Champions League: How Neymar, Mbappe & Messi are finally thriving at PSG
Champions League: How Neymar, Mbappe & Messi are finally thriving at PSG: When Lionel Messi signed with Paris St. Germain on August 10, 2021, the entire footballing world took a deep breath.
It was thought that Messi’s tie with Barcelona was unshakable, but the club’s financial woes forced him to go, and now Neymar and Kylian Mbappe has joined Messi in Paris to form a star-studded offensive trident.
Despite winning the league in their first season together in Paris, the trio had trouble gelling as a team and making the most of each member’s strengths.
Finally, this led to elimination from the Champions League by Real Madrid in the round of 16.
Two of PSG’s two goals were from individual displays of speed and skill from Kylian Mbappe, rather than any combination of Mbappe, Neymar, and Lionel Messi.
The insistence on a 4-3-3 formation by former manager Mauricio Pochettino was blamed since it put Messi (then 35) and Neymar (30) in the wide forward positions, which isn’t optimal for players without explosive power at their ages and stages of their careers.
With Tuesday’s Champions League home match against Juventus fast approaching, what has changed at PSG since Pochettino’s departure?
Could the summer hiring of Christophe Galtier, formerly of Lille and Nice, be the key to achieving Champions League glory at long last?
A new manager breathes new life into a trio
Galtier’s 3-4-3 style has brought out the best in Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe, who have combined for 32 goals and assists in a blistering start to the season.
With six games left in the season, Neymar and Messi have now surpassed their combined total of assists and goals from all of last year (36) to reach 22.
Three of PSG’s central defenders—Sergio Ramos, Marquinhos, and Presnel Kimpembe—provide an excellent foundation for the team’s possession-based style of play.
In addition, the system complements the design of their wing-back chairs. When given the freedom to surge forward and carry the ball into the final third, dynamic players like Nuno Mendes and Achraf Hakimi really shine.
Because of the three central defenders playing in front of them, they are relieved of some of the heavier defensive duties.
There is a double midfield pivot in front of the three central defenders. Apparently, club veteran Marco Verratti will start alongside new acquisition Vitinha, who previously played for Wolves in the Premier League.
While Vitinha (averaging 52 passes per game) is often encouraged to press higher up the pitch and create combination play with the wing-backs and front three, Verratti (averaging 83 passes per game) is given the task of influencing the majority of play from a deeper position.
With this dynamic in the middle, the top three have stayed connected to the rest of the squad throughout the buildup.
Though Galtier encourages PSG’s wing-backs to press high, he prefers that they stay wide and concentrate on stretching the pitch to create space.
Players like Neymar, Mbappe, and Messi, who play in front of the wing-backs, are given more latitude to choose where they want to play.
Front three combining
PSG’s dynamic attacking trio can now play in closer proximity to one another and better combine because to the added width afforded by the wing-backs.
Their incredible technical quality has led to some breathtaking plays in the last third.
Messi and Neymar have contributed to six league assists this year, making them the top two assist providers among Europe’s top five divisions.
Due to the great quality of the trio’s central combination play, there will be stretches of the game in which the opposing defence is forced to focus on them. This allows their nimble wing-backs to find more room to work with on the outside.
PSG’s counterattacking danger has also improved because to the formation’s design. When defensive formations collapse, Neymar and Messi are frequently moved to the centre.
This leads to them regaining possession of the ball in the centre of the field and immediately passing it to the flanks, where Mbappe can make lightning-fast runs behind the opposition’s defence.
Galtier’s tactics have also altered another facet of PSG’s game: their pushing.
With Pochettino’s new 4-2-3-1 formation, the forward trio of Mbappe, Neymar, and Messi no longer has to cover as much ground as they did in the previous 4-3-3. Instead, they are tasked with pressing the opponent’s center backs and defensive midfielder.
Now it’s up to PSG’s wing-backs to press the other team’s full-backs. This boosts PSG’s defensive framework and allows the aging Neymar and Messi to focus more on their on-ball activities.
Hakimi’s pressing high from right wing-back and spoiling attacks has helped PSG score three goals so far this season.
Furthermore, rather than expecting Neymar and Messi to track all the way back into their own half if the opponent overloads a flank with two players, PSG can now fall back into a flat five to enable the wing-back wide center-back to cover them.
If Galtier hopes to carry over their Ligue 1 form into the Champions League, Tuesday’s match against Juventus at the Parc des Princes will be their toughest test to date.
Galtier has set up PSG’s legendary front three with the tactical framework they need to work together. It is up to the individuals at this point in time to deliver results.