Tomorrow night Paris Saint-Germain has to register three points away to Caen. They just have to. The mediocre start to the season has raised questions towards Laurent Blanc as well as a few marquee names in the Parisien squad. The telling factor was the poll on Le Parisien that asked the PSG fans; “are you happy with the teams start to the campaign?” Over 80% said no.
Where do the problems lie? Well first and foremost it is easy to criticise Laurent Blanc and I have done that myself recently after defending him tirelessly last season. But, some of the players need to take a look in the mirror. I think back to the opening day of the season away to Stade de Reims. We absolutely bossed the opening 20 minutes of that game. We found ourselves 1-0 up thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and then had three golden opportunities to run away into an unassailable lead. Ibra missed a penalty which you can let him off for, as well as an open goal when he hit the post (perhaps a lack of composure to blame). But Lucas Moura’s attempted effort when one on one with goalkeeper Johny Placide was lamentable. A real lapse in judgment as he should have squared to an unmarked Ibra to tap in for 2-0. Instead he sought the glory for himself, remonstrating that his final product is still way off from being that of a top class player.
That may seem harsh, but is a reality I am afraid. He had a similar opportunity against Ajax last week early on in the second-half. One on one with the goalkeeper, he fluffed his lines and put the ball miles wide. At that level you cannot miss opportunities like that. Ajax got their equaliser soon after and could very well have won the game.
Zlatan’s form has been questioned as well. He scored a hat-trick against a tired Saint-Etienne side but since his brace against Reims, he has looked a little off the pace. Last thing I want to do is point the finger at a man who he contributed the most to our success. However, an out of form Zlatan means an inferior PSG. We need him to rediscover that form and I have no doubts that he will. He is the captain at the moment in Thiago Silva’s absence so we need him to really help galvanise the players in these next few games.
Our defence has not been too bad. I feared the worse with Thiago Silva being ruled out for a number of weeks but he has not been overly missed. David Luiz has settled in quickly, forging a decent understanding with Marquinhos. There were a few jitters towards the end of the last two games but as I said, we should have been out of sight by then. We failed to capitalise on our domination. It is something that has cost us dearly.
We are not clinical at the moment and it is biting us on the backside. This is where I come to Monsieur Blanc. He needs to be more tactically aware. My readers know that his constant ‘like for like’ substitutions aggravate me. They do not work. It is a lazy ploy just to give players on the bench some playing time. Instead he needs to focus on shutting up shop by tweaking the formation if we are unable to put games to bed. Instead we remain as a 4-3-3. The opposition then press us, force mistakes and ultimately get their reward. It was the case with Lyon on Sunday and certainly against Ajax four days before.
I look at us sometimes and think ‘why are we playing three in midfield?’ Just have two midfielders sitting in front of the back four, let someone play in the hole behind Ibra and Cavani whilst still have that width with two wide men. He used this system in pre-season a few times, against Guingamp in the Trophees des Champions. It looked positive but the coach still utilises 4-3-3. It is the system that has brought us two league titles but the team needs to evolve. A change in system can do that.
Off the pitch, you can look at our dodgy transfer policy during the summer. Bringing David Luiz for €49.5m was questioned. The fee was not justifiable but when you look at how he has settled in, it’s hard to argue. Serge Aurier is a very good signing and an upgrade on Christophe Jallet. However, the Angel di Maria saga was nothing more than a complete waste of time. Trying to find a way to overcome FFP rulings to bring him in was just not worth it. Proposed loan deals, then a hefty sum to be paid the following summer. Also trying to usher Ezequiel Lavezzi out the door so he can come in. It was just a complete mess. The time wasted on di Maria could have been used more productively to try and bring in someone with equal talent in a more functional way.
A player we signed back in January, Yohan Cabaye, has talent in abundance. Blanc though is restricting his ability by playing him deep. Having him pushed higher up the pitch, as he was for Newcastle United, could be something of a masterstroke if the coach was brave enough to do it. At least try it? Newcastle fans know him better than anyone. They say this is the way to go. A lot of money was paid for the French international and it has been an underwhelming signing. He played at the weekend against Lyon but little sideward passes are not enough. We need to see more.
The thing now is to focus on these next two games against Caen and then Toulouse. Getting that monkey off our back of no away win this season needs to be addressed. We have Barcelona coming to town next week where we need to have some good form in order to match them. They have started their La Liga campaign frenetically and Lionel Messi looks to be back to his best. If we play that game as we have done in the past few weeks would be suicidal. Hopefully by then we will have seen a dramatic improvement.