Did PSG just show us the blueprint for Champions League success?
Could a sturdy midfield and a superstar front-line be the way to go?
Paris Saint German have been described as a typically mismanaged NBA franchise. In the NBA, owners and managers have to build a team around a salary cap. That means they have a limited amount of money they can utilise throughout the roster so they have to pick and choose who they can get for what.
Some teams try and spend their salary cap economically, carefully selecting a group of individual players that collectively can do a bit of everything. Others? Well, they go all out courting big names, offering them max salary contracts (the largest possible contract offer you can give to one player). In the process however, they severely limit the money they can offer to the other players and consequently the quality of the players around them tends to fall dramatically.
Whilst this sort of tactic usually condemns such a team to mediocrity in basketball, might it be the blueprint for Champions League success in football?
PSG have seemingly figured how to navigate the inexplicable and murky waters of European football by forgoing all conventional notions of squad planning. Much like your typical mediocre NBA team, they have two superstars in Kylian Mbappe and Neymar surrounded by players like Rafinha, Ander Herrera and Danilo Pereira.
PSG have elected to build a side that seeks to combat and fight for second balls in the middle that they can then string to their forwards. Much like Liverpool, both sides don’t see the need for expensive playmakers in the middle of the park because they recognise that: a) these games cannot be controlled or b) they are not worth controlling.
But what does that say about succeeding on the European stage?
I think it says that the old notion of trying to control these fixtures are long gone. That the intensity and pace of some of the Champions League knockouts are so out of this world that it would be a form of self-annihilation to try and do so.
Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid side were perhaps the first team to realise this. As other teams were attempting to mimic the Barcelona models of possession and thoughtful build-up play, a strange thing happened.
Instead of trying to emulate whichever style of football was à la mode, Zidane renounced complex tactics in the hope of turning these Champions League knock-out games into cauldrons of chaos where the superstar quality of your forwards – not your philosophy or ethos - decided the game. As Ronaldo and co. steamrolled their way to three consecutive Champions League titles with a style that was simply undefinable, the rest of football’s super clubs watched with a cool detachment.
Is there any further evidence of this?
Perhaps, Pep Guardiola’s failures in Europe is one possible example, as is the fact that Liverpool have been able to reach two finals in the past three years.
Guardiola has faced wide-spread criticism for his performances in the Champions League. Not just with Manchester City but with Bayern Munich too. He has been accused of overthinking, too much tweaking and unconventional last minute tactical changes that have left his players confused.
“We don't have players who can win games by himself - we don't have a Messi, Cristiano, Mbappe or Neymar. We have to do it as a team. I'll be honest, I would love to have a player who scores every game four goals and runs like these players run, I would love it..." - Pep Guardiola.
Liverpool meanwhile have been the best team in Europe in recent years, in large, because they seem to follow the theory that a combative midfield and superstar front-line is the way to go. They didn’t have a Kevin De Bruyne but what they did have was a workhorse midfield that acted like a sort of wall, allowing their forwards to attack with complete impunity.
What to expect from the 93:20 newsletter going forward
This newsletter is a collection of thoughts, ideas and general bad takes on football from a Manchester City perspective. There’s a lot of discourse around the beautiful game so I want to create a space where I (and hopefully you) can discuss it in a fun way.
So far, I’ve already looked at why Kevin De Bruyne has not been missed, asked if Manchester City were on the cusp of something special and ranked Manchester City’s players in terms of importance. I don’t just want to talk about Manchester City though and I hope to write more about the trends and events that shape football like I have just done now.
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