Paris Saint-Germain’s front trio of striker Edinson Cavani flanked by wingers Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler has the makings of a stunning attacking combination.
Barcelona will testify to that, after the five-time European champion was swept aside 4-0 by PSG in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 match on Tuesday. Di Maria scored twice, with Cavani and Draxler getting one goal each – quite an impact in their first European match together.
Football fans know all about Barca’s world famous attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar – known as the MSN. They led Barcelona to the Spanish league and cup double and the Champions League in 2015 and continue as constant threat in attack.
Now European defenses have the CDD combination to worry about. If Cavani, Di Maria and Draxler continue like this, PSG can be a Champions League contender. At least the secret’s out ahead of the return leg in Barcelona on March 8.
The fact Barcelona failed to deal with the CDD can partly be explained by the simple fact there was no way of knowing what they would produce together.
It is well known how the MSN operate. Stopping them is a different matter – although the information is there because countless videos of their matches are available.
However, there was precious little Barca coach Luis Enrique could work with in terms of researching the CDD trio as a front three.
For while they are established internationals in their own right- Cavani with Uruguay, Di Maria with Argentina and Draxler with Germany – they had previously started only one league game together.
Draxler only joined in January; and since his arrival PSG coach Unai Emery has preferred Brazilian Lucas as his other winger, rather than Di Maria. Surprisingly, Emery dropped Lucas and selected Di Maria, despite his disappointing performances for most of the campaign.
It proved an inspired move, with the rejuvenated Di Maria paying Emery back with an outstanding performance.
There was an element of surprise in PSG’s favor, too, with Barcelona’s back four unsure how to defend against the trio. They seemed concerned about pushing up and leaving space behind. But when they sat back, PSG’s wingers switched flanks and pulled Barca’s defenders out of position.
Each of PSG’s three forwards offers something different, and they complimented each other well.
Cavani is a direct player, whose early runs are easily picked out by his quick-thinking wingers – who are both accurate passers. Cavani already has 34 goals this season, just four short of his career best set with former club Napoli.
The 23-year-old Draxler is a quick and athletic player who reads the game well. He has excellent technique and an eye for goal, having scored five in nine games since joining after a frustrating spell with German club Wolfsburg, where he failed to score in 14 games this season.
Di Maria likes to drift around and his tendency to crave space makes him less disciplined than Draxler, but Di Maria is more intuitive.
“They are world-class players,” Luis Enrique said of PSG’s front three. “They have a big attacking potential, work hard in defense and are incredible on the ball.”
PSG has been desperate to join Europe’s top clubs since Qatari owners QSI took over nearly six years ago.
In the last four years, PSG went out in the quarterfinals and last year’s elimination led to coach Laurent Blanc being fired.
PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi liked what he saw in Emery, who guided Sevilla to three straight Europa League titles, and Blanc made way.
“This was the best performance I’ve been part of since coming to PSG,” said midfielder Blaise Matuidi, one of QSI’s first signings after its takeover in June, 2011.
The win over Barcelona sent out a warning to the rest of Europe that PSG – and its CDD – mean serious business.