Timely. If there is one success since the start of the season on the Parisian side, it is the Dembélé/Hakimi association on the right side. After leaning to the left for many years, the side of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, PSG has seen its center of gravity shift since the start of the campaign. And this due to the departure of “Ney”, the arrival of Ousmane Dembélé from Barça, the freedom given to Achraf Hakimi and the overall animation of Luis Enrique, with the left back – 90% of the time Lucas Hernandez – who is intended to refocus in a three-way defense when Paris has the ball. For many weeks now, it is appropriate to add the refocusing of Kylian Mbappé, who is now evolving “in the axis” as he himself confirmed, despite what his coach says.
So when Hakimi left for the African Cup of Nations at the beginning of January, “Dembouz” found himself deprived of his partner, and PSG, of its strong axis. “We will miss him... I hope he goes as far as possible with Morocco. But he is a key player in our team, we will miss him,” whispered the French international after the former Madrilenian's last match in Paris, on January 3, the Champions Trophy against Toulouse (2-0). Moreover, Ousmane Dembélé has experienced some problems. Forfeited or spared, he missed Metz (3-1) at the end of the year, Revel (9-0) and Orléans (4-1) in the Coupe de France and again Strasbourg (2-1), only entering 20 minutes from the end during the championship match against Brest (2-2). Wednesday, again against Brest (3-1) but in the Coupe de France, the duo was finally reconstituted, with the two players in the 11 concocted by Luis Enrique. A classic 11, for once.
“With or without this doublet (Dembélé/Hakimi), PSG is not the same team,” recognized Éric Roy, coach of Brest, confident of having put in place a diamond in the middle in order to “have a little more people inside the game to try to anticipate Hakimi's inside calls. Afterwards, if he goes twice as fast as you…”. In this case, Hakimi, author of a missed penalty at 0-1 during the elimination against South Africa (0-2) in the 8th of the CAN, had a relatively timid return to school in his standards, which are obviously high. He even showed great passivity on Steve Mounié's Brest goal, before offering caviar to Gonçalo Ramos. Dembélé, for his part, shone with his activity and his propensity to make a difference in this match. He didn't score, but the ex-Rennais did everything else, recovering the ball on the first goal and making a "D pass" on the second. He clearly benefited from the return of his partner, two players who did not take long to find each other from the start of the season. Natural. They speak the same football, complement each other, allow both to evolve at their best level. All encouraged by Luis Enrique.
The return of the magical pair on the right side before the duel against Real Sociedad, Wednesday (9 p.m.) in the round of 16 first leg of the Champions League, is obviously big news for Paris and Luis Enrique. “When a coach arrives at a new club, it is important to see the synergies and the players who best adapt to our ideas of play. Since my arrival, the right lane works very well, and the left reaches this level », slips the Parisian coach. In this case, Barcola has a lot to do with the evolution of the left side, he of whom “Lucho” is “happy that he is adapting so quickly. Now we must maintain this level and progress further.”
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Note that the return of Hakimi also allows Warren Zaire-Emery to regain his natural position in midfield. Not luxury. Even if the young (18 year old) international tricolor has always kept a low profile on this subject, simply declaring himself at the disposal of the coach and the team, it is often him that Luis Enrique has chosen to take on the role of Hakimi. DIY. Not the only one. Meanwhile, it's more of a right-wing trio than just a duo if you ask Luis Enrique. “Ousmane, Hakimi and Warren are the ones who played the most in the right lane. It’s wonderful what they do… There is a connection, something fluid, you can see it at first glance,” commented the former Spain coach on Friday, on the eve of the reception of Lille this Saturday (9 p.m.), during the 21st day of Ligue 1.
It remains to be seen what will happen when Nuno Mendes returns to business, out since the start of the season but who will soon be operational. “He is getting closer to the goal, he is training partially with us, it is good news but the doctors decide and they have not yet given the green light,” declared “Lucho”, who however did not no doubt he can put together an 11 with Mendes and Hakimi. “Good players can always play together, and that’s what we’re looking for, I’ve said it several times. When we have the ball, I want to see 11 attackers. When we don't have it, 11 defenders. Obviously, Nuno and Hakimi can play together. And even if there are more attackers or similar profiles, what must change is the mentality of the players,” he recently said. The Barcola/Mendes duo would look good... as long as the first named occupies the left flank. It is not forbidden to think that Mbappé will get his due sooner or later, even if not right away. It is up to Luis Enrique to resolve the question of balance with two full-backs as offensive as Mendes and Hakimi.
In the meantime, it is without Nuno Mendes but with the Dembélé/Hakimi pairing that Luis Enrique and PSG approach the upcoming deadlines, Real Sociedad next Wednesday in C1 and Lille this Saturday, in L1. “We have to play every three days at the moment, we have to plan with the staff in order to always be competitive,” commented Luis Enrique, not failing to add that “all matches are important. That’s why we have two players per position: in order to be competitive in every competition.” And added: “I can’t wait to see my team against Lille. It will be a big test for us.” One thing is certain: as long as Kylian Mbappé plays at the level of last Saturday, everything will be fine. Good news ? “KM” is “available” for Losc, says Luis Enrique, despite this violent blow to the ankle against Brest.