Julian Draxler's move to midfield has rejuvenated his PSG career, for now
PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain's Julian Draxler is enjoying a new lease of life in the French capital after being reinvented as a central midfielder.
Because of the surplus of attacking talent the Ligue 1 giants now possess after the summer signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and the Germany international's late return to action after an impressive Confederations Cup campaign in Russia, he lost his place in Unai Emery's starting XI for the start of this season.
However, Thiago Motta's frequent unavailability created a hole in midfield, which was exacerbated by PSG's failure to sign a replacement for the Italian veteran and the summer departure of Blaise Matuidi to Juventus.
Emery needed to find a way to add to his options in the middle of the pitch and although Javier Pastore or Angel Di Maria were more obvious fits and youth academy graduates like Christopher Nkunku and Lorenzo Callegari also available, the Spaniard made Draxler his utility man of choice.
The former Sevilla boss is a big fan of the 24-year-old and after his first six months or so at Parc des Princes, it was easy to see why. Draxler is versatile, technically gifted and consistent in front of goal and combined well with Di Maria and Edinson Cavani in attack.
However, there was no doubt that as good as the former VfL Wolfsburg and Schalke 04 man was with his 10 goals and one assist from 24 appearances across all competitions, that PSG still needed attacking reinforcements.
The decision to sign Neymar and Mbappe were understandable for a number of reasons, but the choice to boot Draxler out of the starting XI was not. Speculation understandably surrounded his future for the final few weeks of the transfer window, which is strange for a player who has been at a club for less than 12 months.
Les Parisiens' No. 23 was never going to be satisfied as a substitute, while Emery was itching to somehow accommodate his ability in his starting XI -- either as part of a possession-based 4-3-3 or an attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation. So, in choosing to blend Draxler with Adrien Rabiot and Marco Verratti, Emery has actually pulled off a masterstroke -- he has unearthed a very capable central midfielder.
It might not be Draxler's ideal position and Emery might still fancy him further forward but until PSG have regulated the excess of attacking talent they possess at present, a place in the XI in midfield is better than a substitute role in a FIFA World Cup campaign for Germany.
Draxler was excellent in the French capital outfit's recent 5-0 win away at Angers, grabbing a delightful goal and an intelligent assist in what was his most complete performance in his new position to date.
Draxler also looked good in the same role during PSG's 6-2 thumping of Bordeaux back in late September and scored a sumptuous goal while adding an assist there as well.
With Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar all commanding starting spots and Di Maria relegated to the role of luxury substitute, Draxler's switch into midfield is a happy compromise for all involved -- for now. While Bayern Munich are said to be sniffing around as they look for replacements for ageing stars Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Draxler is helping PSG make it through until the January transfer window and being kept satisfied enough by featuring regularly.
Whether it is a long-term fit for player and club, only time will tell. There is no denying that Draxler has started very well in midfield, though, and that it could also be a future option for him at international level.
A source close to PSG has told ESPN FC that Rabiot is likely to renew his contract in the coming months and considering the France international's preference for a more advanced role, Draxler may well find himself back on the bench if Motta returns or a new defensive midfielder -- possibly Inter Milan's Joao Mario -- arrives.
PSG are not only going to be in the market for new signings in January, though, they will also be looking to loan out promising youngsters like Alec Georgen, Nkunku and Callegari and trim the fat in attack.
Lucas Moura, Pastore and Hatem Ben Arfa have all been told they can leave, while Di Maria could be sacrificed if no offers or potential player exchanges -- such as with Inter for Mario -- look possible. All of this plays into Draxler's and Valencia loan sensation Goncalo Guedes' hands looking forward but there is still no guarantee of regular starting roles.
Emery has stumbled upon a tactic that should ensure that Draxler remains happy until January or possibly until the end of the season, increasing PSG's chances of being able to hold on to him and that is something they should do if they at all can.
What the boss now needs to do, though, is to decide if he ultimately sees a place in his starting XI for Draxler in attack or midfield and if the gifted German is happy with that. If not, perhaps Draxler is better off looking into Bayern's reported interest moving forward and if Emery does not keep his job past the end of his contract next summer, it might also be somebody else's problem.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.