PSG's Thomas Tuchel won't force playing time for stars like Julian Draxler, Giovani Lo Celso
Paris Saint-Germain’s 2018-19 season might only be two matches old, yet there are already some very clear indications as to how coach Thomas Tuchel intends to take the French champions forward.
Unable to play the loose 3-4-3 formation that he experimented with during preseason because players are still being nursed back to full fitness after shortened or non-existent preparation for the new campaign, the German tactician has had to compromise and keep the familiar 4-3-3 shape so far.
At times against the likes of Caen and Guingamp, as well as Monaco in the Trophee des Champions, Tuchel’s methods have commanded great intensity, but the former Borussia Dortmund and Mainz boss is by no means working with a full squad.
It is impossible to say that this is how Tuchel envisages his PSG long-term when Edinson Cavani has not yet been available to him this term, Kylian Mbappe was only fit enough to be a substitute away at Guingamp and Marco Verratti still seems far away from regular involvement.
However, even without the likes of Cavani, Verratti and Layvin Kurzawa, youth academy graduates such as Christopher Nkunku, Antoine Bernede and Colin Dagba are being preferred by Tuchel to the likes of Julian Draxler and Giovani Lo Celso.
Tuchel has made it clear early on that he does not intend to repeat predecessor Unai Emery’s mistake of trying to concoct an all-star starting XI by playing quality players in makeshift roles within a set system simply to guarantee them game time.
Going on what we have seen so far this season, the 44-year-old is picking players to suit the formation that he feels will best combat the opponents and not using expensively acquired and highly paid talent out of position just for the sake of it.
Draxler and Lo Celso are arguably the two biggest names who are falling victim to this right now and that is because they were the two players who had to show tremendous versatility in Emery’s second campaign in charge to even get a look-in.
The Germany international, at his best, is a fast and tricky left-sided attacker with a great eye for goal, but he can also play as a central attacking midfielder, or drop into central midfield completely, while the Argentine is an attacking midfielder capable of playing on the left or in central midfield.
Emery utilised Draxler’s technique in central midfield, having him often fill in for the fragile Verratti, while Lo Celso’s tenacity earned him a shot at defensive midfield as Thiago Motta disintegrated and Lassana Diarra signed too late in January to be of any use in the Champions League.
Under Emery, Draxler and Lo Celso were jacks of all trades but masters of none and Tuchel clearly does not like this, meaning that there is no clear role for either player in their boss’ vision for this season.
The bad news for Draxler is that Neymar occupies the loose left-sided role in attack, while Angel Di Maria’s natural versatility and proven record in central areas makes him a more natural alternative to the Brazilian superstar or Kylian Mbappe in the loose right-sided role. That leaves the German third in line at best.
Lo Celso’s natural position does not exist on the pitch in the 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 formations Tuchel has used so far and with Verratti yet to return and a number of talented youth academy graduates jostling for inclusion, the South American is a luxury that his new coach feels he can do without.
It is a shame to see players like Draxler and Lo Celso potentially falling to the wayside at Parc des Princes but to be fair to him, Tuchel is doing two of the things that was asked of him when he interviewed for the job — trimming the fat from a bloated and underperforming squad, as well as utilising youth academy gems.
PSG’s inability to keep hold of their most talented youngsters is a stick that has been used to beat them since the arrival of Oryx Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), despite the fact that Adrien Rabiot, Presnel Kimpembe and Alphonse Areola regularly start, but Tuchel looks set on changing that.
When QSI arrived in Paris, the idea was to combine Neymar-esque superstars with top youth academy products, like Rabiot, and top local talents, like Mbappe — Tuchel appears to have understood the project and intends to be the man to finally bring it to fruition.
Draxler and Lo Celso may yet save themselves with PSG by showing Tuchel something that he has not yet seen, otherwise they will probably end up being cashed in to ease Les Parisiens‘ UEFA financial fair play (FFP) concerns.
Whatever happens with the pair, Tuchel’s greater reliance on homegrown talent should still be viewed with positivity — even if it means a few high-profile casualties along the way.
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