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PSG: Vitinha, time for renewal

We take the same and start again.

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PSG: Vitinha, time for renewal

We take the same and start again. Poached from Porto for €40 million at the start of summer 2022, a few days before the appointment of Christophe Galtier, Vitinha quickly settled in the Parisian 11 alongside Marco Verratti. The difficult integration of newcomers Carlos Soler and Fabian Ruiz, the injuries of Renato Sanches and the use of Danilo Pereira in defense offered him a boulevard. He didn't let the opportunity pass. Despite his young age (22 years old at the time) and his limited experience (81 matches between Porto and Wolverhampton), the Portuguese international midfielder (12 caps) quickly "took his bearings" on the banks of the Seine, like the Galtier noted. “We were all impressed because he adapted very quickly to our game,” rejoiced Marquinhos, when Verratti praised his “intelligence” and his “personality,” referring to “a great player despite his young age.”

Volume, technique, activity… “Viti” quickly won over people in the capital. Good pick from Luis Campos, his first Parisian recruit in the Jorge Mendes catalog. Not the last, we know that well... Still, after a very promising start and a Qatari parenthesis for the World Cup, the former Dragon exploded in flight. He was not the only one in this case after the World Cup, that’s clear. Like his soft shot in front of the empty goal during the eighth return of C1 in Munich, at 0-0, Vitinha no longer had anything of the exciting player of the first part of the season.

Also read Ballon d’Or 2023: Kylian Mbappé, so close, so far…

We therefore wondered which Vitinha we would find when the team resumed last summer, under Luis Enrique. Change of game system, philosophy. For the best. As in 2022-23, he starts strong and establishes himself as a full-fledged starter in this new-look team (11 summer recruits). If he did not start last Sunday, in Brest (3-2 victory), it is as much to give him a break, after the victory over Milan in the middle of the week (3-0), as to concern boys like Bradley Barcola and Kang-in Lee, who obviously have a very different profile from Vitinha. “I feel good on the pitch and it shows. The coach's ideas are good for my style of play. I'm having a good start to the season but I want to continue on this path. The important thing is consistency,” emphasized the person concerned a few weeks ago, on TF1. Holder ? Yes, even if Luis Enrique had left him on the bench against OM (4-0), painless, and at Newcastle (4-1 defeat), where he was sorely missed.

Without him and this trio that he formed until then with the former Sporting Manuel Ugarte and the titi Warren Zaire-Emery, Paris had exploded against the English. Question of balance. However, Vitinha is not really an environment in the classic sense of the term. Not only anyway. Not in all circumstances and not in the system as evolving as it is daring by Luis Enrique. “It’s not easy to explain Vitinha’s role, it depends on where the ball is and Kylian Mbappé. He rarely loses the ball, he has volume, he can play inside the game or on the side,” summarized the Spanish coach recently. A hybrid role, sometimes in the line of four in front, sometimes in the middle three, and in any case everywhere except in the path of Mbappé. “Kylian, he’s a great player, he’s the best today. I get along very well with him on and off the field, we combine well on the feet, in depth for him, more for him because he goes faster than me,” laughs Vitinha.

We compared Vitinha and Verratti for a while last season. The first also imagined himself “quite similar in the game” to the second. “We are not very different. He projects a lot, plays without the ball and he creates spaces for others,” corrected the “Little Owl”, who is also much better than the Portuguese in releasing the ball, dribbling in small spaces and under pressure. Well seen. It is thanks to the qualities detected by the Italian, who has since left for Qatar, that “Viti” fits perfectly with the complex plan of his new coach. Against Milan, his replacement, at half-time, in a more central and backward position, coincidentally, accompanied the collective awakening.

“Vitinha is a player similar to Kang-in Lee, he can play as a winger as well as inside the game or even as a pivot, depending on the match,” explains Luis Enrique. When we have possession, depending on the position of the ball, we must position ourselves in this or that way. He must know which spaces to occupy when playing on the wing, or inside. There are also other aspects… that I am not going to discuss publicly because it is not in my interest for the other teams to know. In any case, he has this ability to interpret his role depending on the position of the ball, being more or less on the outside. There are several players who can do it, but it has more often been Vitinha. Warren Zaire-Emery or Fabian Ruiz can do it too, Carlos Soler or Kang-in Lee… For me, as a coach, I have a host of very interesting options,” enthuses the Spanish technician.

And the former coach of Barça and Roma should give Vitinha a place in the 11th this Friday (9 p.m.), against Montpellier, during the 11th day of Ligue 1. And especially in Milan, next Tuesday (9 p.m.), in C1. “Vitinha is very important for us. He has an important role. He adapts well to everything we ask of him. He has great technical quality,” he swears. At 23, the native of Vila das Aves seems ready to take a new step. In any case, to pick up the thread that was broken after the Qatari World Cup. In confidence, for example, he does not hesitate to take a chance. Not enough to post impressive statistics (1 goal and 1 assist in 2023-24), but still.

It's one more threat, and that's what matters. For the rest, there is Kylian Mbappé, author of 12 goals in 12 matches since the start of the season, including nine in ten championship matches. While waiting for Ousmane Dembélé and others, Gonçalo Ramos and Randal Kolo Muani in the lead, to score more regularly... “We want Kylian to have the ball a lot and for him to be free, we need someone to block opposing players. Today, this is what Vitinha and Ousmane Dembélé did, said Luis Enrique, after PSG-Lens (3-1). They did it very well in the build-up phase, Kylian giving width, Vitinha supporting him in the progression and finishing phases. Vitinha opened up the pitch, giving Kylian space inside. Winning ticket, even if we can still doubt whether this scheme is that profitable for “KM”, despite its stats.

From PSG's point of view, we can in any case hope that Vitinha's good start to the season continues beyond the winter this time. “The important thing is consistency”, as he himself said… One thing is certain, “Viti”, who already speaks very good French, imagines his future in Paris. “I love the city, my life here, I hope I will stay here for a long time because it’s a big club, a big city, I’m very happy here,” he says. If he continues on this path, no one will complain about seeing him take root.

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