As Laurent Blanc looked back on his 100th day in charge of Paris Saint-Germain FC, he could be justifiably proud of a job well done. "We got it right from the first to last minute," enthused the former France coach in the wake of the 3-0 win against SL Benfica that sent his side three points clear at the top of Group C.
After laborious victories over Valenciennes FC and Toulouse FC in Ligue 1, this was exactly the kind of display the club's fans had been craving following another summer of big spending – utterly dominant and pleasing on the eye as well as effective. The move that led to Marquinhos' 25th-minute effort was especially delectable, a medley of flicks, tricks, vision and determination leaving the Parc des Princes faithful aquiver. Amid all the euphoria, though, one itch remained unscratched – the enduring issue of where Edinson Cavani fits into PSG's front line.
Bought from SSC Napoli for €64m in July, the Uruguayan international is not the kind of player who can be left on the bench, yet finding a way to slot him into the team along with Zlatan Ibrahimović remains Blanc's biggest conundrum. With Le Président having abandoned 4-4-2 at the start of the campaign, the current solution has been to field Cavani in an advanced position on the right of a 4-3-3 formation, with Ibrahimović in the middle and Ezequiel Lavezzi on the left.
It is not an approach that has got the best out of the 26-year-old so far. He may have started out wide during his early years in Serie A, but it was after being switched to a central role that he began making the rest of Europe sit up and take note. A player who loves to create space out of nothing in the area, Cavani remained largely peripheral to the action against Benfica, struggling to forge a connection with Ibrahimović and having his best chance of the evening snuffed out by Artur well after the game was won.
In contrast, he looked far more at ease playing through the middle when brought on for Ibrahimović against Toulouse on Saturday, provoking a penalty and registering from the spot. "I think we have to work a bit more," El Matador said of his understanding with the Swede after that game, and it is true that these are early days for the pair. The leaves have hardly started turning brown on the boulevards of the French capital, but if PSG hope to be UEFA Champions League contenders this season – and with their motto 'Dream bigger' plastered all around the stadium, they clearly do – Blanc must find a way to get his two biggest names functioning together.
Does that sound churlish after a comfortable 3-0 win against a side of Benfica's continental pedigree? Perhaps, but Blanc is well aware of the debate himself, and he returned to it after the Eagles had had their talons well and truly clipped. "We must be able to change [our midfield], in particular to put Edinson in better positions," he remarked, conscious that French football's most expensive signing had endured a quiet evening while almost all his colleagues had prospered.
Having won the French title as a disciple of 4-3-3 with FC Girondins de Bordeaux in 2008/09, Blanc will be hoping Cavani can start flourishing on the right without too much tactical tinkering. Above all, he will want to retain his midfield triumvirate of Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti, who combined to keep Benfica at bay so assuredly on Wednesday.
Switching to 4-2-3-1, with Ibrahimović dropping deeper behind Cavani, would mean weakening such a compact unit, which is why Blanc seems to be mulling over a more radical option. "With the same players, we could play with three midfielders, two strikers and a No10," he explained on Tuesday. "We're thinking about it and we're working on it."
Like the alternatives, it is an idea that undoubtedly raises its own questions. So perhaps it is just as well that, given PSG look mightily comfortable in their present company, Blanc has five months to come up with an answer before the more taxing challenges that the knockout phase would bring.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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