A whirlwind of speculation has gathered pace over the relationship between Paris Saint-Germain forwards Neymar and Edinson Cavani over the last fortnight.
Since the duo squabbled over set-piece responsibilities in a 2-0 win over Lyon at Parc des Princes, their compatibility has been the focus of the media and will, no doubt, continue to come under scrutiny in the weeks ahead.
But this battle to become alpha male in the French capital rather ignores the fact that there is set to be one other giant loser at PSG over the months to come: Julian Draxler, a player, who, at 24, should be approaching his prime.
Even if relations between Cavani and Neymar are strained they will have to be totally broken before head coach Unai Emery drops the Uruguayan, for there is no chance of Cavani being asked to partake in a spell on the bench after nine goals in as many games.
The 30-year-old has made himself indispensable due to his goal record under the Spaniard, with whom he finally graduated to his preferred role at centre-forward having played three years in the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic doing the Swede’s grunt work on the wing.
That represents a major issue for the Germany international, who arrived in Paris last January for a fee of around €40 million after a troubled spell at Wolfsburg. Once considered the golden boy of the Bundesliga, things have never quite clicked for him since departing Schalke.
At Wolfsburg he was booed by his own fans after never quite fitting into the system of the team, and after a promising start in France he is suffering from a similar issue.
Although Emery is, by reputation, a coach who prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation, he has primarily gone with 4-3-3 since arriving at PSG in the summer of 2016. It is the system in which his side look best balanced, yet with the front three of Neymar, Cavani and Kylian Mbappe looking untouchable, at least for now, that leaves little room for Draxler.
When the Germany international has been used this season, it has been away from his preferred role on the wing. In the absence of Marco Verratti due to a three-match domestic ban, Emery moved back to his preferred system and went with a 4-2-3-1, in which Draxler was handed the keys to the No.10 role in Javier Pastore’s injury-enforced absence.
He was fighting a losing battle, though. In a position that requires the practitioner to be able to win space, Neymar’s instinct to drift inside from the left wing impinged on Draxler’s ability to do his job. He was rendered ineffective and does not have a goal or assist yet in Ligue 1 from 240 minutes of football.
By contrast, Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani have 18 between them – and that’s not even including the own goals that the latter two provoked against Lyon.
Given the chance to impress in Neymar’s absence against Montpellier last Friday, he cut a ghostly figure as the Parisians toiled to a scoreless draw – the first time they had been shut out in 18 Ligue 1 matches.
It was not a performance fatal to Draxler’s chances of nailing down a regular berth, but it will count against him in what is stacking up to be an increasingly problematic season, in which he will have to battle with Pastore, Lucas Moura and Angel Di Maria for scraps of game time.
Only two months ago, in July, this looked likely to be the campaign that Draxler made his big breakthrough. He had starred for Germany in the Confederations Cup, taking up the mantle of team leader and driving a hugely inexperienced group to victory against the odds. In recognition of his achievements, he was named the tournament’s outstanding player.
But back in Paris, as has been the story with Draxler’s career to date, bad news was brewing, as a bid for Neymar was being finalised and another for Mbappe was being formulated.
Additionally, the competition that gave him both renewed impetus and visibility would, ironically, present another hurdle.
“I was back at training a bit later after the Confederations Cup and had some catching up to do on the others,” he told Deutsche Welle.
“I had to fight in training but now I’m going forward step by step. I will give my everything to be in the starting XI and I’m convinced that I have got that in my locker.”
His belief in his ability is commendable, but none of PSG’s golden trio, who were signed at a combined cost of over €350m, are currently expendable. Their system, meanwhile, looks well balanced.
Only with injuries, suspension or an escalation of tensions in the battle between Neymar and Cavani can Draxler save his PSG career.
The German might have promised Bayern Munich a “great attacking spectacle” when they visit Paris on Wednesday, but the chances are he will not be a major part of it.