How will Lionel Messi fit with PSG? Four lineup options for star-studded squad

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Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe is about as close to an All-Star attack as the soccer world has ever seen, and it will soon be Paris Saint-Germain’s reality as the arrival of the legendary Argentine on a free transfer edges closer this week.

Mauricio Pochettino is already spoiled for choice with Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti, Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum making up some of the supporting cast at Parc des Princes and the question is how the 49-year-old will accommodate it all.

On top of those names, there is also Mauro Icardi after he scored in the Ligue 1 opener against ESTAC Troyes, Pablo Sarabia, Julian Draxler, Rafinha and the emerging talent of Arnaud Kalimuendo who could all feature in attack or at least in forward-thinking midfield roles.

Not all of those players are likely to still be in Paris by the end of the transfer window, but even cutting numbers by half would still leave Pochettino with considerable strength in depth and the possibility that one or two are asked to play makeshift roles is high.

So how would PSG line up with Messi? Here are four lineup options.

1. Messi in the middle


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The most likely scenario is that Messi comes into the Parisian attack and either occupies one of two advanced attacking roles with Mbappe to one side and Neymar tucked in behind, or that the French and Brazilian superstars flank Messi instead and allow him to withdraw to pick up the ball.

A 4-2-3-1 has been Pochettino’s default shape so far since his return to the club as head coach at the start of this year, but neither Mbappe nor Neymar will be ideal to play at the point of such a system with Messi central and an aging Di Maria to also consider out wide.

The need for a combative midfielder could also see Leandro Paredes deployed instead of Di Maria or Wijnaldum although Idrissa Gueye is unlikely to be technical enough to merit regular starts.

2. Two up top?

The 4-4-2 might work in terms of accommodating the star talent in the squad, particularly the likes of Hakimi out wide, but there is little room for a real defensive midfielder with so many attacking threats in the group.

Verratti and Wijnaldum are realistically the two players best suited to playing in the middle and offering at least a minimum defensive presence but even still, they offer much more when higher up the pitch than they do on the edge of their own box, which could play into Paredes’ hands.

A 4-2-2-2 has not really been seen in Paris since Carlo Ancelotti’s days, but it would offer a rough fit for all of the players bar Presnel Kimpembe, who is currently featuring in this back four as a solid option at left-back while Juan Bernat is still working his way back from injury. Layvin Kurzawa could also emerge as a surprise regular.

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3. Three at the back?


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Another possibility, given Sergio Ramos’ arrival and the presence of two top more quality central defenders in Marquinhos and Kimpembe, is that PSG deploy a 3-4-3 system which would be ideal for Hakimi as he roams up and down the right flank, but not necessarily good news for Di Maria.

This might only work if Bernat ultimately becomes available or a wildcard like Kurzawa emerges with some consistency and one member of this XI would also drop to the bench. Obviously, injuries and fitness will dictate availability, but on paper at least, Wijnaldum might not be a total lock in the XI while Di Maria’s age might count against him regularly.

4. All-out attack

The other possibility will likely give opposing coaches nightmares. A 4-1-4-1 or 3-2-4-1 would mean less emphasis on defense and any sort of balance, but produce pure attacking firepower potentially more ferocious than anything that the club game has ever seen — a truly scary thought for Ligue 1 and UEFA Champions League defenses.

This scenario could also see Verratti pushed higher up the pitch once more which has been a preference of Pochettino’s since his arrival when playmaking options have been limited or utilize Wijnaldum or a Julian Draxler further forward.

Likelihood

Considering that Pochettino’s go-to formation with PSG so far has been a rough 4-2-3-1, it would not be a huge surprise to see him starting with that, especially as all his players work their way back to full match fitness and unwanted figures are moved on.

A potential target date to have a full squad available and at full match sharpness will realistically be the opening UEFA Champions League group clash in September which could be the moment when the South American tactician decides to wed himself to a particular setup.

However, assessing all of the possibilities, a 3-4-3 appears to make the most sense given the talent assembled and their preferred roles on the pitch.



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