How PSG could line up with Neymar: Can they now win the Champions League?
Once the fanfare and excitement over Neymar's record-breaking move to Paris Saint-Germain dies down, it will be time to get back to business in Ligue 1. The French league season kicks off earlier than the others - on 4 August to be exact - and PSG will be looking to restore some semblance of order by pipping last season's champions AS Monaco to the league title.
Unai Emery now has the challenging but privileged job of coming up with a formation and tactics that will get the best out of Neymar and the attacking contingent at his disposal. And what an attacking contingent it is!
Last season saw Emery adopt the 4-3-3 formation for 90% of the league games. But on the odd occasion that he did switch to a 4-2-3-1 saw PSG win all their games.
So what is the ideal formation for PSG now that Neymar has arrived?
Players available in attack
The current squad now has six potential starters competing for three positions in attack.
- Centre-Forward: Edinson Cavani, Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and Odsonne Edouard
- Wings: Neymar, Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria, Jese, Lucas and Goncalo Guedes
One look at the squad suggests that Bahebeck (aged 24), Edouard (19) and Guedes (20) will find it very tough to break into the starting XI. So it will be a throw up between the other six players as to who will start under Emery.
Who will start in a 4-3-3 formation?
Let's get the sure-shot players out of the way first. Cavani will continue to lead the line for PSG and play in his preferred centre-forward role. The Uruguayan striker was liberated after the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scoring 49 goals in 50 games - the best return of his career so far.
Neymar will continue playing on the left - just as he did with Barcelona. No other player in Europe's top five leagues managed to score at least 20 goals and also make at least 20 assists. The Brazilian did not have his most prolific season with the Catalan club but played the role of provider well.
Which leaves Angel Di Maria, Lucas and Julian Draxler fighting for the wide-forward role on the right. What Emery could do is to start Draxler in that role and move Angel Di Maria to a wide midfield role - the same role that saw him thrive at Real Madrid under Carlo Ancelotti when they won the Champions League title (La Decima).
The Argentine played behind Cristiano Ronaldo at the time and overlapped when the Portuguese forward cut inside. Neymar would do much of the same, drifting in to a central role.
Draxler usually plays on the left but has the versatility to play on the right and even the centre. However, he never really convinced playing in a central role and is suited to a wide role where he can also use his pace in one-on-one battles to advance the ball forward.
However, if he needs to add some steel in midfield, then one of Di Maria or Draxler could be sacrificed for Adrien Rabiot to partner Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti. Although Draxler was one of their best players following his move, he may ultimately pay the price to give way to Di Maria.
The only casualty of this lineup would be Blaise Matuidi. However, the midfielder has been linked with a move away from the club this summer with Juventus reportedly interested. Lucas Moura could also find games hard to come by.
Can PSG use a 4-2-3-1 formation?
While the first 4-3-3 system is effectively an attacking formation, there could be games where both Draxler and Di Maria could be deployed on the flanks. So where does Neymar fit into this lineup?
In the no.10 role - living up to the new number on the back of his shirt. Last season saw Emery deploy Hatem Ben Arfa in that role when he switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation. But the Frenchman is wildly inconsistent and barely got any starts, coming on as a substitute almost all the time.
Neymar has thrived in a free role with Brazil and also when Messi was injured back in 2015. With Barcelona missing their talisman, it was Neymar and Luis Suarez who stepped up to take the mantle together.
Messi missed nine games but Barcelona won eight of those in which Neymar scored 15 goals! Without Messi on the pitch (all seasons), Neymar has scored 20 goals (in 22 games) with 10 assists to boot.
It's one of the damning stats that highlights why Neymar wanted to move away from Barcelona; to move away from the huge shadow Messi unwittingly cast on the team.
The 4-2-3-1 formation at PSG would see Neymar flanked on either side by Di Maria and Draxler while Cavani takes his place up front.
This formation would also suit PSG very well on the counter-attack with all four players capable of leading the team on the break with support from the rest.
How far can PSG go with Neymar?
PSG signed Neymar with one sole purpose in mind: win the Champions League. That is the only trophy that has remained elusive to the French giants since Qatar Sports Investments took over the club and appointed Nasser Al-Khelaifi as the club's chairman.
The club have won 16 trophies which include domestic quadruples. But they have never seen a semi-final draw, always falling at the quarter-final hurdle (and the unforgettable collapse at the Camp Nou in the Round of 16 last season).
With Monaco being stripped apart piece-by-piece like a luxury car parked in a notorious neighbourhood, PSG have the trump card to win back the Ligue 1 title.
Neymar's experience and winning mentality will also lift them to be clear favourites to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League - provided Emery makes the right calls and plays to the team's strengths.
He is no longer burdened by having to cater to Messi, no longer the second fiddle. At PSG he has the chance to become the star attraction. With his quality, a team desperate to win the Champions League will gladly let him dictate terms.
That's how he received the no.10 shirt at PSG that was previously worn by Argentine midfielder Javier Pastore.
“I wanted to offer him this symbolic gift. I want him to feel happy and at home right from day one. And I want to offer him the support that he needs so that he and the entire squad can go on and win the Champions League.” - Pastore
The Champions League has been nothing more than an obsession at the club for years. With Neymar in the squad, it now becomes a realistic goal to strive towards.