Paris Saint-Germain is getting its first real squad depth test after the news that Nuno Mendes has undergone surgery and will likely miss the remainder of this calendar year. The Portugal international is yet to feature in a competitive game under Luis Enrique, so the Spanish tactician cannot miss what he has not yet known to an extent. However, Mendes’ extended absence puts extra pressure on Lucas Hernandez, who has been filling in at left-back this season and is coming off of a lengthy injury lay-off.
The PSG defense is set for the moment without Mendes and Presnel Kimpembe, but injury or suspension for Hernandez could quickly change that. With Kimpembe still months away and Juan Bernat on loan with SL Benfica, the only positional replacement for Hernandez is Layvin Kurzawa, who is yet to play a single minute this campaign. The 31-year-old has barely played for the past few years, including a loan spell with Premier League side Fulham, yet has been part of the senior group since Luis Enrique’s arrival.
At a push, Kurzawa could be rehabilitated to play at least a rotational role, but he will already be lapsing into lacking game fitness, which means he needs to start getting minutes now. Assuming that is how PSG goes; this brings us to other potential internal solutions that the French champions could look at between now and the start of 2024. Failure to consider it now could destabilize the early-term cohesion that has been building—especially given how easily shaken this backline can be.
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There are several left-footed players in the squad, but all of them play different positions to Mendes so they are not automatic fits and would require an adaptation period to even be passable in the role. Midfielder Fabian Ruiz and winger Lee Kang In are tough fits, although the Spaniard arguably should have the experience to make it work, and the South Korean is now on international duty. Another possibility is Marco Asensio, although it seems unlikely that Luis Enrique would ask him to move so far back down the field—the Spain international enjoyed a good start to life in Paris in a central role before picking up an untimely injury with La Roja.
Cher Ndour is an exciting possibility, given his ability to play with both feet, although we have barely seen the Italian in action, given that he has just four Ligue 1 minutes to his name. The same goes for Ethan Mbappé, who featured a bit during preseason but is yet to clock any minutes professionally despite being in and around the group and having made the squad for the 3-2 home loss to OGC Nice recently. The issue with this is that playing players out of position arguably sets them up to fail because difficult form in an unfamiliar role can create a bad first impression, which can often turn into a lasting one at Parc des Princes, such as Carlos Soler.
There is one other interesting alternative that is only available to French clubs, and that is a joker transfer, which each club is entitled to outside of the regular summer and winter markets. It is often used for temporary or short-term moves, but it does not stop clubs from moving for future targets if it also fits the criteria. Free agents and France-based players are eligible between the summer and winter windows, although the rules change for the period between the winter and summer windows. That must then be a France-registered player, but the potential “joker” cannot be included in the same squad as the injured player who will have created the exceptional circumstances to justify such a move for at least three months.
Given Mendes’ injury is expected to keep him out for the rest of 2023, PSG theoretically would have qualified for that, too. Julien Le Cardinal’s move from Paris FC to RC Lens last November is a good example of this, albeit not a lasting one, as the defender has since been loaned to Championnat surprise package Stade Brestois 29. Les Parisiens’ current position could be to look at free agents or players who could potentially be made available by their clubs and, therefore, PSG’s rivals.
Here are some potential Ligue 1-based players of interest in the left-back role.
The Stade Rennais man was in impressive form before he picked up an injury in Paris last season, and the 21-year-old Belgium-born talent is already a full France international. Unfortunately for PSG, on top of Truffert being one of this weekend’s regular starters, there is also little depth in the Bretons’ squad with Bruno Genesio’s only other option the promising Jeanuel Belocian. Such a situation and the tight financial nature of the Randal Kolo Muani deal in the dying minutes of the summer window suggests that this one would be too complicated to be a joker candidate, although one to definitely keep an eye on.
Nice’s start to the campaign has been impressive and included a recent win in Paris but an underrated part of that has been the 22-year-old’s consistent form along with fellow French talents Jean-Clair Todibo and Khéphren Thuram. Bard is unlikely to be the first name that Francesco Farioli would be willing to part with. Still, Les Aiglons’ situation regarding the position is a bit different from Rennes’, with Romain Perraud currently on loan and a suitable senior alternative along with versatile Switzerland international Jordan Lotomba. A contract until 2026 is unlikely to aid an easy deal, though, with Nice suddenly looking to protect their lofty early position this term.
Nantes has another interesting French talent in the 21-year-old, who PSG could look at when assessing domestic talent, but that, too, is a tricky proposition. Not only is Merlin under contract until 2026, but he is a crucial figure for Les Canaris, who have no real positional need given France-born Algeria international Jaouen Hadjam can go left back when his teammate is deployed further forward in a more attack-minded role. This could be one to look at should Nantes be struggling come the winter transfer window, but Mendes’ unavailability should be less of an issue by then.
Read the full article at PSG Talk Extra Time on Substack.