That Paris Saint-Germain are chasing a striker in this transfer window is not much of a secret.

The club have been mentioned publicly in conversations around some of Europe’s most in-demand forwards, including Harry Kane of Tottenham and Napoli’s Victor Osimhen. The assumption is that it is all tied to the future of Kylian Mbappe, their all-time leading goalscorer, whose contract saga escalated over the past week.

Mbappe is now up for sale having been left behind from the club’s pre-season tour to Japan and South Korea.

Naturally, PSG will need to replace his goal return long-term should he depart this summer, but it is only partially true that their pursuit of a centre-forward hinges on Mbappe’s state of play. PSG want — no, make that need — a new striker regardless.

It is an area of their squad that has required improvement for some time. It was a noticeable weak point last season even as they won the French title again and, for some, it is a need that has not been truly addressed since Edinson Cavani’s departure in the summer of 2020.

Financially, Mbappe’s situation will move the dial over what is feasible and what is not in the market.

Securing a significant transfer fee for the 24-year-old France captain would expand horizons, particularly as PSG have had to tread carefully to comply with UEFA’s financial fair play regulations in recent windows. This summer, they have already committed to spending more than €126million (£107.9m; $138.6m) in transfer fees on Lucas Hernandez, Lee Kang-in and Manuel Ugarte, and that does not include the reported €35m still due to fellow French club Reims for Hugo Ekitike, who spent last season on loan at PSG with an obligation to buy written into that deal.

Further departures are expected to help, with Marco Verratti now likely to join Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.

But PSG have to think both of the longer term post-Mbappe and the short term in their striker pursuit.

That’s why Atalanta’s Rasmus Hojlund has entered the picture. PSG made an offer worth €50million yesterday (Thursday) for the 20-year-old Denmark international striker, rivalling Manchester United, who themselves have made a verbal offer worth €50m with a further €10m in add-ons.

Hojlund, the Denmark and Atalanta striker, is much coveted (Photo: Jure Makovec / AFP via Getty Images)

PSG are unlikely to improve their opening bid for Hojlund.

The club feel Atalanta’s valuation of the player is excessive and, therefore, their proposal is essentially “take it or leave it”. With United potentially going higher again and depending on the structure of the respective offers, PSG may have to look elsewhere. They have been watching multiple targets; Kane’s situation is being monitored, Osimhen is admired but expensive, while Dusan Vlahovic and Randal Kolo Muani are among others on their radar.

PSG are not just thinking in terms of a source of goals for future seasons, though that is a key consideration. There is a tactical element around the need for a focal point.

Mbappe has played through the middle before for the club, yet the ‘pivot gang’ incident, where he spoke of the freedom he has for the national team when playing off centre-forward Olivier Giroud compared to the restricted nature of life in the PSG team, then used the hashtag #pivotgang after a goalless draw with Reims, all but put an end to that as a long-term option.

He is most effective playing from the left and, should he depart, PSG have options who can play as a left forward — not least Neymar and new signing Lee.

The fact PSG have two players, in Neymar and Mbappe, who are most effective off the left side underlines their squad balance issues over recent seasons. That is evidenced at the top end of the pitch.

A key issue PSG confronted during their difficult final six months under last season’s coach Christophe Galtier was trying to find that balance going forward. With Neymar out through injury, Mbappe and Lionel Messi led the attack in a 3-5-2, but neither would act as the team’s focal point. Mbappe tended to drift wide left while Messi was forever dropping into midfield.

Galtier compensated by using a midfielder, whether Vitinha or Carlos Soler, as a makeweight. They would make reverse movements with Messi to stand at the top of the pitch. This proved an awkward remedy and was particularly demanding on the team’s midfielders.

Under new coach Luis Enrique, the early signs are that there will be limited deviation from his historic preference for a 4-3-3 setup, so the need for a focal point remains.

What form that striker will take in the Spaniard’s system is a key question, as he has alternated with different profiles in the past. He has opted to start his first two pre-season matches with new signing Marco Asensio in attack, rather than Ekitike. The French youngster is a more traditional centre-forward but only 12 of his 25 appearances last year were starts, partly as Galtier felt he was competing for a spot with Mbappe, Messi and Neymar.

Asensio has played as Luis Enrique’s No 9 in pre-season (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

That was always likely to count against him, irrespective of the balance his profile might offer the collective. After a return of only three league goals, it seems the decision has been made to look elsewhere, with Ekitike yet to start this pre-season under Luis Enrique.

Instead, Asensio has taken the early mantle, a decision reminiscent of the latter stages of Luis Enrique’s tenure as Spain head coach. Asensio initially impressed in the role as a false nine for Spain; he assisted against Switzerland in the Nations League last September then continued in that role at the World Cup.

“When (Asensio) came with us in June and September he did well, but now he is at another level,” Luis Enrique said after his assist in a 3-1 win over Jordan in a pre-tournament warm-up friendly. “He has been superb as a No 9, linking the play. We have limited his movement around the pitch so that he appears more in the zones where he can do damage and he has been superb.”

Spain would ultimately bow out of the World Cup following another ‘death by a thousand passes’ display against Morocco in the round of 16, where they had 77 per cent possession, one shot on target in 120 minutes, drew 0-0 and then lost on penalties. Asensio has never really had a strong goalscoring record; he has only scored twice for Spain in 37 caps while, at club level, he has very rarely reprised the role of a No 9.

It is early days yet, but the way Asensio has played in pre-season — against fellow French side Le Havre in a 2-0 win before PSG flew to the Far East and in a goalless draw with Saudi’s Al Nassr in Japan — does suggest Luis Enrique is not set on a false nine as this team’s preferred approach.

Asensio, if anything, has been playing as a more orthodox centre-forward.

He will drop to link the play at times, but he has also been trying to run the channels and stick on the shoulder of a central defender. To that end, he has shown himself to be an effective option who would allow Luis Enrique to cycle through different permutations in attack.

Yet Asensio will never be a traditional centre-forward and his instincts will always be to drift between the lines as a high-touch player. PSG’s wide players — whether Mbappe, Neymar or Lee — prefer to step infield to dictate an attack, nominally occupying the space the Spaniard might occupy as a false nine. A more natural No 9 would leave that space open for the wingers to use for their darts inside.

As it is, though, the head coach has Asensio and the unfancied Ekitike as the only current options. Given PSG’s ambitions, that is simply not enough.

Ekitike has yet to start a friendly under Luis Enrique (Photo: Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)

And this is why PSG have gone for Hojlund, a player with the rounded qualities of a No 9, both in terms of his speed down the channels and his presence to pin a defender. It is notable that he is admired by Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, another proponent of a 4-3-3 positional system. Whether this transfer battle evolves remains to be seen, considering PSG’s threat to walk away.

But the two clubs are certainly fishing in the same pond, and that may continue regardless of where Mbappe plays his football in September.



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