The Di Maria Dilemma: What To Do When Neymar Returns

Paris Saint-Germain has what we call a good problem. They are absolutely loaded with world-class talent when it comes to attacking options but is it possible to have too much of a good thing, though.

When healthy, manager Thomas Tuchel can choose from Edinson Cavani, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi, Kylian Mbappé, Neymar Jr., and Pablo Sarabia. You could even throw Julian Draxler into the mix as well. That’s a collection of firepower that will rival just about any other team in the world.

So far this season, Tuchel has had it pretty easy when it comes to picking a starting lineup.

Neymar was suspended for the first two UEFA Champions League matches and then picked up an injury while on international duty. Cavani has been injured since late August and has only just returned to the lineup. Mbappé had a nagging muscle injury as well and just made his first start since his injury last Sunday against Olympique de Marseille. Draxler has had a foot injury since the beginning of the season that has kept him away from the team for longer than he would like, too.

The only consistent attacking options that the manager has had at his disposal have been Di Maria, Choupo-Moting, and Sarabia. Icardi had a minor knock in mid-September but the Argentine has been available for most matches since arriving last summer on loan from Inter Milan.

It’s easy to pick three attack-minded players when the only players healthy are Di Maria, Icardi, and Sarabia with Choupo-Moting filling in when someone needs a rest. That lineup has been extremely successful and has helped propel PSG to the top of the Ligue 1 table and top of their Champions League group.

Now is when it gets interesting though. Cavani is back and so is Mbappé. Both players feel they should start regularly. Di Maria is in fantastic form and has more than earned a starting place after carrying the creative duties while so many other players were out.

Neymar will return to the team around mid-November barring any setbacks with his injured hamstring. At that point, as long as no one else goes down injured, Tuchel should be looking at a full stable of attacking options.

So, who does he start in a big match such as Real Madrid away on November 26 in the Champions League?

At this point, Icardi is the unquestioned starting striker of PSG. He has been brilliant so far this season and with Cavani’s contract running out at the end of the season and his continued injury issues, I don’t think you can trust El Matador in a big match given he’s missed so much time.

On the right-wing, Tuchel would be sacked if he didn’t start Mbappé, so the Frenchman will absolutely start in that position for the most important games of the season.

That leaves the left-wing where things get very interesting. Neymar is one of the top players in the world and he’s paid like one by PSG. However, while he’s been out, Di Maria has put together a season to remember with seven goals and eight assists in 15 appearances. Can Tuchel really bench a player of Neymar’s quality and wages in favor of the more in-form Di Maria?

How Tuchel squeezes in all of this attacking talent into a starting lineup has been something people have questioned since his arrival in the French capital.

When it comes to the left-wing position between Di Maria and Neymar, this is very much like a situation in the National Football League where starting quarterback Drew Brees goes down with an injury and his backup, Teddy Bridgewater, goes undefeated in his absence. Do you immediately start Brees when healthy or ride the hot hand?

In my opinion, I don’t believe a player should lose his job due to injury. Di Maria may be playing fabulous football at the moment but so was Neymar before he pulled up with a hamstring injury in Singapore against Nigeria. The Brazilian had scored several game-winning goals and was starting to win back some of the supporters who jeered him at the beginning of the season.

I also think benching Di Maria will cause fewer waves in the media than if Tuchel sat Neymar down. The last thing PSG needs right now is a media circus as they prepare to head into the knockout stage of the Champions League. They need to fly as much under the radar as possible while destroying teams 4-or-5-nil.

My ideal starting front three would be Neymar-Icardi-Mbappé. With Di Maria, Sarabia, and Cavani waiting in the wings, I think this lineup will strike fear in most opponents in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Tuchel may want to get creative with the starting lineup and try to play Mbappé and Icardi up front with Neymar and Di Maria on the wings, but that may leave the midfield too exposed as many of those players I mentioned aren’t the greatest at tracking back.

PSG’s next match is Friday away at Dijon FCO. The relegation-threatened side shouldn’t cause the capital club too much trouble and this may be an opportunity for the manager to give minutes to players like Cavani and Draxler who are just coming back from injury.

We’ll have more on that game and Tuchel’s lineup decisions on the site and Twitter.

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Tags Angel Di Maria Edinson Cavani Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting Julian Draxler Kylian Mbappé Mauro Icardi Neymar Pablo Sarabia Thomas Tuchel
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