Lionel Messi is undoubtedly one of the greatest footballers ever to have played the game, and his shock move to PSG has me wondering, "how will they utilise the Argentine?" In attack, PSG already have top quality players in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe but throwing Messi into the mix gives Pochettino a great deal of versatility. The PSG manager has previously used a 4-2-3-1 where Messi could be the number 10—dropping deep to collect the ball before progressing with the ball at his feet, beating defenders for fun and bringing in others. Or, In a 4-3-3, he could do similar but as the False-9 with Neymar and Mbappe on either side making runs in behind. Maybe, he could play on the right of the 4-3-3 drifting inside with Mbappe on the shoulder of defences and Hakimi getting up and down the right flank in support. Today's tactical analysis, we'll look at where Messi may play for PSG based on their most recent Ligue 1 game against Strasbourg, in which they won the game 4-2.
Where will Messi Play?
Though PSG played a 4-4-2 in their opening game, Poch opted for a 4-3-3 against Strasbourg after the Messi announcement. Only time will tell if Messi had any influence and if Poch was preparing tactically. Still, this system is arguably the formation that would make most sense going forward with Messi in the side.
Not only would it allow all three Neymar, Mbappe and Messi to play natural positions, they could also have a solid structure behind them with the midfield three and incoming support on the flanks from both full-backs.
As mentioned, in a 4-3-3, Messi could operate as either a False-9 or on the right of the attacking trio. Crucially, because of the Hakimi signing, I feel Messi on the right would be the more natural as this would allow Hakimi the freedom the get up the right flank, which he's great at, and Messi can come inside and find pockets of space to collect the ball during PSG's build-up stage.
Though Mauro Icardi was used as the striker against Strasbourg, that could've been due to Neymar's absence, which also saw Mbappe out on the left, with everybody fit, Mbappe would be the striker with Neymar on the left of the 3, which sounds devastating.
With Mbappe's pace, he'd be on the should of defence's which would automatically cause the opponent's defensive line to drop deeper. In turn, this can create space for both Neymar and Messi to operate in dangerous areas or a midfielder to advance to support the attack.
Messi In The Build-Up Phase
Playing out from the back last season, Neymar and Mbappe often took turns dropping deep and engaging in the build-up. Messi in the side allows Mbappe to stay further ahead whilst Messi does the larger parts of the dropping deep into the midfield. Though, against Strasbourg, the attack line rarely dropped as the midfield three was enough for PSG to play out. The centre backs went wide, the pivot dropping to receive with the full-backs high and wide.
If the opponents choose to put an extra number in midfield to make it more difficult for PSG to play out, then Messi could be the one to drop in midfield to provide that extra number for PSG and be the link between the build-up stage and creation.
Neymar is also very likely to drift deep and engage in the build-up process, which helped Verratti and Paredes in the initial moves. They're afforded more time and space to get their heads up when being pressed with the players dropping pulling defenders away.
When building up play against Strasbourg, PSG tends to use the central areas often, and this could see Messi seeing a lot of the ball and being heavily involved during the build-up stage. On occasions, even when the left-back Diallo received the ball, he'd either look for a pass or dribble inside with a runner moving out wide to create space for Diallo.
Or if Diallo did overlap, then either a central midfielder or central defender would play the ball into Mbappe's feet as he comes to collect to pull a defender with him. This allows Diallo to then make a run on the outside as Mbappe quickly releases the ball.
During PSG's build-up, Messi will undoubtedly add quality and if the Strasbourg game is anything to go by, then Messi may be heavily involved in play just as he was at Barcelona.
Quick Transitions Into Attacks
Although a Pochettino side can be very patient in possession, they've also shown that they can move the ball quickly during transitions, getting the ball to the attackers in a more urgent fashion which is also how they scored their 3rd against Strasbourg. PSG set pressing traps and pounced on backward passes or loose touches.
For the 3rd goal, they won the ball in the mid 3rd by pressing a midfielder who controlled the ball loosely, and when Eric Dina won the ball, he carried the ball forward before releasing Mbappe. He showed excellent trickery out on the flanks, dink a cross far post and an easy tap-in for Draxler.
Dina collects the ball and begins to drive
Continues to progress with the ball into the attacking 3rd before releasing Mbappe
Mbappe shows nice skill to get away from the defender and drive towards the byline
Chips the ball towards the back post for a Draxler to tap-in
Messi, during these transitions, could be where we see the very best from him at PSG. The midfield three will undoubtedly have to work hard for the attacking trio, and if or when the midfield wins the ball, they can release Messi to go on one for his mazey runs, beating multiple defenders putting PSG in their creative phase.
Mbappe is deadly on the counter-attack too. When his backs to goal, Mbappe will often play a backwards pass before spinning in behind for a give-and-go. In a 1v1 situation, he can beat the defender.
And Neymar, similarly to Messi, loves to take players on. Neymar will instead look to run with the ball at speed until he's closed down and often shift it to another player at the exact right moment.
As they advance, PSG have plenty in attack to break down any defence in the world of football. If one system isn't working, they are flexible and can switch between formations/structures, which means we may see Messi operate in various roles. 4-3-3 for me seems the most natural, whilst the 4-2-3-1 is a viable option whilst we must not rule Pochettino for opting a 4-4-2 from time to time and even possibly a three at the back.
But, unfortunately, that wraps up this mini Messi-PSG tactical analysis. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it! Now for my predicted PSG 2021-22 Football Manager tactic.