Strict and astute, Thomas Tuchel is the right coach for PSG

(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

AP Sports Writer

PARIS (AP) Behind a great team there is always a great coach, and Paris Saint-Germain might have found the right one.

Appointed as a successor of Unai Emery, Thomas Tuchel has already stamped his mark on the star-studded team. He seems to be controlling the big egos in the dressing room and has implemented strong tactical changes, including playing Neymar in a No. 10 role.

Under Tuchel, the French champions have made it five wins from five league matches and will travel to Liverpool on Wednesday for the start of their Champions League campaign.

More than the five consecutive wins in his side's opening games - a feat never before achieved at PSG by a coach in his first season - it is PSG's style that bodes well for the future.

With the Qatari-backed club's spending still under UEFA scrutiny, PSG limited its purchases this season and did not bring in new stars to an already glamorous roster. Without money to splash, the club had to be clever and Tuchel has not been wasting time building new game plans.

After five years in a 4-3-3 formation under Laurent Blanc and Emery, Tuchel has brought in new tactics, including a 4-2-3-1 with Neymar repositioned in a No. 10. A very pragmatic and flexible coach whose main mission is to deliver Champions League success, Tuchel has not totally abandoned the 4-3-3 and has also tested a 3-4-3 system.

By giving a more central role to Neymar in organizing his team's game rather than playing on the left, Tuchel can also field a very potent attacking trident of Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe.

"It's very important to change the structure," Tuchel said. "I take responsibility for the organization if we make a mistake."

Despite the lack of a big club on his resume, the 45-year-old former Dortmund coach is also succeeding in handling the locker room. Under Blanc and Emery, who both failed to guide PSG past the Champions League quarterfinals, there were repeated incidents that hampered the club's image and progression.

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic was at PSG, everything revolved around the former Manchester United striker. Ibrahimovic was often allowed to go back to his native Sweden on hunting trips, Thiago Silva enjoyed tailor-made modifications to his training program, and defender Serge Aurier got away with a six-week suspension after he abused Blanc and insulted teammates on social media. Under Emery, Neymar and Cavani repeatedly clashed.

It's been very different with Tuchel, the iron fist in the velvet glove. Before his arrival in the French capital, he took the time to speak at length about his plans with Neymar, who quickly adhered to the new project and tactics. He has also been very subtle in dealing with the rivalry in goal between Alphonse Areola and Gianluigi Buffon, giving both keepers nearly equal playing time.

And besides the tactical details, the German coach has also brought an evident human touch to the team. He is very close to his players, hugging them warmly after matches, and makes the effort to speak in French in the locker room.

"I'm trying, even if it's a bit difficult sometimes," Tuchel said in an interview with L'Equipe newspaper on Monday. "Speaking French is good for me and also a mark of respect for the PSG institution."

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Updated September 17, 2018

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