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PLAYER ANALYSIS: Giovani Lo Celso and PSG’s Mistakes

It seems like criticising PSG is a club I consistently criticise, and for good reason. They sacrifice building a good team for the sake of shirt sales. While a very blunt statement, they haven’t failed to prove me wrong as of yet. When they brought in Kylian Mbappe and Neymar for record fees, it was in the attempt to fix a lack of goals in the squad. While this did work, it further went to highlight the lack of balance in the side. While their attacking options are vast and give them depth to compete on multiple fronts, it’s the rest of the pitch where the problems lie. They had to resort to bringing in the ageing Gianluigi Buffon to give them a better goalkeeper, but now it seems they want to bring in David De Gea to add another to the list of goalkeepers they’ve tried to bring in. Their full-back options are simply not good enough, with Tuchel even pointing out before the start of the season that he was in desperate need of players in that area. Bringing in Juan Bernat is an improvement, but he isn’t as good as the full-backs you in the Bayern Munich, Liverpool or Man City starting XI. As mentioned when discussing Ander Herrera in the previous analysis, the midfield is a problem, and it will take more than Herrera on a free to fix it. It makes the departure of Giovani Lo Celso even more puzzling.

Arriving in Paris from Rosario in 2016, Lo Celso arrived as a skilful midfielder with an eye for goal. While he didn’t become a prominent member for the Champions until the 2017/18 season, he did show value to Unai Emery. He made 33 appearances, starting 18 games, and added a different element to a very good midfield. He was a fantastic dribbler and was very good at recovering the ball. While Verratti, Rabiot and Motta are all composed players and great passers, Lo Celso gave that Argentine aggression that they needed. While he did have a very good season, it’ll be your performances on the big stage that will be remembered. During their defeat at the Bernabeu, Lo Celso had a very poor display. Playing as a defensive midfielder, a position has been able to cover before, he gave away a penalty and generally had a poor game. He was outplayed by the superior Modric and Isco, and it a stamp on a good reputation he was establishing. In came Thomas Tuchel, arguably one of the top three coaches in Europe. He made it very clear he wasn’t going to use him as much as Emery did. Tuchel said back in September, “Personally I think it’s not a number 6. It’s more like an 8, an 8 and a half, even a 10 if you like.” He is right. Lo Celso is better as an advanced midfielder. While his tackle numbers are high, it’s more in an attempt to get the ball in the final third, not to protect the back four. The young Argentine decided to join Betis on loan in an attempt to receive more minutes, with an option to buy for €30 million.

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To say he’s had a successful spell in La Liga is an understatement. In only one season, he went from a promising player, into arguably the most desirable midfield prospect in Europe. While you’ll see young midfielders like Ndidi, Rodri or Sangare who are great defensively, or Rabiot and Tielemans, who are fantastic progressors of the ball, Lo Celso is something different. His good shot numbers from deep, high dribbling and tackling numbers, it made Setien slowly move Lo Celso from the left-sided number 8 to a number 10 and now a striker. This does make sense. He is by far their best attacker and moving him further up the pitch gives him more chances in front of goal. It was also to resolve another huge problem, that being the passive side of Betis. They’ve struggled in many games to take advantage of their domination and struggle to break down opponents who prefer to sit deeper. Setien’s idea was by moving Lo Celso as a striker in a front two was to help find space between the midfield and defence. In the game against Villarreal, he would constantly drop deeper from the defensive line, to help give an option to the side. It would allow his teammates to find space in the areas he’s opening up by coming deeper. It adds another strength to a player who is full of them. Lo Celso is a player who is seemingly growing a persona every time I’ve watched him. His constant asking for the ball, his speed and aggression in which he dribbles and the pressure he puts on the defence. It’s truly fascinating to watch him play for just how well rounded he is. He matches a tireless work rate in midfield with this direct style that has made him so effective. From playing in many different positions, he has scored 9 and assisted 4. He is Betis’s top scorer in La Liga and has more goal contributions than any other player in the side. He seems to have blossomed in the over-reliance placed on him. While some of his defensive numbers have dropped as the season’s progressed, this is due to him being played in more advanced positions. If looking at his numbers when played as a central midfielder, he has been making 2.3 tackles per game, an increase to the 1.6 he’s been averaging throughout the season. Lo Celso must be a gift to have as a manager. His versatility, speed and technical ability make him such an appealing prospect for all big clubs. He’s by far been Betis’s best player this season and looks destined for a move to a league challenging side.

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It does beg the question if Lo Celso is PSG’s biggest mistake in the past few years. From a club’s perspective, it must be a yes. Betis have signed one of the best young midfielders in the world for less than half of what he’s valued. It does seem like the club didn’t expect him to kick on and perform at such a high level so quickly. He’s able to play in multiple different roles, and but is arguably best played as a number 10. He has the energy and defensive ability to match his technical skill. But it does come back to the question of if we would have known about this if he hadn’t moved to Betis. It’s an argument that is made in football in recent years, playing a certain player in a different system can bring other strengths. Think Antoine Griezmann and his ability to create and find space has been highlighted thanks to being played in such a pragmatic system. Bernardo Silva would be another example. Since Pep has opted to play him as a central midfielder, we have arguably seen the best side of him. He can lead a press so well and had more defensive output than anyone expected. Setien has discovered Lo Celso’s ability to career the attack, and his intelligence and desire to constantly want to make an effect on the match have shown him to be a player to be feared. It is worrying, however, that a side lacking midfielders would let one go, even if Tuchel wasn’t fond of him.

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