Cabaye can come, but PSG need depth on defence

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

With the news that Paris Saint-Germain dispatched acting sporting director Olivier Letang to Newcastle to broker a deal for Yohan Cabaye on Monday, coach Laurent Blanc finally looks likely to land his No. 1 target. The Newcastle United and France midfielder is thought to have been a target of Le President’s ever since he took over at the capital club last summer.

Despite reports in France suggesting that president Nasser Al-Khelaifi as well as key players Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva are unsure about the 28-year-old, Blanc has never hidden his admiration of the player he once dubbed “the French Xavi.” Although teenage sensation Adrien Rabiot is nursing a knee injury and likely will remain absent for at least the next six weeks, the depth issues that have started to trouble the French champions should be taken care of with this signing.

Assuming that the deal goes through at some point this week, that will take care of one of arguably two or three moves that PSG and Blanc need to make this month. The other two positions that the club needs to address are on defence, centrally and, more crucially, on the right-hand side.

The disappointing 1-1 draw away at EA Guingamp illustrated that this PSG side will not be able to remain competitive on the three fronts that it is still fighting on because of its accumulated fatigue. There is no doubt that the squad has the quality to win at least a second consecutive Ligue 1 title and what would be a record fourth Coupe de la Ligue, but going further than the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League again appears to be wishful thinking at present.

The midfield trio of Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti, while still able to keep possession effortlessly, looks jaded without the exuberance of Rabiot’s youth to hand it the occasional breather. On defence, PSG look questionable when Thiago Silva is absent and Gregory van der Wiel is being forced to play games that perhaps he would be rested in because of Blanc’s renewed need to rely on the inexperienced Marquinhos and Christophe Jallet’s unavailability following surgery.

Having played at right back to good effect recently in the 3-1 Coupe de la Ligue victory over Girondins de Bordeaux, Marquinhos is now seen as the cover in both the central and right-sided positions. While Zoumana Camara is still a squad member, his role within the team is realistically little more than that of a cheerleader on the touchline come match day.

Mamadou Sakho, as it turns out, would have played quite a few games this season had he not joined Liverpool, and the emergence of a potential new injury for Silva should be of concern to Blanc. If the transfer window closes and Silva or van der Wiel were to suffer an injury or even incur a suspension, the lack of depth in the PSG defensive ranks would quickly become apparent.

So once Cabaye has been signed, sealed and delivered, one or two defensive reinforcements should be next on Blanc’s shopping list.

Tottenham Hotspur and England’s Kyle Walker has been linked with a move to the Parc des Princes while Toulouse’s Ivorian international Serge Aurier is another possible target. No central defensive targets have been touted, though, suggesting that there is little or no interest in strengthening the middle of the back line at present.

This could prove to be a major mistake.

Motta could, at a push, play in the centre of the defence for a full 90 minutes if absolutely necessary. However, breaking up what will likely turn into a slick rotation system in the midfield once Cabaye arrives could prove extremely detrimental to PSG’s domestic and European ambitions.

Blanc said earlier in the season that he needs only four defenders to choose from, yet Camara’s age should render him obsolete to this discussion. Silva’s recent injury niggles and lengthy absence earlier this season are warning signs that the coach needs to heed before it is too late. With AS Monaco breathing down PSG’s necks once again after this weekend’s slip-up and a clash at the Stade Louis II to come shortly, pressure is building on this fragile side.

Admittedly, when at full strength, the quality in the starting XI is more than good enough to get the job done without needing any backup. That is where so many of the arguments against PSG signing the likes of Cabaye have come from. That does not necessarily mean that he and any other potential new arrivals will become well-paid reserves, though.

To reach the club’s ambitious albeit achievable aims, Blanc needs to be able to rotate his squad over the second part of the season. As Rabiot’s injury has proved, one or two unforeseen circumstances can change the complexion of the group entirely. The collective is still not on par with PSG’s European rivals in terms of strength in depth.

Should Motta, for instance, get injured and Cabaye was not to join, Blanc would then need to play €42million man Javier Pastore. That might not sound like such a hardship, but the truth is that doing so means that PSG would have to change from the current 4-3-3 look that has served them so well since the start of the campaign.

The same goes for van der Wiel at right back.

The French champions are one injury away, in multiple positions, from needing to change their system entirely. If PSG’s limitations are eventually exposed, Blanc’s bright start to life in the French capital may take a gloomy turn.

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