Giovani Lo Celso should continue his midfield apprenticeship vs. Dijon
PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain host Dijon in Ligue 1 on Wednesday with the chance to pull further clear of the chasing pack after Monaco dropped further points at home to Nice on Tuesday.
Lyon could remain within 11 points of the French capital outfit if they can win away at Guingamp, but PSG's current lead is arguably already unassailable.
Coach Unai Emery has Neymar back in his squad but is without Thiago Motta, which means that either Adrien Rabiot or Giovani Lo Celso will start in defensive midfield, depending on who else the Spaniard wants to field in the middle.
Regardless of whether or not Emery wants to start Julian Draxler as one of his three midfielders, Lo Celso should be given the chance to continue his run of matches in the deep-lying role.
Speaking about the Argentina international at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, the Basque tactician was full of praise for Les Parisiens' No. 18 as he continues his conversion from further up the pitch.
"Giovani arrived at the club a year ago and has worked very hard and patiently to create opportunities for himself," Emery told journalists at Camp des Loges. "He played one minute, then two, then 15... He 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 No. 6 position in training and he has done well in this role in matches."
Lo Celso has done very well when played as an alternative to Motta of late -- surprisingly so -- and his ability to play in that position has also relieved Rabiot, who can play there but is better and personally prefers to be deployed in one of the two more advanced berths.
The 21-year-old from Rosario is naturally a more attacking player and his creative streak makes him more similar to Javier Pastore than Motta, but his tenacity also makes the defensive midfield role workable for him and at this stage in his development, where he needs minutes, it is important that he is getting onto the pitch regularly.
Mid-table Dijon are not the toughest of opponents but not exactly walkovers either, and their desire to play good football and not shut up shop at every opportunity makes an entertaining midweek encounter a possibility.
Lo Celso would benefit greatly by being heavily involved in this, especially with Lyon away to come on Sunday and the potential return of Motta from his latest injury setback.
Emery praised Olivier Dall'Oglio's men ahead of the match, and keeping in mind their quality in midfield, a repeat of the coherent Lo Celso, Rabiot and Marco Verratti triumvirate from Nantes is not a bad idea.
"Two years ago, Dijon deserved to be promoted," the former Sevilla boss said. "Last year they played very good football. They try to play entertaining football and pass the ball around.
"Dijon have quality players like Kwon [Chang-hoon] and [Frederic] Sammaritano. I am sure that they will show a lot of character against us. They like to dominate possession.
"They are an unusual side and I like the way they play football."
Like Dijon, Lo Celso is an unusual fit in Motta's deep-lying role and arguably not a long-term one, but he is working there for now.
Emery would be better off continuing his development in the role at Parc des Princes on Wednesday than going with Rabiot or even right-back Dani Alves there -- as he did when PSG won 2-1 in Dijon back in October.
Outside of his midfield poser, Emery has a few things to consider ahead of Lyon at the weekend.
Thomas Meunier will be hungry for another start after being unimpressed by his teammates' collective attitude in Amiens the last time he played from the off, and Yuri Berchiche will be keen to cement his place in the starting XI ahead of the trip to Groupama Stadium with a potential start against Real Madrid in the Champions League edging closer.
With Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar -- MCN -- all back in the squad for the first time in 2018, Emery could utilise his strongest front three against one of Ligue 1's most porous defences.
Whatever he decides, Lo Celso deserves to be one of the first names on his team sheet for this game.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.