Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sloppily conceded red card in the dying throes of Paris Saint-Germain’s clash with Valencia in the Champions League last-16 first leg at the Mestalla was a costly mistake from the Swede. However, his absence could give David Beckham a chance to assert his claims for a place in the PSG starting lineup against the Spaniards when they visit the Parc des Princes.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti will need to reshuffle his side when Los Che are in town, but with question marks over the fitness of Lucas Moura and the relationship between the Italian and attacker Jeremy Menez soured, the Englishman could be playing a key role sooner than expected.
Last week’s surprise defeat to Sochaux puts PSG under pressure heading into Sunday’s "Classique" against Marseille, where Beckham is expected to make his debut. However, if Moura is unable to regain fitness in time, and Menez is still “injured”—which is the club’s official take on the matter despite the rather public bust-up with coach Ancelotti and sporting director Leonardo—then the 37-year-old could occupy an unlikely spot on the right wing.
The Italian has hinted at his willingness to use Beckham on the flank, but until now it had been thought impossible given the form of Moura and Menez’s ability to play wide. With Ezequiel Lavezzi better utilised on the left and no natural attacking left-footed player to allow him to switch flanks, Javier Pastore could fill in for his compatriot as Lavezzi pushes forward.
That would leave Beckham to play on the right with Blaise Matuidi likely partnered by the returning Thiago Motta or Clement Chantome, given Marco Verratti's suspension.
A lot currently depends on Moura though. If he plays, PSG will have a direct threat in the middle and Beckham could be accommodated further back in the midfield. But if he is absent, all of a sudden the capital club have little service from out wide. Arguably, the former England captain is better not being risked on the right where his lack of pace hinders the team, but instead should be put in the middle where his passing can utilise the pace of either Moura, Lavezzi or Kevin Gameiro.
Pastore is better suited to playing out wide than Beckham currently, although the left side has been Ancelotti’s preference for him so far this season. Lavezzi has shifted into a more central role when needed, but with no aerial presence in Ibra’s absence, PSG would likely go with Gameiro and Moura up top, flanked by the Argentine duo. But if the Brazilian fails to recover, Lavezzi and Gameiro will likely form the attack, with Pastore and Beckham providing the width.
If this were to happen, Ancelotti could be tempted to revert to his favoured midfield base of three, with two attackers backing up a lone striker in the Italian’s famed Christmas tree. At times this year, though, that tree has resembled a poorly trimmed bush, and the 4-2-2-2 has been more effective.
The Menez issue is “finished” according to Ancelotti in his pre-Sochaux match press conference, but speculation is now rife regarding the Frenchman’s future. PSG will need him in this game if Beckham is to play a starring role. Menez’s pace and direct approach whether played on the right or through the middle is a good substitute for Moura, and his availability allows the capital club to retain the same shape.
If they can do this, Beckham’s passing ability will be required as the catalyst for all of the team’s moves as Matuidi sweeps up in the midfield alongside him.
The presence of Menez could also be utilised up front as he has been used in a second-striker role at times this year to great effect. That would enable Ancelotti to keep Lavezzi out wide and put Pastore on the right, assuming he gives Gameiro a deserved chance in his favoured central position.
With Ibrahimovic missing, Beckham provides vital experience that will be needed as Thiago Silva continues his recovery from injury. Although the Brazilian is expected to be fit for the Valencia clash, PSG are currently approaching the game with the Englishman as the most senior member of the side, making him invaluable.
Beckham’s participation depends on the fitness of Moura and Menez, but at the moment it appears likely that he will play a part in the match. First up, though, are Marseille, who will provide an acid test to Beckham’s claims to a first-team place. After that, then we will know how big a role that will be.