Carlo Ancelotti seems an affable enough chap. The Paris Saint-Germain FC coach is no Santa Claus, though – the bestowing of presents is reserved for the club's Qatari owners – but the Italian tactician does love a Christmas tree.
Ancelotti hoped to fit a 4-3-2-1 formation onto PSG upon his arrival midway through last season. He seems to have admitted defeat, however, and given that a freshly established but loosely assembled 4-3-3 is getting results, he will be reluctant to change it.
Pinning down PSG's new system is far from an exact science. Nominally the central striker, Zlatan Ibrahimović drops remarkably deep at times. However, that has not stopped him registering seven Ligue 1 goals in six matches, with two of Nenê, Jérémy Ménez and Javier Pastore flitting freely right across the line. In this set-up, Pastore, a €42m purchase from US Città di Palermo in summer 2011, finally seems to have found his role after initially struggling to make an impact.
Ancelotti had hoped to use the silky Argentinian international in his midfield three, but was forced to abandon that idea because of Pastore's lack of athleticism considering the rigours of that position. Clément Chantôme, a rare success story from the PSG youth ranks, and energetic French international Blaise Matuidi have shown themselves to be much better suited to the two wider roles in the middle of the park.
Thiago Motta was the man who was supposed to make the whole thing tick, but he has recently – and spectacularly – been ousted by Marco Verratti. Double-digit millions were given to Pescara for the relatively unknown 19-year-old this summer, but he may well turn out to be PSG's most significant purchase of all.
Almost insolently poised – as he showed in a nerveless UEFA Champions League debut, the 4-1 defeat of FC Dynamo Kyiv – Verratti knits the side together. He not only provides cover in front of the back four, but also acts as the agent provocateur of PSG's forward movement, with his greater mobility giving him the edge over Motta. It is no coincidence Verratti's arrival in the team has sparked a run of five successive wins in all competitions.
With his tactics settled, Ancelotti now only has one problem: top talent usually means high maintenance. That, though, is one of the reasons why he replaced Antoine Kombouaré during last season's winter break, despite the fact PSG were then top of the table. Ancelotti has done and won it all as both player and coach.
His nationality also helps, given that PSG's summer recruitment was exclusively from Serie A, but it seems Ancelotti's avuncular qualities are what will keep his squad at peace. "When he left, the players were moved – that doesn't happen every time," said Filippo Inzaghi of Ancelotti's departure from AC Milan in 2009. "He's so loved that players give a little extra something for him on the pitch." Perhaps Ancelotti could don a white beard at the PSG Christmas party after all.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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