Did you ever hear about the man who jumped into the river in Paris?
He was later declared fucking mental.
I may have told that wrong. Anyway, since my first match and indeed first defeat as Paris Saint-Germain manager, I have been scheming obsessively over how I can set up this team. We’ve had almost a full week of training since the Battle of Madagascar and with our first Ligue 1 match away at Zlatan’s Lyon imminent, I am ready to unveil Project: InSeine.
Project: InSeine is a bit of a departure from my usual style. Usually my systems will be based around a 4-1-2-3 or a 4-2-3-1 with at least 1 wide man tucking in to create space for overlapping full backs. To be honest, that’s been the core premise of pretty much every system I’ve ever used. With this PSG side though, it took me a really, really long time to figure out how I can actually use the players I have to get the best out of everyone. Let me first outline why my usual systems wouldn’t work with these players.
Problem 1: No ball winner
I know we have “Defensive midfielders” in this squad, but because I’m walking into a Pep Guardiola team, they’re all fucking playmakers. I have actually considered the possibility that it’s me that needs to change. Maybe I don’t need a ball winner at a club like PSG. Maybe I’m bringing a small club mentality to a big club where I can just slot 11 attacking midfielders in and trust that they’ll blast the opposition apart by virtue of being really talented. But no. I want a ball winner and I don’t currently have one, so I’m not comfortable playing a 2 or 3 man midfield that includes 2 or 3 playmakers.
Problem 2: Out and out wingers
I had Kevin and Amonike at Angrense, those two plus Janga at Katowice. I had Masango at Santos, Foden, Zoun and Ferhat at Angrense, Mbappé and Lemar for France. I’ve always used inside forwards to supplement my attack, with fullbacks or wingbacks providing the width. With Coman, I actually used him most often as a playmaker on the right for France, swapping onto the left now and then as an inside forward. But… Well hold that thought, because I need to introduce you to our senior full backs.
Right Back – No 2 – Danilo Bologna
A £25.5M deadline day signing from Atalanta in January 2022, Italy international Danilo is the senior full back that was banned for our first match against Monaco. He is an absolutely superb defender. His physical and mental game is almost off-the-charts impressive. He’s an excellent athlete, a leader, a hard worker with fantastic decision making, positioning, bravery and anticipation. The thing is, he’s not very good going forwards. His crossing and dribbling is sub-par, so as much as I really rate him, he won’t be much good as a wing back bombing past an inside forward on the flank. That’s fine. Gary Neville wasn’t the greatest crosser of the ball in history either, but with David Beckham in front of him, he didn’t need to be. Still, it’s something to keep in mind.
Left Back – No 12 – Toni Lato
Toni has been an excellent signing for PSG so far and is just back from injury. He’s approaching his prime at 26 and is about to enter his 5th season in Paris following his £14.5M transfer from Sevilla. As with most of our squad, he’s quick, physically strong and is also very strong mentally. He’s as determined as anyone, a great decision maker and a hard worker. He’s also very good defensively and is pretty decent going forwards as well.
So this is my problem: I’d have no problem with Lato bombing on past an inside forward, but the only players that can play as an inside forward on the left are Kingsley Coman, who’s actually better as a right winger and Moise Kean, who I can’t see doing very well as his crossing and passing ability isn’t great. Also if I did use Coman on the left, I’d have nobody on the right as we’re actually fairly short on wide men. I’d have to train someone like Orlando as a right inside forward, but as I say, Danilo isn’t good enough to bomb on down the right anyway. Our best wide men for my money are Coman and Orlando: They’re out and out wingers, so I’m changing my approach accordingly. Let me just introduce you to another player:
Box to Box Midfielder – No 10 – Mateo Kovacic
Mateo was signed from Real Madrid for £46.5M in the Summer of 2018 and has been a big player for PSG in the last 6 years. Now 30, he epitomises the squad: He’s an all round great player, physically impressive, mentally excellent and technically gifted. I’ve given up for now on the idea of using Marquinhos as a ball winning midfielder as I think I need him in defence, so Kovacic is the closest thing I have to that player. He’s not a natural ball winner but he’s competent, so I’ll be using him as a box to box midfielder who can chip in all over the pitch.
Off the ball, we’ll be set up in a form of 4-2-3-1 with the full backs acting as full backs, Neves the deepest midfielder, Kovacic coming back to help out and Cvitanovic waiting to receive the ball so that he can start attacks for the front 3.
On the ball is where we’ll really see a bit of a departure from the classic Franjo formula, with our shape resembling sort of a 2-3-2-3 or 2-3-4 1. As Coman and Orlando will be staying out wide, I want Bologna and Lato to tuck into midfield to help out with our solidity. We don’t have ball winners in midfield and we don’t need our full backs pushing up, so it seems like quite a tidy solution to both problems.
So that’s the plan shape-wise. We’ll control the play and we’ll need to be fluid to allow the players a bit of freedom. We’ll play high tempo football and play out from the back mainly through Marquinhos, then using Neves to start attacks by playing the ball into space for our attacking players, all of whom have plenty of pace with which to attack that space. We’ll harass our opponents, we’ll run at them, we’ll express ourselves and it’s going to be fantastic.
Or this system will fall flat on its face and we’ll be buggered, after which we’ll come back to the drawing board. Let’s hope not though.