If you are a die-hard Paris Saint-Germain supporter you probably have fallen even more in love with the club this season.
Over the summer of 2017, PSG completely revamped their attack with the addition of Neymar Jr. via a record-breaking transfer fee from FC Barcelona and a brilliantly structured loan deal for the young starlet Kylian Mbappé from AS Monaco. Playing alongside Edinson Cavani, this trio has been one of the most entertaining and lethal fronts that we’ve seen in recent memory. In all competitions so far, Paris has won 11 matches with two draws and no losses. Trending upwards as one of the more feared teams in all of Europe, it’s easy to pick out the likes of Mbappé, Cavani and Neymar being the main reasons for the brilliant start to the 2017-18 campaign.
In the midst of the excitement surrounding the new high-profile additions, there were a few players PSG had to let go in order to afford players like Neymar and Mbappé without breaking Financial Fair Play regulations. There are also starters from previous seasons that inevitably had to take a backseat to the superstar acquisitions. Ironically, it seems that the one player whose form has dipped the most is still being selected in the starting lineup–at least for the time being–and hasn’t had to watch from the bench at all. Left-back Layvin Kurzawa is that player for me. ALong with Neymar and Mbappé, PSG also added right-back Dani Alves on a free transfer from Juventus FC and left-back Yuri Berchiche from Real Sociedad for a transfer fee of €16 million. With Brazilian legend Maxwell retiring, many supporters assumed the left-back position was Kurzawa’s to lose even with the addition of Berchiche. Kurzawa is coming off groin surgery that kept him out of the squad for the last few weeks of last season and many believed the Frenchman should have had the procedure earlier. Instead, Kurzawa likely postponed surgery to continue to get game time and stay in the rotation. It was clear that playing with the injury affected his play last season. With the surgery out of the way and an entire offseason to recover, fans anticipated the former Monaco man to return to his usual form.
Thirteen matches into the season and I’ve personally seen Kurzawa play as poorly as I’ve ever seen him play before. His issues include indecisiveness going forward, stopping the ball in the middle of a potential attack, poor ball retention, losing possession in crucial areas, lack of spacing and inaccurate crosses in the box. I could add a few things but I’m not here to pile on. This article is not intended to bash Kurzawa but to simply understand what could be the reason for his shockingly bad performances from what is still a very talented player. When you add superstars on any team, in any sport, and a players time, in fact, does not decrease and they aren’t being forced out of the squad, it is difficult to see where one can justify being angry or simply not having fun. Although, I do think these changes can affect the way someone plays, especially when they’re having to conform and learn how to adapt to said superstars instead of the big signings have to adapt, which is something we rarely see.
Maybe this is just an adjustment period, or maybe Kurzawa has to add more to his game to go along with the immense talent he already possesses. Maybe the departure of his seemingly best friend while on the team, Serge Aurier who is now with Tottenham Hotspur, has him a bit distracted. Maybe the arrival of Neymar has him pressing a bit because he wants to show the world’s third best player what he is capable of. Maybe we are all downplaying a bit of pressure from Berchiche. In the Spaniards six appearances this season with PSG, we can see the talent, experience, and confidence in which he plays with. Perhaps, if given more opportunities, Berchiche could potentially take Kurzawa’s place in the starting XI.
All of these things seem plausible in context when you find yourself trying to justify Kurzawa’s current form, but only the player himself knows what is keeping him from being the kind of talent we know he can be. We still see Kurzawa being one of the jokesters on the team via the player’s social media platforms. He is one of the guys who keeps things light and is always posting funny prank videos of his teammates, all in good fun of course. Before his transfer, it was Aurier, along with Kurzawa, who would be the life of the party in the dressing room. They were the guys who interacted with all of the players. From a fans perspective, it now seems the PSG youth product Presnel Kimpembe has taken on the “class clown” role in the dressing room and we are seeing less of that from Kurzawa.
On the pitch though is where everything really matters. What we have been seeing is a player lacking confidence and I just expressed many of the reasons that come to the mind of PSG supporters. I’ve seen the tweets from pundits and journalists who simply chalk it all up to Kurzawa being a bad player and calling for him to be replaced altogether. I strongly disagree with those people because we’ve seen promising performances from Kurzawa in the not so distant past. He has plenty of talent and all of the physical features to embody what the full-back position in modern football has evolved into.
The full-back position used to be–dare I say–defensive. Thanks to players like Alves, and Marcelo Vieira, who is recognized as the best in the world in their respective positions, the full-back position is now viewed as an attacking one in the eyes of most players, managers, and media. Marcelo is the perfect example of the type of left-back Kurzawa can be. Like the France international, Marcelo has world class player as a winger on his side of the pitch. Cristiano Ronaldo is usually occupying the space on the left side for Real Madrid and when he is not, he’s dribbling into the box towards goal leaving a void behind him. More often than not, it’s Marcelo who is there to fill in the gap left by Ronaldo. His spacing is impeccable in terms of not getting in the way of attackers and at the same time, being effective and actively part of the attack by setting them up with through balls, crosses, and sometimes taking a shot on goal himself. There is a reason that even with the star-studded Madrid team, tactically, Marcelo might be the most important player they have. Without him, Madrid doesn’t win back-to-back UEFA Champions League trophies in my opinion.
In the same vein, Kurzawa has world-class talent playing on his side of the pitch at PSG in Neymar. Even more so than Ronaldo, Neymar usually operates in the middle of the pitch playing as a number 10, which leaves the left side wide open. Kurzawa can learn a lot from watching Marcelo, primarily knowing how to space himself when a ball-dominant player such as Neymar moves around. Yes, this is easier said than done but as Marcelo has shown, it can be done. One of the biggest challenges full-backs today are faced with is having to deal with a counter-attack when they are already playing up the pitch. In some Ligue 1 matches this season, this has been a glaring part of the game as it pertains to Kurzawa and his current form. In the Champions League matches, he tries hard to not get in the way and ends up not affecting the match at all. This can be viewed as a good thing to some but PSG can also find a less expensive player in the market to do just that. “Getting out of the way” isn’t why Kurzawa was brought in from Monaco at the price they paid for him.
It’s still early in the season and there is plenty of football still to be played. I am not hitting the panic button on Kurzawa yet but I have seen signs of a playing without confidence. There could be personal issues that we are not privy to and all the maybes I threw out earlier are pure speculations and assumptions. I can only truly judge him based off what I see on the pitch and it just hasn’t been up to par for me. The Frenchman is only 25-years-old and is one of the more promising players in Europe. It is totally up to him and the types of performances he puts together moving forward. In some teams, a manager might have benched him by now but Unai Emery seems to trust the player and continued to start him in both the Champions League and Ligue 1. A managers confidence goes a long way in a players development and Kurzawa is lucky to have a coach like Emery backing him up. We are heading into what is considered the grinding months of the season and we have yet to see Kurzawa perform at his best or even near it. Time will tell us everything we need to know.
Article by Jon Olangi