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OPINION | Unai Emery’s overly pragmatic approach is sucking the life out of PSG

This piece is extracted from the weekly GFFN Ligue 1 Review, your number one source of analysis from the ongoings in the French top flight. To read this week’s piece in full, click here.

“Was I bad? Did he say I was bad?” No, Marco, you weren’t bad but the same can’t be said for many of your teammates or the game you’ve just exited.

Verratti’s displeasure at being subbed was not a feeling exclusive to the Italian maestro. Le Classique should be an advert for Ligue 1 and with arguably historically France’s two biggest clubs (although ASSE and OL may have something to say about that that) facing off at the Parc de Princes, an array of talent (admittedly most of it on the darker blue side) and a pair of exciting new managers on display, some semblance of spectacle was expected.

Unfortunately spectacle was not even remotely evident across the 90 minutes of football in Paris on Sunday evening. This is not to say Ligue 1 is devoid of flair and excitement, anyone who saw the 4-2 thriller between Metz and Nice earlier in the day can attest to that, rather it was a sign if the times at PSG.

Unai Emery is still new in Paris and he is undoubtedly a talented coach but as he approaches a score of games in charge, ‘regression’ is becoming the tag line to his infant tenure. PSG’s performances scream of a club in transition.

Without Ibra or a real replacement, no real strengthening of the first 11 this summer and Emery’s overly pragmatic style, Paris continue to huff and puff but do little else and tempers are starting to become a little frayed.

Verratti wasn’t the only PSG man to look displeased at their withdrawal in the 0-0 draw with OM. There is, of course, the argument that if Cavani converted both his massive chances that PSG win 2-0 and no one even blinks, but these were the only genuinely clear sights of goal they created all night, not the norm in Paris.

Yes, Garcia’s parking of the AirBus with 5 at the back had a lot to do with that but, a 6-0 win at Caen aside, this is by no means an uncommon theme for Paris this season. Although Emery has a long way to go, his use of personnel continues to frustrate.

Without Ibra, PSG can’t bully opponents any more, they can’t rely in the mercurial Swede to bulldoze his way to victory and drag the rest of the team behind him. Meaning they need to lean more or their guile and grace, which on paper they have in abundance, to break teams down.

But Emery continues to edge in the other direction strategically. Talk of Verratti being used as a 10 makes little sense when the Spaniard has Ben Arfa and Pastore at his disposal (not to mention the former Pescara man’s mastery of the central role) and typifies a more defensive style which my suit the Champions League but isn’t appropriate in Ligue 1.

As does his insistence that Adrien Rabiot is a key player at PSG, Emery’s preference to Blaise Matuidi on Sunday. Rabiot, a more pragmatic option when opposed to Matuidi’s intense box-to-box style, is a talented player but not one ready to anchor a supposed Champions League semi finalist’s midfield and does not yet possess the skill set to unlock a staunch Ligue 1 defence.

While the marginalisation of creative talent like Ben Arfa, who tore this league to shreds last season, and of Pastore (admittedly injury is playing a big part) only further blunts the PSG attack.

It is still early for Emery and his methods still have some time to coalesce but should Paris continue in this vein, Nice and Monaco will only extend their lead while the tipping point will edge ever closer and a change in tact may start to become imperative.

A.W.

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