Is Ancelotti’s narrow formation making PSG's play too one-dimensional?

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Since arriving in Paris last year Carlo Ancelotti has deployed Paris Saint-Germain in an essentially narrow formation, preferring to cram his midfield in support of a razor sharp attack to retain the side's lead. A three-man midfield whilst solid, offers no width and as a result a lack of variety going forward leaving the team dependent on attackers Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jeremy Menez and Javier Pastore for inspiration. So what happens when that razor is blunted?

The rigid and, at times, unimaginative formation masterminded by Ancelotti is set up to win, but thanks to the summer arrivals of Marco Verratti and Ibrahimovic, not to mention the ongoing struggle to integrate Javier Pastore into an efficient lineup, is starting to cost the Italian. The home defeat to Saint-Etienne is a result that had actually been coming following a string of narrow and rather fortunate victories and really, its timing couldn't have been better.

Since the summer, PSG's style of play has changed to fit the new arrivals at the club. The absence of summer signing and left winger Ezequiel Lavezzi through injury and suspension has already forced Ancelotti to once change his preferred formation given the players at his disposal, and the Argentine's extended spell on the sidelines has arguably contributed towards the functional but inflexible formation exhibited by les Rouges-et-Bleus. With the former Napoli man's return to action imminent, it could be time for the Italian to revert to his initial preference.

The injury to Blaise Matuidi whilst unfortunate, gives Ancelotti an opportunity to experiment and move away from the current rigid block of three midfielders. Matuidi need have no concerns as his place in the first team is assured, but in his absence Carletto needs to fully address the issue of PSG's narrow approach play instead of using the French international as a left sided player by default. It gives the tactician a chance to re-incorporate some of the team's wide men and also work on his use of the full-backs which has so far been tentative.

The full-backs have proved problematic for Ancelotti given that Gregory Van der Wiel has not excelled since arriving, and has since lost his place in the Dutch national team. Both he and Captain Christophe Jallet are attack-minded defenders with little sense of balance between their dual attacking and defensive responsibilities. Brazilian full-back Maxwell is a steadying presence from the left but that counts for little if Jallet and Van der Wiel are regularly caught out of position. On top of that, the destabilising effect that the right sided players have on centre-backs Thiago Silva and Mamdou Sakho is detrimental as les Verts' second goal on Saturday proved. An opportunist counter-attack saw Silva and Sakho split down the middle as they tried to redress the balance of an uneven defence.

Unfortunately for the PSG full-backs, Ancelotti's formation affords them little cover on either side so there is no presence ahead of either full-back meaning that their patrolling areas are expanded and often difficult to police single-handedly. This season there is no impetus from wide where Menez and Brazilian Nene excelled last year, the latter having been overlooked for the majority of the campaign given his age despite 21 goals and 11 assists last year.

In the previous formation Menez would drift inside from the right often adding momentum to the PSG attacks as an auxiliary striker despite being stationed on the wing, and now without those presences Ancelotti's side struggle to possess a direct threat. Perhaps this has not been abundantly evident so far this season because PSG had not come up against a domestic opponent that boasted such lethal prowess out wide until Saturday. However, Christophe Galtier's Saint-Etienne side are one of the only sides in the league with width capable of destroying PSG. The team have been based around a rotation of talented wide men in recent seasons, but only this year have they been complimented by genuine creative assets such as Romain Hamouma and Renaud Cohade.

To illustrate the point, ASSE substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who turned the game on its head after his second half introduction, started his career as a wide man. Galtier has since converted him into a striker, and a prolific one at that, but les Stephanois benefit most from the direct approach 'Auba' has perfected from his time on the flanks. Perhaps something Ancelotti would care to educate the likes of Menez upon.

There is no reason to panic just yet, but the defeat should serve as a wake-up call to both Ancelotti and the players. PSG were never going to be able to go through the domestic season without defeat, the nature of Ligue 1 just doesn't allow that to happen anymore. Maintaining Ancelotti's unbeaten home record though was a realistic objective, a statistic that has now been wiped out. The defeat should eradicate the complacency that had been slipping into the capital club's play and Ibrahimovic's red card will force PSG to change their playing style to prove that they can cope without him over a sustained period of time.

With Guillaume Hoarau now finding form and Kevin Gameiro and Lavezzi still to return to fitness following injuries, Ancelotti's attacking options are increasing. Now though thanks to Ibrahimovic's enforced absence, the Italian has the perfect opportunity to tweak his lineup and establish a Plan B to add variety to PSG's play. Whilst there is an element of truth to the claims that the capital club are over-reliant on the talismanic Swede, there is no doubt that when Plan A works it is ruthlessly efficient. It is when 'Ibra' and the attacking unit are not functioning that Ancelotti needs a fresh approach.

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