Monday, February 6, 2023

Vitinha, Renato Sanches, Fabian Ruiz and Carlos Soler breathe new life into PSG midfield

Paris Saint-Germain finished the summer transfer window as one of the teams to have used their opportunity to do business best and that is no clearer than when you look at their new midfield.

Head coach Christophe Galtier and sporting advisor Luis Campos targeted the position as soon as they arrived and have successfully rebuilt it around Marco Verratti. The Italy international being pretty much the sole survivor of a mass cull in the middle of the pitch is unsurprising given his rare technical genius, but PSG equally no longer rely upon him as before.

Adding Vitinha, Renato Sanches, Fabian Ruiz, and Carlos Soler to Galtier’s roster has given the French tactician players who can play alongside Verratti but also replace him when he is unavailable. Moving away from that sort of single-player dependency is part of a key strategy to make Les Parisiens less reliant on individual brilliance and more of a functioning unit.

Away from the midfield, the attacking unit of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi have never been more complementary to each other since the legendary Argentine’s arrival last season. The defense also has a more formidable look about despite its need to further tighten up ahead of the start of the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Sergio Ramos’ return to form and fitness has not only given the back line a solid and dependable presence, but it has also introduced a stabilizing leadership element which has been missing for years. Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes operate between the defense and the midfield and were not exactly below-par last campaign, but both are benefiting from the new sense of balance already.

The departed Idrissa Gueye, Julian Draxler, Georginio Wijnaldum, Leandro Paredes and Ander Herrera were not exactly poor players individually but made the midfield workmanlike at best. Edouard Michut and Eric Junior Dina Ebimbe were youngsters who could have provided value in squad roles but had been mishandled under Mauricio Pochettino, which meant it best to move on.

Vitinha, so far, has been a revelation alongside Verratti and was already missed in the recent draw with AS Monaco through suspension. Ruiz will not be available this weekend in Nantes due to a domestic ban, but the Spain international and his compatriot Soler bring more of a forward-thinking approach which will allow Danilo Pereira to satisfy more defensive needs.

Questions over squad depth are valid, particularly in defense with Pereira capable of stepping back but not exactly ideal either, so a foray into the free agent market for a defender like Dan-Axel Zagadou could appeal to Campos and Galtier if he does not finalize an Italian move. Keylor Navas remaining also presents a tried and tested UCL caliber shot-stopper if Gianluigi Donnarumma’s form or fitness suffers.

Switching systems from the rough 3-4-1-2 Galtier has deployed since his arrival should not be dismissed, especially during the hectic European schedule pre-World Cup, but it is logical that the 56-year-old favors that approach with his current group of players. His control over the likes of Neymar since his arrival has also been nothing short of masterful and the Champions League opener against Juventus promises to be utterly intriguing.

Soler provides a quality alternative to the Brazilian while Hugo Ekitike has yet to make much of an appearance in attack and Mauro Icardi may well end up in Turkey before their transfer window shuts. PSG’s impressive and overdue makeover might not be done yet so keep an eye on how they develop up until the next international break.

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