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How will PSG play with Lionel Messi?

Paris Saint-Germain
(Image credit: PA)

Signing the best player in the world is one thing - now Paris Saint-Germain need to work out how to get Lionel Messi to fit in their star-studded team. Which admittedly, shouldn't be too difficult for a player of his talent.

Having already bolstered the squad heavily after losing the Ligue 1 title to Lille, Mauricio Pochettino has his eyes set on Champions League glory - and in reuniting former El Clasico rivals Messi and Sergio Ramos, PSG certainly have the experience to make them favourites for the crown.

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The problem that Poch perhaps has now, ironically, is that he has too much talent to cram into the XI. And as it was during his time at Tottenham Hotspur, the key could lie not in the galaxy of attackers at his fingertips but one man capable of shifting from defence to midfield.

During his reign in north London, only Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris appeared more than Eric Dier. Dier's verstility was great for shifting between a back three and a back four depending on the game: Marquinhos, who played as a defensive midfielder under Thomas Tuchel, can fulfil the same kind of role - though so far, Poch has looked towards the likes of Leandro Parades deeper in his midfield and operated with a 4-2-3-1 more than a flat midfield three.

Achraf Hakimi would be the primary benefactor of a move to the hybrid 4-3-3/3-4-3 formation, though. The Moroccan is most comfortable as a right-wing-back and could be adequately covered with three natural centre-backs. Of course, Hakimi getting forward to add width benefits the new star signing. 

We can probably expect to see Messi in one of two positions. The little genius has played most of his career as a right-winger and in Paris Saint-Germain's set-up, it probably makes most sense to put him in this position. With Hakimi providing width and one of Gini Wijnaldum, Marco Verratti or even Angel Di Maria getting forward to support, Messi can roam freely from the right-wing berth - whether Pochettino favours three at the back or four. 


(Image credit: Future)

Equally though, Pochettino might want his new signing playing up front. Messi has played the false nine role for Barcelona over the years to devastating effect and given that the Argentinian is 34 now, he's not as mobile as he once was - though still unbelievably good at dribbling and quicker than a lot of forwards. Playing Messi in attack could allow Mbappe to penetrate from the right, as he did under Unai Emery when he first signed for Les Parisiens.

Another option could be the use of a diamond midfield. Pochettino used the tactic sparingly at Tottenham, using Kane and Son in a partnership up front with a flat midfield structure and high-flying wingbacks; Hakimi and Bernat would certainly like the idea, with either Messi or Neymar in the no.10 position to dictate, for the other to pair Mbappe in attack. Either way, this would look similar in shape to the 4-3-3 in attack. 

With the addition of another superstar forward, however, comes questions about work-rate. Neymar already faces questions on the regular about his pressing intensity and willingness to get and help out his teammates; Messi on the other side of the pitch might face the same scrutiny. For their Hollywood status, this might be a minor issue for a lot of PSG fans but Pochettino has always preached the same principles as his mentor Marcelo Bielsa, in that the entire team should defend as one. It seems possible that Wijnaldum and Mbappe could lead a 4-4-2 pressing shape for PSG, as Messi and Neymar drop into wide positions. 

There is, of course, the question of outgoings, too. With weeks left in this transfer window and three huge names up top for the capital club, one of Mbappe or Neymar could yet leave; Di Maria's place in the team is uncertain, while some PSG's wealth of midfield options might have to settle for reduced roles with the arrival of another new forward. We'll have to wait and see: PSG certainly aren't short of options though, however Pochettino looks to set up.

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