A Case For The Defence: Ancelotti Ponders Thiago Silva Dilemma

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Following Thiago Silva's comments last week that he feels more comfortable playing alongside Alex than Mamadou Sakho and now in the wake of Wednesday's lacklustre showing against Porto in the Champions League, Carlo Ancelotti has a defensive dilemma on his hands as Paris Saint-Germain's unbeaten start to the season ground to a halt.

On Tuesday, PSG's high-profile summer signing was quoted as saying that he is “more comfortable playing alongside Alex than Sakho because of his experience.”

The Brazilian international has since apologised to his teammate and has sought to clarify the comments. Speaking to France Football he said: "I did not say I prefer playing with Alex or anyone else. I just said that Alex has more experience. I do not know if Sakho is upset, but I apologised to him and my quotes have been taken out of context. "

Whilst the comments are not fatal to the potential future pairing of Silva and the Frenchman, is the Brazilian's partnership with Alex really more effective than that of Silva and Sakho?

Defence was the achilles heel for Ancelotti's men last year, shipping 41 goals as only the joint fifth best defensive unit in Ligue 1. To put things into perspective, relegation battlers Brest who ended the campaign in 15th place, conceded three less but only avoided the drop by three points.

The capital club have strength in depth but some options are no longer trusted, Diego Lugano has spoken of his happiness to collect a fat pay packet whilst rotting in the reserves and Serbian centre-back Milan Bisevac was sold to Lyon over the summer. Zoumana Camara and Sylvain Armand are used sparingly given their age.

Both Alex and Sakho would provide the brawn to the Brazilian's brains but in a project that is geared towards building a team capable of dominating European football in the future, it seems that Sakho has the upper hand over his teammate.

Alex:

The 30-year old arrived last January from Chelsea and offers Ancelotti an older, wiser head in the team and crucially he is a trusted member of the Italian's Premier League-winning Blues side so the coach has faith in him. The Brazilian is also a goal threat; a free-kick specialist and a formidable aerial presence from corners who has already netted three times since arriving at the Parc des Princes.

Importantly, the Brazilian duo of Alex and Silva speak the same language, vital at this moment in time as Silva adapts to his new surroundings but perhaps not a long-term consideration once his understanding of French and English (the language of choice at PSG) improves.

However, Alex is slower and his age works against him as he is less likely to be able to cope with the rigours of regular three-game weeks. He had a shaky start to season but has since improved but questions remain over his distribution.

PSG have kept clean sheets in four of the six games he has played so far and he has scored one in the Champions League. He played in 15 matches last year and helped keep only three clean sheets, but that was down to the lack of balance in the defence, not individual errors.

Mamadou Sakho:

The youth academy product has looked much-improved this season and now plays with freedom, perhaps liberated by Ancelotti's decision to strip him of the captaincy. Being the leader of the side was a burden for the bruising centre-back and too much responsibility for someone still only 22.

Physicality, athleticism and aerial prowess are major facets of Sakho's game and he matches Alex in every department except for goal scoring. ‘Kirikou' did not find the net last year and has only scored five times in his career. However, it would be cruel to judge Sakho on his ability in front of goal when he is paid to keep them out. Also, the fans' support because of his association with the club from youth level earns him special adoration.

He played 22 times last season but helped keep only four clean sheets in that time and he has already equalled that this season. The stand-in captain when Christophe Jallet is not on the pitch, he is still taking responsibility and this is perhaps the gradual process that should have been implemented last season instead of throwing him in at the deep end.

A Case For The Long-Term Future?

Ironically, Sakho's showing in Portugal on Wednesday was of greater maturity than Silva's and suggested that he is anything but short of experience.

Sakho has longevity on his side and looks to be the future of les Bleus' backline under Didier Deschamps as well as PSG's, and whilst Alex may be a solid and reassuring presence for Silva, Sakho is likely to be his long-term partner.

Ancelotti obviously has faith in Sakho given his strong presence in the first team this season, and the Italian's insistence upon a core of French players and his willingness to still persevere with the idea of Sakho captaining the side one day suggests that a Silva-Alex partnership would only have a limited lifespan.

ESPN Conversations