Adrien Rabiot pushing hard for a regular place in PSG's midfield trio
Paris Saint-Germain take on FC Basel at St. Jakob-Park on Tuesday with a chance to advance from Group A to the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League with two matches to spare.
The French giants won 1-0 away at Lille OSC in Ligue 1 last Friday to pull level with second-placed AS Monaco but OGC Nice continue to lead the way a further six points ahead of the pair.
PSG's narrow win over LOSC was merited -- based on the number of chances created -- but it was still far from truly convincing. For the most part, it was similar to the dour 0-0 draw with Olympique de Marseille in Le Classique the week before -- plenty of the ball but not enough done with it.
The issue Unai Emery's men had in both the Lille and OM matches was that the midfield did not function as efficiently as it should and consequently, the French champions struggled.
This problem was not exclusive to these two games either; it has been happening since the team changed back to the possession-based 4-3-3 formation from the Laurent Blanc era.
Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi, as a trio, are not the force to be reckoned with that they once were. The familiarity is still there but they are no longer as effective in possession of the ball and the unit has become more laboured.
Luckily for Emery, he has a couple of potential solutions to the Motta, Verratti and Matuidi headache, with Adrien Rabiot pushing hard for a regular place in the starting XI and summer signing Grzegorz Krychowiak desperate for a chance to prove himself.
The France Under-21 international is a particularly interesting option and after an extremely strong start to the season, he is one the verge of forcing Emery's hand with regards to a regular role in the 44-year-old's strongest XI.
"It is not a surprise to those who know the players," Emery said in his pre-Basel news conference on Monday when asked if he was surprised by Rabiot's strong form so far this campaign. "I have seen him in previous years.
"He is a player for the present and the future of PSG.
"Don't forget the France national team. I believe he is happy and I know the club are too. He is working hard and PSG recognise that."
Defender Marquinhos joined his coach in lavishing praise upon his teammate, noting his talent and experience.
"Rabiot? He is already an important player," the Brazil international said. "He is progressing, becoming a man and embracing his responsibilities on the pitch -- even at difficult moments."
If Rabiot is the solution, then who should be identified as the problem? Motta has declined as a force massively over the past two years, while Verratti is struggling to get back to his best after groin surgery earlier this year and Matuidi -- although full of heart -- offers a limited amount technically.
PSG need to be able to get the ball forward as quickly and as often as possible so that Angel Di Maria and Lucas Moura can feed Edinson Cavani as many chances as they can create.
Verratti -- although not at his best right now -- can still carve out opportunities from deep with his long passing ability, while Matuidi is capable of lung-bursting runs forward to join the attack.
Although he is still technically proficient enough, Motta's lack of mobility makes him the obvious weakness in this midfield trio and the clear candidate to make way for Rabiot, who can play either the deep-lying role the veteran Italian occupies of one of Verratti or Matuidi's advanced ones.
Ultimately, a midfield three boasting Rabiot, Verratti and Matuidi is arguably the best way forward for Emery, certainly in terms of accommodating the younger Frenchman.
It would make PSG more dynamic and forward thinking in the middle of the pitch and the front three would benefit from seeing more of the ball in dangerous areas as a result.
The question is will Emery make these changes in order to give Rabiot the regular starting role he needs and deserves?
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.