SPIRO: Emery wins over doubters

Ligue 1 Conforama > Spiro Blog

By M. Spiro

PSG are still in contention on four fronts and with the players now buying in to Unai Emery's methods the next few weeks promise much excitement, writes Ligue1.com's Matthew Spiro.

As PSG's unrelenting charge for silverware continues to gather momentum, it is hard to believe that less than three months ago Unai Emery was clinging to his job by his fingernails. By all accounts, a defeat or even a draw against Lorient before Christmas would have prompted the Qataris to pull the trigger. How relieved they must be that Paris won 5-0 and Emery survived.


The capital side have not looked back since - winning 12 and drawing two of their 14 matches in 2017, including an incredible 4-0 triumph over Barcelona and an historic, deeply satisfying 5-1 success at Marseille. Criticised by so many during his first six months in France, Emery is now being hailed as a visionary and the man capable of guiding PSG to their holy grail.

Recent events in England with Leicester City have shown that capricious players can quite easily decide the fate of a manager. For much of the first half of the Ligue 1 season it looked as though PSG's perennial winners didn't fancy playing for this intense, idiosyncratic Spaniard. Insipid defeats at Monaco, Toulouse, Guingamp and Montpellier left Paris fans nostalgic for the days Laurent Blanc, when the capital side would pass their domestic opponents to death and Zlatanise them.

But on that cold December night at the Parc des Princes, the champions stirred. Rather than abandoning their under-fire coach, they rallied, sending a clear message to the top brass: we are prepared to play for Emery and we are prepared to adapt to his methods.

Particular, meticulous

Those methods, by the way, are tried and tested. Emery's philosophy is based on exemplary organisation without the ball. His Valencia and Sevilla teams were tactically excellent, mastering the skill of fast transition play through pressing as a unit and exploding forward when the opportunities arose. He enjoyed particular success in Europe, winning three straight Europa Leagues - a record that evidently attracted PSG's Champions League-obsessed owners.

Yet this philosophy is very different to Blanc's. Under the ex-France defender, PSG were all about possession. Keep the ball, show patience, toy with opponents until they suffer a lapse in concentration, then pounce. Suddenly ball players like Marco Verratti and Angel di Maria had to spend hours in training working on positional drills, often without the ball. The shift away from the laissez-faire Blanc towards the pedagogic Emery was hard for many to accept.

The dip in results forced the 45-year-old to concede ground to his players. He agreed to reinstate the midfield trio of Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Verratti that had given PSG such a solid and reassuring platform in the past, and allowed the team to indulge in lengthy spells of possession football.


Slowly but surely his message started to be heard. The arrival of the artful and direct Julian Draxler in January has shaken up the attack. Di Maria can no longer afford to coast. He too must adhere to Emery's demands and show a desire, determination and directness that was lacking in the first half of the season. Motta's suspension against Barcelona was also a blessing in disguise. Dropping the Italian - who has considerable influence in the dressing room - is not so easy.

Yet against the Catalans his replacement Adrien Rabiot was so brilliant even Motta must now accept that his days as a first-choice player are numbered. Rabiot's grace, strength and speed across the ground make him an ideal Emery player. The younger men are taking the power, and more importantly Emery is being vindicated.

Everything the Spaniard has preached since joining Paris last summer came to fruition in that Champions League last 16 first leg. PSG played as one formidable unit, defending en masse and thrusting a series of daggers into Barcelona hearts.

Hearts and minds

The experts are now gushing with praise of Emery, but much more significantly the players are now buying in to his approach; they will now follow blindly and question no more.  Four days after Barcelona, PSG's flaws were visible again as they laboured to a 0-0 draw with Toulouse. A few months ago, the knives would have been out. Now, though, such a setback is shrugged off.

PSG will probably continue to struggle against ultra-defensive sides, but try to attack them - like Barcelona or Marseille did - and you will pay the price. And that after all is why Emery was brought in: to make PSG formidable against the bigger teams.


>> FEATURE PREVIEW: PSG look to keep good run going

>> COACH PROFILE: Unai Emery

>> CLUB PROFILE: Paris Saint-Germain

>> More by Matthew Spiro

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