Mauricio Pochettino is facing a battle to find balance in his Paris Saint-Germain side and Lionel Messi’s position is at the heart of that struggle, according to reports in France.
The Ligue 1 giants remain seven points clear at the top of the table having escaped from Le Classique against Marseille on Sunday with a draw following Achraf Hakimi’s dismissal.
But despite their league position and their return of seven points from three Champions League group games this season – including a 2-0 win against Manchester City – L’Equipe claim the work is only piling up for the Argentine boss.
They claim PSG’s progress under the ex-Tottenham manager after 10 months in the job has been slow, with Pochettino struggling to find a style of play given their problems of offensive efficiency combined with a worrying fragility defensively.
The report claims Pochettino’s daring decision of starting Messi, Neymar and Angel Di Maria behind Kylian Mbappe in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Rennes, Lyon and Marseille ‘has revealed flaws’ at both ends of the field.
The main issue surrounds where Pochettino should play Lionel Messi, with the latter having operated from the right-hand side against Marseille on Sunday.
But the attacking formation – which saw Neymar play centrally in the three behind Mbappe – delivered ‘at best, very contrasting’ results.
This is because while playing on the right allows Messi to cut in on his left foot and develop his ‘natural’ relationship with Mbappe, the report claims the ex-Barcelona star is ineffective out wide due to the lack of space afforded to him.
They suggest a 4-3-3 could be a solution to the issue following their success in the system against City, with PSG appearing more consistent, at least defensively, while Mbappe and Messi linked up for the latter’s first goal for the club.
But they insist that would result in Di Maria dropping to the bench and is not guaranteed to resolve the issue of Messi’s position.
Rather, the report claims Messi’s most effective position would be in behind Mbappe to allow the former to be ‘at the centre of everything’, bridging the physical gap between the duo and somewhat hiding Messi’s lack of tracking back.
They also claim that since Messi’s arrival, PSG no longer attack through their full-backs, with neither Hakimi – who recorded 10 assists last term with Inter Milan – nor left-back Nuno Mendes providing a cross for their team-mates against Marseille.
The Portuguese is also struggling defensively, which is adding further pressure on Idrissa Gueye in central midfield.
But the main point of concerns involves Messi, who Thierry Henry believes is too ‘isolated’ at PSG and that they should do more to get the best out of the Argentine.
The six-time Ballon d’Or has scored three goals in the Champions League but is yet to open his Ligue 1 account in four domestic starts.
‘He [Messi] is isolated, he is on the ball less,’ Henry told RMC Sport. ‘I wouldn’t say he’s sad, but he’s isolated. I prefer him through the middle.
‘I’m having trouble with Leo out on the right. In the middle, he can set the tempo.
‘I don’t think he can make the difference on the right, but then I don’t have the exact details from the tactical standpoint,’ the former Arsenal star added.
‘Obviously when you stay high up and you get out of the way, you won’t have an impact. Then you have fewer balls going towards him.
‘Messi doesn’t speak a lot, he speaks with the ball,’ he continued.
‘For now, it’s Kylian’s team. Kylian is the one who’s making it shine most of all. The ball goes more towards him.
‘At any single moment there can only be one conductor, otherwise you can’t play at the same tempo. And in this team, there are too many conductors.’