With Luis Enrique, surprises become the norm. The Parisian coach makes no secret of it. He regularly likes to change his starting 11 for several reasons: to surprise his own players as well as the opponent, to involve as many elements of his group as possible while making them “get out of their comfort zone”. Regarding the attacking trio, there is also another parameter about which the Spanish technician talks less: beyond the essential Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé, he had great difficulty installing a third thief, because none of the contenders 'confirmed over time. And it was not the one who left with the favor of the predictions who finally took on this title of holder. At least for now...
Paris has indeed recruited Randal Kolo Muani and Gonçalo Ramos at a high price during the off-season, €175 million all inclusive. If the right wing was promised to “Dembouz”, who has never disappointed and gets along like thieves with Achraf Hakimi, the Frenchman and the Portuguese had to battle for the center-forward position. Two different profiles, a talented arrow and a needy surface player. In another genre, Marco Asensio can also evolve into a “false nine”, as he did at the start of the season. Kang-in Lee also adapted to this role occasionally, as in Reims (0-3). Except that Luis Enrique chose… Mbappé. However, we know the Blues captain's lack of appetite for this. Christophe Galtier had paid to see last year… This is undoubtedly why “Lucho” refuses to say that “KM” is evolving in the axis. “He’s free,” he repeats over and over again. The truth on the ground is quite different. “Today, I play in the middle,” admits the main player.
A positioning which has many advantages in the eyes of Luis Enrique, particularly in terms of team balance. It also allows Kylian Mbappé to get closer to Ousmane Dembélé. As for the left side, it is Bradley Barcola who has established himself for several weeks. Recruited for €50 million last summer, the young (21-year-old) winger trained in Lyon is gaining momentum. The Newcastle lamb has eaten a lion since its failures against the Magpies, like its successful performance in Lens (0-2).
“He is superb in what he does, in sectors of the game which are very important for him in his position,” said Luis Enrique after the shock against the Sang et Or. “In one-on-one, he is almost unstoppable. He is very fast, he has a good finish and he does a good defensive job. Barcola is also getting along better and better with Mbappé on the pitch. The two arrows are with their eyes closed, as we saw on the goal of the first named in Bollaert, on a service of the second. “The confidence of the coach, of the teammates, that frees me, I can only play well like that,” underlines the former Gone, he who arrived at the very end of the transfer window and who had “things to catch up on” at the start of the season. The refocusing of Mbappé also allows “Lucho” to avoid bringing up a midfielder – most often Vitinha – to compensate for the movements of the ex-Monegasque. It densifies the midfield. Not luxury.
It could also be very useful against Brest this Sunday (8:45 p.m.), during the 19th day. The Parisian midfielder suffered in the first leg (2-3). “There will be many matches in the match which will be important, in particular the battle in the middle: we know that it is a team which puts a lot of people in the middle, which has this control which had hurt us in the first half -hour. The debates were then balanced,” remembers the Brest coach, Éric Roy, who was not disturbed by Mbappé’s positioning. “It doesn’t change much,” he assures. Afterwards, we don't meet every weekend a player who is so efficient in terms of efficiency and who can hurt in one or two actions, like in the first leg. We hope that he will be less successful…”.
One thing is certain: overall, Luis Enrique’s project is progressing… little by little. “We will be much stronger in February,” he said after the draw in Dortmund (1-1), referring to the round of 16 first leg of the Champions League against Real Sociedad (February 14). At least occasionally, the Spanish coach found the right formula ahead, less than three weeks from Real Sociedad. Depth, percussion, efficiency... This trio has a little bit of everything. While waiting for the returns of Achraf Hakimi, Kang-in Lee (selection), Milan Skriniar, Nuno Mendes and Presnel Kimpembe (injured), and not to mention possible recruits in the last days of the winter transfer window, he does not have much of choice in other sectors. This benefits Fabian Ruiz in the middle, the patchy Carlos Soler everywhere and Danilo Pereira, in the central hinge.
It remains to be seen whether the Barcola/Mbappé/Dembélé trio is set to last. Which would mean that the two most expensive recruits from last summer would have to continue to put up with replacement status… “The strongest attacking trio since the start of the season? I don't know. Maybe yes, maybe no. But I hope not. I hope the strongest trio is not yet known, whether it is them or other players, says Luis Enrique, trying to keep everyone on a war footing. I am very happy with their attitude. But if we want to aim for all the titles, we need to count on all the attackers, that they are all able to get out of their comfort zone and that they are even better. That’s the key for me.” Simple sleeve effect? In the meantime, the truth will be on the ground. “My actions will speak more than my words,” Luis Enrique said in August. It’s more relevant than ever.