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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

How will Mauricio Pochettino change Paris Saint-Germain?

PSG hire Pochettino
PSG’s hiring of Pochettino was made official on January 2nd. Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA.

There are a number of soccer managers across Europe who can now breathe a little easier. For the past year, since his dismissal by Tottenham Hotspur, the availability of Mauricio Pochettino as a free agent has made life more difficult for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Zinedine Zidane and others. The spectre of the Argentine coach loomed large over many of the game’s highest profile coaches.

Now, though, Pochettino is finally a taken man with the 48-year-old having to take over at Paris Saint-Germain following the French club’s decision to fire Thomas Tuchel on Christmas Eve. Pochettino, of course, has links to the Parc des Princes having played for PSG, but how will he change the club as a manager?

Those eager to judge based on the club’s 1-1 draw against Saint-Etienne may need to step back and afford the manager more time to bring his squad into a new system. What we know is this: in an attacking sense, PSG boast one of the strongest squads in the European game. In Kylian Mbappe and Neymar they have two players capable of winning a match almost entirely on their own. Moise Kean (on loan from Everton), Mauro Icardi and Angel di Maria also give the French champions significant firepower in the final third.

Pochettino has plenty to work with here, but PSG’s defensive options present him with a greater challenge. A strong defence was the bedrock of his success as Spurs boss with the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen becoming Premier League giants under the Argentine’s stewardship.

PSG’s defence is a bit of a wasteland right now, though. Thiago Silva was their leader at the back until he left as a free agent at the end of last season. Marquinhos is talented, but is frequently used as a midfield anchor. Presnel Kimpembe has ability, but has long lacked consistency. Abdou Diallo is the only other senior centre back at the club.

On top of this, PSG are weak in the full back positions. Thomas Meunier was another who left the club as a free agent at the end of last season. Alessandro Florenzi was signed on loan from Roma as a short-term replacement for the Belgian at right back while Dutch youngster Mitchel Bakker has been first choice at left back this season.

Pochettino’s system is reliant on strong full backs who can provide an attacking outlet down the wings. It also needs a Moussa Dembele-type figure in the centre of the pitch to work to its full potential—and while PSG’s midfield is relatively strong, they don’t have anyone with the ball-carrying ability of the Belgian.

January could see Pochettino add to his squad, with Dele Alli believed to be on his radar. Dele was a favourite of Pochettino’s at Tottenham Hotspur, but has recently fallen down the pecking order in North London. PSG could use an attacking midfielder like the 24-year-old to round out their options and Dele could use a fresh start. A move to the French capital would make a lot of sense.

The summer window could also present Pochettino with the opportunity to make his mark on the PSG squad. Paul Pogba is widely believed to be on his way out of Manchester United and so it’s possible the Frenchman could be lured back to his homeland to perform the Dembele role for Pochettino.

It’s easy to see why the PSG job appealed to Pochettino. This is an opportunity for the Argentine to add some silverware to his resume, but there are pitfalls Pochettino must avoid in the French capital. Last season saw Tuchel lead PSG to their seventh Ligue 1 title in eight years and their first ever Champions League final. Four months on, he is out of a job.

The Ligue 1 title is seen as a given for PSG such is the financial advantage they enjoy over the rest of French soccer. This season is playing out differently so far, with PSG three points off leaders Lyon in a wide-open title race. Ultimately, it’s in the Champions League where Pochettino will be judged. Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc, Unai Emery and Tuchel have all failed to take PSG to the top of the European game, with Tuchel coming within one result of achieving the club’s ultimate objective last season. Pochettino certainly won’t be the first elite level coach to give it a go.

PSG’s squad is clearly top-heavy. They can’t ask Mbappe and Neymar to win every game for them. The world class talent they have is front-loaded—Pochettino has a lot of work to do to instill some balance at the Parc des Princes. If he can do that, the new union between Pochettino and PSG could prove to be a perfect match.

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