Before the planet saw its first £100m player, it saw its first £200m one. Barcelona felt the sting of having one of their star players whisked away for a change, with Neymar’s release clause activated to the tune of €222m. Factoring in wages, fees to his father and the money spent on bringing various other Brazilians to the club as a welcoming entourage and Paris Saint-Germain have spent over half a billion on securing his signature.
As part of a Qatari PR exercise, PSG are seeking to become “the first great club of the digital era“. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the beginning totem however, with his exit, they were in need of a new star, and QSi settled upon Neymar.
With Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo the wrong side of 30, the personable 25 year-old is in pole position to emerge as the world’s leading player when they are finally absent. At Barcelona, the team was built to the needs of Messi, but the Parisian club is being tailored to Neymar and with it we should see the heights of what he’s capable of in the years to come.
The first step in this new age for PSG came in Brittany. They lined up in a 4-3-3 – Neymar replacing Javier Pastore the only change from the team that beat Amiens the week before – while Guingamp set up in a 4-2-3-1.
Firstly, it’s got to be said that Guingamp offered absolutely nothing in this game. Jimmy Briand was presumably meant to be playing as a target man yet never had the ball played into him, while Yannis Salibur was holding up the ball with no support. Abdoul Camara and Marcus Coco ran admirably down the wing but their efforts were in vain as no one ever gave them a passing option or made a run into the box for their crosses.
They weren’t even particularly competent defenders. Briand and Salibur trotted back between PSG’s defence and midfield to shield their midfield but never really made much of an effort to block passes – Briand barely even breaking into a sprint for the entire match. Their holding midfielders could be steered up the pitch easily by one of PSG’s centre-midfielders moving deeper and the wingers stayed wide, which limited the influence of Dani Alves and Layvin Kurzawa but meant there were large gaps to play through had PSG been cannier.
But they weren’t. The first half remained goalless despite Guingamp’s many flaws. A major issue was that PSG were moving the ball around far too slowly, allowing Guingamp to adjust and stop passes being played through. Another fundamental problem was that they only seemed to want to play through the centre – Guingamp’s midfield wasn’t compact and they could have easily broke through the lines if they had changed the angle of attack, yet they kept trying to slip passes through the one area Guingamp had fairly covered.
The wide positioning of their wingers and Lucas Deaux and Etienne Didot’s tendency to get dragged up-field meant PSG could have easily broken the lines with diagonal passes from wider areas. The full-backs’ need to maintain width to compensate for Neymar and Angel di Maria tucking inside, plus Camara and Coco keeping close to them meant they weren’t really able to dop back, nevertheless there was little to stop the centre-backs from pushing wider or from one of the midfielders from shifting wide – there were huge gaps to fizz a through ball straight through to the attackers and turn Guingamp that went unused.
Instead the midfielders were trying to sneak passes in between the narrow Briand, Salibur, Deaux and Didot. First Thiago Motta was deepest but Marco Verratti soon dropped back to the base of the midfield – the central three frequently rotating – to pick out passes and attempt long balls behind. The Italian appeared to notice the open passing lane about half an hour into the game and often pulled out to the left flank, but he went ignored as his colleagues tried to force passes through the middle.
The deadlock was eventually broken with a goal fitting for the match: Jordan Ikoko misplacing a pass to his goalkeeper into his own net under little pressure. Edinson Cavani doubled PSG’s lead when Neymar ran half the pitch and played a through ball without anyone even attempting to stop him, then the Brazilian got on the scoresheet himself.
We can’t really gather much about the new PSG from this game due to the embarrassing performance of their opponents, but there are a few niggles that might be worth keeping an eye on as the team develops.