The transfer market window is over, but there could still be some signings out of the free agent pool in the coming weeks and there are some decent names out there, especially for the mid-to-low table teams. Claudio Marchisio terminated his contract with Zenit to rehab from knee surgery, but he will not coming back to Serie A unless he changes his stance of playing only for Juventus in Italy. Likewise Keisuke Honda, that after spending time at Pachuca and Melbourne is now looking to move to his home country. Continue reading
Monaco were like a breath of fresh air last season as they produced some of the best attacking football in Europe on their way to Ligue 1 title and semi-finals of Champions League. Continue reading
For the last three seasons Paris Saint Germain has been the dominant force in French domestic football.
PSG’s domestic dominance
Under the managerial guidance of Laurent Blanc, who replaced Carlo Ancelotti in June 2013, Les Parisiens have won 11 of the 12 major domestic honours on offer in France, since the start of the 2013-2014 campaign.
As well as winning Ligue 1, Coupe de la Ligue and Trophée des Champions for three successive years, in each of the past two seasons PSG have lifted the Coupe de France.
That is the only trophy that PSG did not completely monopolise winning during Blanc’s time as manager, as in his first season – 2013-2014 – they were eliminated in the round of 32 by Montpellier.
As such when Blanc resigned in June, the 50-year-old former French national team manager did so after overseeing the most successful period in PSG’s relatively short 46 year history.
Emery undertakes a rebuilding process
Subsequently PSG’s affluent Qatari owners have tasked Unai Emery with succeeding Blanc and masterminding a continuation of the fine work undertaken by both he and his predecessor Ancelotti, who led PSG to the 2012-2013 Ligue 1 title.
Since being appointed, Emery has been required to try to rebuild PSG’s squad, due to the departure of several players who were key members of Blanc’s successful team.
Specifically Lucas Digne, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Luiz and Gregory Van der Wiel, have all left PSG since Emery’s arrival, with the club’s owners enabling the 44-year-old manager to replenish his squad by signing Hatem Ben Arfa, Jese, Grzergorz Krychowiak and Thomas Meunier.
Poor recent form plagues PSG
Each of the newly signed quartet featured in their team’s 1-1 home draw against Saint Etienne, which represented both a disappointing performance and result ahead of PSG playing their first Champions League group stage game against Arsenal at the Parc des Princes.
After taking the lead courtesy of a successfully converted Lucas Moura penalty kick, PSG conceded a last minute equaliser, as Robert Beric salvaged a point for Saint Etienne.
That marked a continuation of an uninspiring start to Emery’s managerial reign. Whilst now without a win in two Ligue 1 games, after losing their previous match 3-1 to Monaco, PSG are 7th in the table and struggling to find their best form. That was clearly indicated by the tepid manner in which they performed against Monaco and Saint Etienne.
In both games PSG were wasteful in front of goal and fragile defensively, with the latter of the two issues being vividly illustrated by Saint Etienne’s equalising goal. That followed chaotic and indecisive defending by PSG, which was also a major characteristic of their performance against Monaco.
Defensive problems persist
One PSG defender to play particularly well during that game was the right back Serge Aurier as despite scoring an own goal, the 23-year-old Ivorian made a series of purposeful forward forays to add an excellent dimension to his team’s attack.
However as well as being side lined for PSG’s draw with Saint Etienne due to injury, Aurier is set to the encounter against Arsenal, with Meunier his likely deputy.
Neither the 25-year-old Belgian – bought from Club Bruges for €7m – nor any of his defensive colleagues produced the most assured of performances against Saint Etienne, as Emery’s side continued their indifferent start to the season.
Silva & Verrati vital to PSG’s prospects
Absent from that as a result of injury has been PSG’s captain and inspirational centre half Thiago Silva. Nevertheless the 31-year-old, who has been capped 58 times by Brazil, is on the verge of regaining full fitness and possibly in line to make a return to first team action against Arsenal.
In the event that transpires Silva’s re-emergence can potentially act as the catalyst for PSG to stabilise defensively, whilst also capable of helping Emery’s side achieve that is the combative and technically gifted Marco Verrati.
The 23-year-old Italian internationalist has overcome the hernia injury which caused him to miss the majority of last season and Euro 2016, to commence the current campaign positively. Whilst Verrati brings determination and steel to PSG’s midfield, so too does Grzergorz Krychowiak, although the duo require more time playing alongside one another in order to form a formidable partnership.
Work to be done to fine tune PSG’s attack
Similarly in an offensive sense, Emery is still endeavouring to engineer a cohesive and well – balanced unit, as the former Sevilla manager continues to experiment with different attacking players in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
Despite predominantly starting the mercurially talented Hatem Ben Arfa and Angel Di Maria on the right and left flanks respectively, whilst fielding Javier Pastore as a central playmaker behind Edison Cavani in the lone striking role, Emery has interchanged the quartet and also given Jese and Lucas Moura opportunities to showcase their skills.
Furthermore given Blaise Matuidi’s quality as a defensive midfielder, Emery may yet regularly call upon the 29-year-old French internationalist to accompany Krychowiak in that role, which would enable the manager to promote Verrati to a creative attacking midfield position.
Emery aspires to ensure PSG fulfil their potential
Therefore at present Emery is simultaneously striving to both determine his best side and initiate an upturn in PSG’s early season form.
That has been uncharacteristically poor relative to that of previous campaigns.
However Les-Rouges-et-Bleu undoubtedly have the potentially to embark upon a prosperous Champions League campaign, with their current aim being to commence that positively against Arsenal, who will severely test Emery’s team in minor transition.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaving PSG after four glorious years, it almost feels like a new dawn for the French champions who have dominated French football since 2012.
Ibrahimovic’s lasting effect on the club who waited 18 years for a league title can not be underestimated. And whilst football of course is a team game there can still be no denying that Ibrahimovic was able to convert many chances created into goals. In his four seasons Ibra as he became known in Paris netted 156 goals in just 180 games. That’s an all time record for the club, as is the 50 goals he scored in a season, which included 38 just in Ligue 1, a national record.
PSG have won 12 trophies since 2012, last season the club recorded an unbeaten streak of 30 games which was a new Ligue 1 record, it also took them the same number of games to wrap up the league title, another all -time record.
But with Zlatan gone and coach Laurent Blanc waving au revoir times certainly seem to be a changing for the Parisians. Unai Emery so successful with Sevilla has been brought in and yet a new striker for Zlatan has yet to be seen too. Will indeed PSG replace him? Edinson Cavani on his day is a wonderful player but the Uruguayan can go uncannily quiet in games too.
The club have been very calm in the transfer market in fact, especially for a team that we are told have pocketfuls of dough. Hatem Ben-Arfa has been brought in – as the big name signing this season. Ben Arfa who has spent most of his career in the English Premier League had a solid last season at Nice where the club enjoyed minor success and the pacy winger should bring even more quality to the champions.
Grzegorz Krychowiak will team up with Emery once again from Sevilla and a deal has just been pushed through for young attacking midfielder Giovani Lo Celso from Argentina. That sentence usually evokes either excitement or despair, considering the quality of player that Argentina has produced in that position over the years.
But still no Zlatan mark II. One player that may be on PSG’s radar is Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette. But the club are more willing to sell their striker to foreign shores. The problem is that the only real suitor to have come in of late was Arsenal and their disgraceful £29m bid.
Surely PSG will dive into the transfer market once more and catch a striker, if they don’t this ‘new era’ as some French media have called might get off to a harder start than the four times in a row league champions would have anticipated.
OGC Nice earned their third consecutive league win with a 4-1 rout against Saint-Etienne that saw in-form summer-signing Hatem Ben Arfa bag himself a brace. The 28-year-old finds himself as the top scorer in the division ahead of the international break, and is enjoying a dream start to life in the French Ligue 1.
Ben Arfa had endless trouble trying to sign for Nice, and had to bide his time before being allowed to make his first competitive appearance. But the wait has certainly been worth it considering how well he’s started life at the Allianz Riviera. Six goals from eight games so Ben Arfa in the former of his career, and it’s led to the Eaglets enjoying a lofty top-half place in the table.
Formerly of Newcastle United and Hull City, the last two years of Ben Arfa’s tenure in England didn’t go to plan, but he’s quickly turned the Nice fans on his side following outstanding performances. Against Saint-Etienne, the experienced winger had four shots with a 100% accuracy ratio, while making five dribbles. He’s been a difficult player to come up against this season, and will be hoping he can maintain such form for the duration.
Ben Arfa attempts a dribble every 13 minutes on average per game, boasting a 65% success rate. His impressive start on his return to France has come as a surprise given he was struggling with a host of problems prior to the move. The 28-year-old was overweight following a lack of game time, and had little desire to train or play even when given a lifeline on loan.
However, he’s given his all for Nice this season, and has been a standout star in a new role. While Ben Arfa has previously operated as a winger and central attacking-midfielder in his career, the Frenchman is leading the line for Nice and it’s having the desired effect. Such form has even seen him being spoken about representing the national team again after a three-year omission.
His former Newcastle teammate Moussa Sissoko lavished praised on the bargain signing, saying: “Hatem Ben Arfa is a great player who could’ve played in some of the biggest teams in the world. Today, he is enjoying himself at Nice, we get to see the real Hatem on the pitch and I’m happy for him.”
Nice have impressively transformed the winger from an unwanted free agent to one of the most in-form players in Europe this season, and will be hoping there’s no lull this time.