success of Vitinha’s work, as he has been involved in a more central area quite high up the pitch.
The ultimate reasoning behind all this is to get the French danger man into shooting positions regularly, which certainly has worked as he is averaging over five shots per 90 in Ligue 1. Once you get Mbappé firing, you are effectively guaranteed goals.
This is quite important for Luis Enrique’s system to work, as the Spanish coach has often relied on individual quality to get the job done in and around the box.
Mbappé is the main man in that regard, but the likes of Dembélé, Ramos, Hakimi and others should provide comfortably enough support to blow Ligue 1 away.
The big prize they desperately want is the ever-elusive Champions League. They do seem to have forged an attacking system that could pose problems to any side in the world, although their press resistance might come under scrutiny.
In any case, a big hindrance for them in previous seasons has been defending, especially the lack thereof from their superstar attackers.
Again, they have not really been stretched to the limit in this regard, but so far, PSG seem to have a better structure in place.
They seem to be pressing more starting in a 4-4-2 shape with Mbappé up top alongside the striker, so he does not have to track back a lot.
In short, it is safe to say that there are a lot of signs that PSG are heading in the right direction. Only time can tell how much they have improved this season, but things are looking good.
Stats courtesy Transfermarkt, Soccerment, Opta via Fbref and Vizz App.
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