Luis Enrique poised for Newcastle revenge with PSG
Newcastle tore PSG apart last time – now Luis Enrique is perfectly placed to gain revenge and avoid an embarrassing early Champions League exit
The Spanish manager will be able to point to his first signature win at the helm if he can beat the Magpies at Parc des Princes
Luis Enrique insisted he did everything right. On October 4, he took his team to St. James Park, and before 50,000 riled-up Geordies — and a side playing its first Champions League home game since 2003 — deployed a swashbuckling 4-2-4 formation. The result wasn’t hard to see coming. Newcastle battered PSG from the first minute, a 91st-minute strike from marauding centre-back Fabian Schar sealing an emphatic 4-1 win for the home side.
After the game, Luis Enrique suggested that there were positives, ones that admittedly few keen observers might have seen: “The result is so big for them. But I think we didn’t deserve that result.”
Deserved or otherwise, his side were handily beaten on Tyneside, and now, after losing to AC Milan in their last Champions League encounter, find themselves desperately in need of a win against the Magpies — this time on their own turf.
Parc des Princes has been an imposing place to visit for European sides in recent years, a ground where the Parisians haven’t lost a group game since 2020. Include games with fans — not interrupted by the relative silence of the COVID-19 pandemic — and you would have to go back to 2004 for PSG’s last home defeat before knockout football kicks in.
The stage is nicely set, then, for revenge. And this is an important one, too. The Parisians are second in their Champions League group, while the Magpies are bottom, but just two points separate the two teams. A win for PSG and qualification should be solidified. Lose, and the French champions could end the matchday sat in fourth with just one game to go, and likely relying on results elsewhere to guide them through the group.
Luis Enrique has already overseen some big games in Paris. But facing elimination in a competition that he admitted the club is “obsessed” with, this will be the biggest. This time, he has to get it right.
Where it went wrong at St. James’ Park
You could see it going wrong for PSG from the first minute in the north-east of England. Newcastle’s midfield is chunky and awkward to play against, and Eddie Howe made sure it was more beefy than usual. He deployed a trio of Bruno Guimaraes, Sandro Tonali and Sean Longstaff — a combative mix of flair and physicality. Luis Enrique, meanwhile, fielded just two midfielders, an overwhelmingly technical Warren Zaire-Emery, and a brutish Manuel Ugarte. It was no surprise when the duo were overrun, and exhausted by half-time.
The Parisians were lucky to only be trailing 2-0 at the break, and then, Luis Enrique had the chance to change things. He could have added an extra midfielder, or altered his tactics. He certainly would have noticed the flow of the game — his side had only put one shot on goal. Fabian Ruiz, Danilo Pereira and Vitinha were all sat waiting on the bench, so at the very least, he could have matched Newcastle in midfield.
Instead, the former Barcelona boss stuck with his system. And things got even worse. PSG were outmuscled once again, while Howe ensured that Kylian Mbappe didn’t have any breathing room. PSG’s only real chances fell to a wasteful Ousmane Dembele, who put one volley narrowly past the post, and squandered another clear effort after a wonderful winding run down the wing.
Newcastle added two more goals, with Lucas Hernandez’s header offering little more than a consolation. The manner in which it came — a dink from a midfielder onto the forehead of a left-back — had little to do with the relative effectiveness of Luis Enrique’s set-up.
Gaining revenge, then, must start with a reconsideration of the system. Luis Enrique is a manager who believes in his principles, but has admittedly shown a willingness to adapt the way in which they are applied.
He still has some non-negotiables. Gianluigi Donnarumma must play the ball out of the back; his midfielders must carry the ball forward; and Mbappe should tuck inside, and receive the ball on the run. How, exactly, this is applied, can vary. Since the Newcastle defeat, PSG have fiddled around with their tactics. Sometimes they have deployed a 4-3-3. At others, the manager has set up something looking like a more traditional 4-4-2. That dreaded 4-2-4 hasn’t been totally removed from the playsheet, either.
So rather than making wholesale tactical changes, Luis Enrique may instead look to add an extra layer of physicality to his team. He alluded to that likelihood in a press conference on Monday: “If you watch Newcastle’s game against Chelsea, their physicality is important. They went to press with up to six players and they are capable of maintaining a very quick pace. I expect that same intensity against us.”
Besides, he might not have a choice. Zaire-Emery, the midfield lynchpin, is out for the rest of the calendar year with an ankle injury. That could mean bringing Danilo or another more defensively-minded player into a three-man midfield.
That would be a personnel tweak that can be made while still keeping Luis Enrique’s principles intact. His vision of PSG can still exist – it just has to be altered slightly.
Dembele the difference-maker?
Luckily, Luis Enrique insists that he has a secret weapon. It is not Mbappe, a known quantity who the manager hasn’t been afraid to disparage in recent weeks. Neither is it Randal Kolo Muani, who has impressed in moments, but failed to find a goalscoring rhythm in Paris.
Instead, Luis Enrique has claimed, Dembele will make a difference. This is a puzzling player to highlight. Dembele has been a polarising presence in the French capital, ashe seems to do everything wonderfully well in the final third, right up until the key moment. He will scamper down the wing, leave numerous defenders in the dust, and then skew a shot. He will dart left, cut to his right, throw in a stepover, find daylight inside the box, and then pass the ball to the feet of a grateful centre-back.
Dembele has only scored once for the Parisians, despite taking 34 shots, albeit less than half of those efforts have been on target. Still, Luis Enrique heaped praise on the Paris native.
“I’ve known him for many years and, in my opinion, he’s a different type of player to anyone else,” he said. “Now I know him personally, too. He doesn’t care if he makes a mistake, he doesn’t care if he gets criticised… I have absolutely no doubt he is the biggest game-changer in world football.”
There is some evidence to back up the manager’s lofty claim. Dembele scored his first goal in a PSG shirt against Monaco on Friday, and it was an eye-catching one, the winger flicking a lofted pass with his weaker foot using his trailing leg, accelerating into open space, and hitting his effort into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
This was not a normal goal, but if Dembele’s manager is to be believed, he is not a normal player, either. Perhaps he just needed one to go in to kickstart life back in his homeland.