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Know Thine Enemy: PSG-Atlético Q&A with Jonathan Johnson, PSG Talk

ESPN FC’s Ligue 1 correspondent and James Teague of the PSG site took some time to talk about this International Champions Cup showdown (of sorts).

Arsenal v Paris Saint Germain - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Lionel Ng/Getty Images

Into the Calderón: How do you think this window has gone at Paris Saint-Germain? Do you feel they are closer to a Champions League breakthrough?

Jonathan Johnson: Slowly. FFP has eaten up a lot of time so far and looks like it could remain a stumbling block up until the end of the transfer window. That said, Gianluigi Buffon on a free transfer is smart business, and his arrival replaces the massive experience that Thiago Motta brought to the squad.

James Teague: Neymar and Kylian Mbappé have a season under their belts and we have a manager that I believe can change the mindset when getting over the Champions League hurdle. I think cohesiveness plus Tuchel’s tactics and man-management are areas where they can make strides.

ItC: PSG and FFP are closely-linked acronyms. Can you explain what the current financial situation is — particularly with Mbappé’s €180m purchase option — and will it come back to haunt the club?

JJ: The FFP problem is the pressure UEFA are under from Europe’s traditional powerhouses to punish PSG and slow their ascent to the continental summit. Regardless of opinions on foreign investment in football, PSG’s navigation of FFP waters since they first fell foul of it back in 2014 has been second to none. UEFA know this, but Europe’s most established clubs will not accept this, which is why European football’s governing body are doing their best to appease the recognised elite.

JT: Depending where you look, you can find different figures for how much the club had to raise through player sales. From the looks of it, they have done that. With Mbappé, I do have faith in the club to do it the right way as to avoid problems down the road. I believe there are still moves to be made to alleviate things, such as more transfers and sponsorships as Mbappé’s star rises.

ItC: Which side do you think is more likely to win a hypothetical UCL tie?

JJ: PSG have greater quality and strength in depth in my opinion, although they look a little bare in one or two areas outside the starting XI. However, what PSG lack, Atlético have in spades — character, mentality and self-belief. With that in mind, I think a two-legged Champions League tie would be very close and perhaps decided by a detail as small as who has home advantage in the second leg.

Arsenal v Paris Saint Germain - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Paul Miller/Getty Images for ICC

JT: I think Atlético will fight for LaLiga again this year and may win it. However, call me a homer but with Mbappé, Neymar, Edinson Cavani and a decent supporting cast, I think I have to give the edge to PSG. Again, for me this comes down to being mentally tough — something I thought PSG has lacked in big games — and experienced, with the aforementioned stars we just saw performing at the World Cup.

ItC: How do you think Thomas Lemar will adjust to LaLiga?

JJ: He was poor last season, to be honest. However, that does not make him a bad player — far from it. Lemar wanted out last summer, like Fabinho, but was not allowed to leave. Because of that, his performances dropped as a result of lacking motivation and I feel this move is exactly what he needs to rejuvenate himself. I think he will be a big success in the long run.

JT: I believe Lemar can play well either side or through the middle. I think he has great skill on the ball and can pass with some of the best. His style may be even better suited to Spain. It may take some time for him to adjust, but I like this guy a lot and I think he’ll only get better.

ItC: If there’s one Atlético player you could poach for PSG, who would it be?

JJ: Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godín and Jan Oblak are all good candidates. However, given the choice, I would pick Godín. As a leader, he is second to none and I think PSG need as many strong characters in that area as possible. That said, I think Godin is too ingrained in the Atlético project under Simeone to be prised away now.

JT: How could you not want Oblak, Griezmann or Diego Costa? I like Lemar and Ángel Correa, too. But I think PSG need more depth at the back and I would look at Lucas Hernández. This may be recency bias, but he looked good at the World Cup and with Yuri Berchiche’s sale, that leaves the club with Layvin Kurzawa, Thomas Meunier and Dani Alves coming off an injury. I think there’s a place in the squad for someone like Lucas.

ItC: Even as this match means little: scoreline prediction?

JJ: PSG will have a few more players back for the game, so I will say a 2-2 draw. However, much will be decided in the periods of the game when each team has their greatest number of experienced players involved. As Atlético have more available, it would not surprise me if they beat PSG.

JT: Seeing as PSG just gave up five to Arsenal (granted the team right now is comprised of youngsters), I think Atlético should win pretty handily. Los rojiblancos, 3-1.