Unai Emery

Manager Analysis
Benoit Pimpaud

Benoit Pimpaud


Six years after being bought by Qatari sovereign funds, Paris Saint-Germain is becoming more and more regular both in the French championship and in Champions League.

But like Manchester City, this new shape comes to the harmony of the squad with the manager. While it’s not yet at the level of Manchester City with Pep Guardiola, PSG had to deal with Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and now Unai Emery to really be efficient regularly.

The Spaniard came in in 2016 after winning Europa League three times in a row (2014, 2015, 2016) with Sevilla, brought some new tactical aspect that PSG needed. However, he didn’t change what Laurent Blanc brought – a possession game, with short passes and smart pressing phases – and continues in that way, helped by infinite funds…

Setup and animation

Like he did most of the time at Sevilla, Unai Emery set up a 4-3-3 looking more like 4-3-2-1, a formation that is a continuation of what Carlo Ancelotti did with his famous “fir formation”.

With Edinson Cavani as main striker (without real substitute), PSG has a complete center forward with very good abilities to finish and a strong presence in last yards. He is not afraid to drop off and switch with winger as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, forming a destructive forward line.

There are some similarities with what Jurgen Klopp does in Liverpool with Roberto Firmino playing most of the time as a “false nine” with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

In the midfield, Thiago Motta stayed a long time as a sentry, developing the game and covering his left and right backs during offensive phases. Nevertheless he has more and more difficulties to keep the level requested, which is a real problem because there is no real substitute to the Brazilian. In fact, Adrien Rabiot take this role from the beginning of the season, but he already said he did not like playing this role, preferring plays a little bit above. Besides, there is Marco Verratti who is the in-charge to bring speed and through-balls. This midfield was very efficient over the last 3 years, moreover when Javier Pastore played alongside Motta and Verratti, but for few months now it is unusually bad, mostly because Marco Verratti is in bad shape.

Very efficient when PSG play against best Ligue 1 teams, PSG also relies on Thiago Silva and Marquinhos who faced some difficulties at the beginning of their association to play well with each other. Time allowed them to be a complete duo now, combining speed and serenity, with a strong abilities to make first passes after getting the ball. Moreover, Unai Emery brought a pressing based on using touch line as a twelfth man, which is very useful against big teams.

Unai Emery tactics with Superstar

Buying best players in the world is quite good to win games and produce beautiful show, thanks to skillful players. Nevertheless club has to have also a good manager to deal with ego of players.
Unai Emery is certainly in the top 20 of the best manager actually, moreover in tactic terms, but he has some difficulties to deal with players like Neymar.

Earlier in the season, there was a debate about who has to shoot penalty and free kick between Neymar and Edinson Cavani. Nowadays this question is supposed to be checked at professional level. However, Unai Emery took a lot of time to get done with it. The arrival of Neymar has strengthened the brazilian community in PSG : Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Thiago Motta, or Maxwell (now in staff) are players with a strong personality and it’s sometimes difficult for PSG managers to deal with it (not only Unai Emery).
Neymar also request shorter video session, something that Emery use a lot. And the Brazilian had the last word.

Moreover with the arrival of Kylian Mbappe, for a amount of almost 120 millions euros (which will be paid at the end of the season to overruling the UEFA Financial Fair Play), Unai Emery has to make difficult choices with Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria, Javier Pastore or Lucas on the bench.

Therefore, players have sometimes difficulties to follow the rules asked by Unai Emery and tend to relies on the qualities of Neymar, which caused some tactical problems in the beginning of the season with Neymar going deeper in the center of the field, letting aside the left wing. This is even more penalizing when Di Maria or Pastore are on the field because they are players who come in the middle of the field.

It’s true that it’s the first time he has to deal with superstar players. Therefore it’s very difficult to see his tactic hand on PSG because they often just relies on their individual talent. Fortunately, Unai Emery succeed to learn to Layvin Kurzawa and Thomas Meunier to push up very high in attack, making them very important players in the proper tactical functioning of the team. He also brought a certain consistency between the midfield and the forward line, with players who do not hesitate to surpass their role.

Champions League

Thought PSG didn’t win the Ligue 1 last season, it’s by far the best club in France : since Qatar is at the command, PSG won four championship title, three National Cup, four League Cup.
But the main goal is the Champions League. From the Qatari era, PSG regularly reach quarterfinals, losing each time against big teams like FC Barcelona or Chelsea.

This season the 1/8 elimination round opposes PSG against Real Madrid. Thought Real Madrid is not at its best this season, everyone agree that Real Madrid is the favorite for this confrontation. They have stronger experience, stronger players and even stronger fans than PSG. However the PSG has maybe a better manager, in tactical terms.
Zinedine Zidane won the last two Champions League with Real Madrid but it’s more his players than the tactical aspect that allows these successes. We saw recently against Tottenham that Zidane has difficulties to perform against strong tactical teams like Mauricio Pochettino’s one.
At the opposite, Unai Emery is a kind of specialist of elimination games : he has a strong experience in Europa League, with victories against Liverpool or SL Benfica and he is very able to adapt his tactics to the opponent.

The two confrontations will be played February 14th and March 6th, two games that are worth a look.

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