Despite competing against some of the most talented players on the planet, Giovani Lo Celso is finding a role at PSG and maybe Argentina
There wasn’t an obvious goal-scoring opportunity when Giovani Lo Celso received the ball into his feet with his back to goal outside the penalty area but an innate awareness of that time and space prompted a turn. Two more touches took the youngster to the edge of the 18-yard box and an exquisite lob over the helpless goalkeeper into the net followed.
That is how Giovani Lo Celso capped off Paris Saint-Germain’s 3-0 win over Lille on Saturday and despite it being the 21-year-old’s first Ligue 1 goal, was perhaps more in line of what was expected of the outrageously talented playmaker when PSG snapped him up from Rosario Central in 2016.
Lo Celso has needed to bide his time and be patient and while this opportunity is not as the elegant enganche that was cultivated on the streets of Rosario, the youngster is impressing none the less in his deeper role.
A naturally more attacking midfielder, Lo Celso never shied away from graft for Central but was much more of a number ten and as such has found chances to play in such a role for a star-studded PSG side hard to come by.
However, manager Unai Emery saw something in that hard work and in the absence of Thiago Motta has begun using Lo Celso in a far more defensive position to wonderful effect.
“Giovani arrived at the club a year ago and has worked very hard and patiently to create opportunities for himself,” Emery told the press.
“He played one minute, then two, then 15 and has earned more and more playing time. Giovani has improved and progressed by working hard. He is a good example. He has trained at playing the number six position and has done well in this role in matches.”
And when PSG were linked with a January move for defensive midfield specialist Lassana Diarra, Emery said unequivocally, “Lo Celso can play there. He is involved in the balance of the team and can contribute offensively.”
That has been made quite clear in the past few weeks with the youngster making more tackles on average than any other player in Ligue 1 (to have played more than 15 games according to WhoScored)
Lo Celso’s vision and passing has been evident since his senior debut but this tenacity and ball winning is an element to his game that is only now really coming to the fore.
PSG are benefitting now but so too could Argentina, who have struggled to balance the midfield arguably since Alejandro Sabella but certainly since Edgardo Bauza’s doomed tenure.
How Jorge Sampaoli will line up still isn’t clear and the need for a number ten to link those deeper players to Lionel Messi and a number nine may still be needed but what Lo Celso is now displaying is a versatility to play different midfield roles.
La Albiceleste had few genuine options of midfielders who could play box-to-box and have an effect on the game at both ends. Plenty who could scrap and win the ball and plenty who could sit behind the forward and create but few to combine the two: the artistry of the playmaker while getting your hands dirty further back.
Lo Celso could be that player and while it might not be his long-term position, Sampaoli may want to utilise it in March’s friendlies ahead of the World Cup, just as Emery has done so when needed.