The season may have officially kicked off last Saturday with the Trophée des Champions win over AS Monaco but Paris Saint-Germain’s quest to recapture the Ligue 1 title gets under way this Saturday against Amiens SC at the Parc des Princes. To be honest though, the newly promoted side is the last thing supporters are thinking about right now. Neymar rumors are heating up and depending on what site you read, the Brazilian is either staying at FC Barcelona or in Paris waiting to be announced. There’s also the question of our best starting lineup, UEFA Champions League expectations, and more. To help predict the upcoming campaign, Dave and I sat down to answer 10 of the most pressing questions facing Les Parisiens.
1. Let’s assume PSG sign Neymar. What other signings should the club make before the window closes?
Ed: For me, I think it’s pretty ridiculous that a club with the resources to seriously entertain purchasing a single player for a quarter of a billion dollars has two goalkeepers as inconsistent as Kevin Trapp and Alphonse Areola. If we had to go into a big Champions League match against one of the top European clubs I would have no confidence in either one. I was at the pre-season match against Tottenham Hotspur where Trapp booted a ball off a defender and into his own net and then received a red card a minute into the second half. If I were new sporting director Antero Henrique, I would transfer Areola to another club. He’s had plenty of opportunities to secure the starting role with Trapp’s blunders but it hasn’t worked out. In his place, I would consider signing Alban Lafont from Toulouse FC. The 18-year-old is a couple of years from being a Champions League-worthy keeper but his upside is much higher than Areola. Jan Oblak is another keeper I would consider signing. PSG were rumored to be interested in the Atlético Madrid man earlier this summer but talks trailed off. If Paris continue to struggle in that position expect Henrique to make a move.
Dave: Big assumption to make! I’m sure many fans will agree that Neymar fills a giant hole that Julian Draxler helped with last season (secondary goal scorer). Neymar would score and assist plenty in a PSG shirt. At the end of the day, though, Emery’s PSG don’t really struggle to attack–the big worry is in midfield and defense. With a pair of extremely attacking full-backs, the #6 position–presuming PSG continue in a 4-3-3 formation–must drop into the back three very comfortably. Thiago Motta is growing old and never was much for the tackle anyway, and Grzegorz Krychowiak is tragically not working out in Paris. A fourth center-back appears to be on the way, so the only hole PSG needs to fill would be a capable defensive midfielder who can play the ball but also cover for the hole in defense the full-backs leave. We might also need a backup striker, but Gonçalo Guedes seems to be capable enough.
2. What players should PSG transfer out of the club before the window closes?
Dave: Some fans of the club still have confidence in Angel Di Maria–I don’t. The right wing position has been easily PSG’s weakest the past couple of seasons with the Argentinian notoriously inconsistent, Lucas Moura declining instead of growing, and Jesé Rodriguez/Hatem Ben Arfa…well, the less said the better. Neither Jesé or Ben Arfa should be anywhere near the club. I think the PSG could still use Di Maria, but he’d be on a huge pay check for a bench player. Guedes absolutely looks to be everything we expected Jesé to be, and Giovani Lo Celso is versatile enough to play in midfield or attack. Lucas certainly won’t be missed.
In midfield, Blaise Matuidi should leave. He’s a gigantic liability and we’d be lucky to have a club take him off us. Motta can cycle into a rotation option (or close games out) and we can sign a #6 that can play the ball. Serge Aurier also appears to have already left, essentially.
Do you want to see Matuidi play for PSG again this season?
— PSG Talk (@PSGTalk) July 29, 2017
Ed: I 100 percent agree that under no circumstance should Ben Arfa and Jesé have access to the training facilities after the transfer window closes. I think I’m most upset about Aurier leaving. The guy is an immense talent but too many distractions has led to his impending departure. One thing to keep in mind is that if this Neymar transfer goes through, depending on how PSG finance the deal, we may need to sell some players so that Financial Fair Play doesn’t come back to bite us. Barcelona have already threatened to report Paris to UEFA so Javier Pastore and Di Maria may be on the chopping block to make the numbers work.
3. Unai Emery is entering his second season. What changes do you hope to see him make?
Ed: This may sound simple but Emery needs to forget about trying to build from the back all of the time. Throughout pre-season Paris constantly tried to pass their way from defense to offense starting with the keeper and they were picked off numerous times forcing them to scramble to stop an odd-man rush. If this continues into the season, I can see more than a few points dropped. Also, timely substitutions would be a huge improvement. Why are we making our first change in the 85th minute when we’re up 3-0 over FC Nantes for example? Emery needs to be better about rotating the squad so that regular starters can rest and younger players can receive vital playing time.
Dave: I speak for a lot of people when I say the 4-2-3-1 should be re-implemented. It looked excellent at points last season. Otherwise, though, if the team must continue in a 4-3-3 the defensive holes must absolutely be plugged if he’s going to succeed this season; far too open on the counter in most games.
4. Edinson Cavani nearly broke Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s single-season scoring record last season. Do you think he can score more than 50 goals in all competitions this year?
Dave: Basically two scenarios – Neymar is an assist machine or Neymar eats up enough goals that he and Edinson Cavani are splitting chances between eachother. There’s certainly a chance if the team hits the ground running that he could break 50, though. Remember last year he was having real trouble up front early on.
Ed: Cavani looked as sharp as ever in pre-season and if he can stay healthy I think he will absolutely break Zlatan’s record. Even if Neymar doesn’t sign for Paris, I think a full season with Draxler at his side will benefit the Uruguayan immensely. Should Neymar make the move though, the eyes of the world will be on Paris and Cavani will want to show that he is the best striker in the world. Look for El Matador to bag 52 in all competitions this season.
5. Other than PSG and Monaco, which team do you think possesses the players to compete and win Ligue 1?
Ed: This might be surprising to some but I really think Olympique de Marseille will compete this season. Their stadium is one of the most intimidating Ligue 1 has to offer and for the first time in years they have a solid squad to go with their raucous home support. Dimitri Payet is getting older but he’s still capable of picking out a pass and blasting a free kick into the back of the net. Morgan Sanson was the league’s top assist man and Valère Germain brings his championship pedigree over from Monaco. Lucas Ocampos, Florian Thauvin, Rémy Cabella, Luiz Gustavo, and Patrice Evra round out a squad full of quality.
Dave: Lyon will struggle without Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso, although they have a solid crop of young players and Nabil Fekir could always have another breakout after his disappointing ACL injury. OGC Nice have also retained a few solid players, although whether Jean Michaël Seri will stay until the end of the window remains to be seen. Hard to say outside of those few–every season Ligue 1 tends to have a real breakout team in the absence of a solid ‘top 6,’ usually led by a crop of impressive youngsters.
6. Which young player in the squad will have a breakout season?
Dave: Adrien Rabiot looks like a freaking bus. His problem is consistency, as I’ve oft repeated on the podcast–on his game he can make Real Madrid’s midfield look small. The summer has apparently been very kind to Rabiot, who doubled down on a gym membership and bulked up big-time. I think Lo Celso, Guedes, and Christopher Nkunku will get a lot of time in different positions, but I expect Rabiot to really blossom in the absence of Matuidi starting.
Ed: Rabiot is a great pick. He’s my pick for player of the season. Seeing the team in person against Spurs, he stood out not only physically like you mentioned but he was constantly making the right pass and sprinting into attack at precisely the right moment. I also think Presnel Kimpembe is set up to have the type of season that puts him on the wish list of every club in Europe. He’s another player who seems to put on 25 pounds of muscle every summer and we all remember what he did to Lionel Messi in the first leg of their tie in the Champions League. If Marquinhos and Thiago Silva can’t mesh and the defense continues to leak goals, look for Kimpembe to get plenty of minutes to show what he can do on the biggest stages.
7. What is PSG’s best starting XI and formation?
Ed: Go bold Emery. 4-2-3-1 is the formation.
Trapp (for now…)
Alves – Silva – Marquinhos – Kurzawa
Verratti – Rabiot
Di Maria (or Neymar) – Pastore – Draxler
Dave: I would love to see a 4-2-3-1 with…well, I don’t know who goes in goal, but:
Meunier – Silva – Marquinhos – Kurzawa
Verratti – Rabiot
(Neymar)/Guedes – Pastore – Draxler
8. Will PSG win Ligue 1?
Dave: Most likely, with Monaco losing a crop of their best players–particularly the ineffable Bernardo Silva, who I absolutely loved. Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappé, and Radamel Falcao are currently their attacking impetus, but they’re weaker in midfield and defense without Tiemoué Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy. We also don’t know how many else will depart before the summer ends.
We do have to, though. I struggle to see Emery retaining his job if we don’t, unless we win the Champions League.
Ed: It’s simple. Paris Saint-Germain will win Ligue 1. The point spread may not be as high as supporters would want but I expect Emery to win his first league title with PSG this year.
9. How far will PSG go in the Champions League?
Ed: If Neymar is in the squad I think PSG will win the Champions League. The club has been building for the past 5+ years to win the title they covet the most and with some luck, I belive this is the year they do it. They’ve beaten Chelsea FC on the road and blown a 4-0 aggregate lead to Barcelona. I think all that experience, plus the addition of Dani Alves and hopefully Neymar, will be enough to push them over the top.
Dave: With Neymar, you’ve always got a shot. If the squad can find some decent form and sort out its defensive issues we’re at least a dark horse. Without Neymar? Well, safe bet is…quarter-final exit.
10. Give me one bold prediction for the season.
Dave: We’ll make the damn semi-finals for once. No, but seriously, I doubt we’re doing the cup double again. I would love for us to lower those competitions’ priorities in lieu of strong league challenges and CL performance.
Ed: PSG will have to play Barcelona at some point in the Champions League setting up one of the most anticipated matchups in the tournament’s recent history.