Neymar: Three ways PSG can replace him against Real Madrid
With Neymar out of Tuesday's Champions League last-16 second leg, we look at how Unai Emery can fill the hole left by the Brazilian.
Paris Saint-Germain boss Unai Emery may have been reluctant to close the door on Neymar's chances of making it back in time for Tuesday's Champions League last-16 clash with Real Madrid, but in the end the Brazil international will have surgery on his metatarsal injury, in a bid to completely fix the issue and head into this summer's World Cup in optimum shape.
The 26-year-old could be out for up to three months, depriving PSG of their chief star and, on the face of it, dealing a considerable blow to their prospects of overturning Real's 3-1 first-leg lead at the Parc des Princes. However, the Parisians still boast plenty of firepower in attack in Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappé, and are not short on ways to fill the void left by Neymar.
Ángel di María appears to be the most likely option. The Argentina winger, who spent four seasons at Real Madrid, could come in either on the left or, by swapping flanks with Mbappé, the right of a front three, allowing Emery to maintain the side's customary 4-3-3 formation. He could also play in a deeper role as part of a midfield four, with Mbappé and Cavani up top and 'El Fideo' freeing the young Frenchman up from his defensive duties.
In the wake of his brace against Marseille on Sunday, Di María now has 16 goals and 15 assists in 32 PSG games this term - his best figures since joining the club, despite coming off the bench for eight of those appearances. Having scored 12 in his last 15, his fine recent form made it something of a surprise that he was not used at all in the first leg at the Bernabéu.
Another option with a similar profile is Julian Draxler, who would slot in neatly on the left wing. A player who poses less of a goal threat than Di María, the Germany international has four goals and seven assists from his 34 matches this season.
Draxler has previous experience of shining against Real Madrid in the Champions League, having been part of the VfL Wolfsburg side that beat Los Blancos 2-0 in the first leg of the opening knockout stage in 2015/16. He had a hand in both goals: the first saw him supply the ball that led to the penalty, before he gave the penultimate pass in the build-up to the second, scored by Maximilian Arnold. The 24-year-old grabbed the spotlight with a performance that served to further ramp up the interest in him at major clubs across Europe.
A third way...
Another avenue open to Emery would involve a tactical change and varied potential personnel. The likes of Javier Pastore, Thiago Motta or Lassana Diarra could be drafted in to reinforce the midfield in a set-up which, while still spearheaded by the goal-getting prowess of Mbappé and Cavani, would represent a more conservative plan. Of those three, Pastore would be the most attacking, while Motta and Diarra would occupy a deep-lying central midfield role. PSG's coach could also opt for a move that he tried - without success - in Madrid: playing Thomas Meunier at right-back and shifting Dani Alves into a more advanced position.
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