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.