After hundreds of millions spent on assembling one of the most eye-watering teams of the last decade, Paris Saint-Germain are expected to consistently challenge for Europe’s riches and show why they are a dominant force to be reckoned with. However, even with Qatar’s state-owned enterprise behind them, they have stumbled at every major obstacle in their way. Will this season be any different?
Since Nasser Al-Khelaifi, a Qatari businessman who is the chairman of beIN Media Group, decided to take over the Parisian club back in 2011, a long-term dream and aspiration was for his PSG to be crowned champions of Europe and become one of the best teams in the world, emulating the FC Barcelona side under Pep Guardiola at the time.
However, such is the way football goes, it is never as easy as just lumping sums of money into the transfer market. In the six full seasons he has had in charge of the club, PSG have never managed to make it further than the quarter finals of the Champions League.
Against Barcelona, in 2017, Paris were destined to make it into the quarter finals after taking a whopping 4-0 lead to the Camp Nou, an unprecedented result that highlighted the chaotic mess the Catalonian club were in at the time.
However, even with such a lead, Barcelona, somehow, against all odds, clawed their way back into the second leg and won 6-1, claiming their place in the quarter finals. It was the epitome of embarrassment under Al-Khelaifi and, quite possibly, his worst moment as president of the Parisian club.
Ever since that shocking and humiliating defeat to the Spanish giant, PSG’s resilience and mentality has been questioned. While they have eased to five Ligue 1 titles under the Qatari’s ownership, there has always been a sense of underachievement when trying to deliver on the European stage. PSG are 1/12 to go on and win their sixth domestic title with Betfair, making it six trophies in seven years.
After bringing in stars such as Kylian Mbappé, Neymar Jr., Giangluigi Buffon and young hotshot prospect Thilo Kehrer over the past two transfer windows, PSG have assembled one of the most decorated teams in Europe for a number of years. But, as they found out when going up against Liverpool in their opening fixture in this season’s Champions League, they need to learn to play as a collective unit and not as individuals.
Thomas Tuchel, formerly of Borussia Dortmund, was brought in over the summer to replace the outgoing Unai Emery and get PSG’s hunt for the elusive European trophy back on track. Although the German doesn’t have any prior experience of winning the competition, his generational methods and fresh approach to the game inspired the PSG board to take the opportunity and allow him a fair crack of the whip.
Having won their opening five domestic games, PSG travelled to Liverpool with a renewed sense of optimism that this could be their year in the Champions League. They have the quality, they have the strength in the depth, they now have a manager who is, on paper, capable of winning it, and they have a year of playing together without any major disruption.
Yet, for one reason or another, they flopped. And flopped miserably. Although the 3-2 scoreline favours them somewhat, their performance was perhaps their worst in Europe since ‘Remontada’. There was a considerable lack of vibrancy, penetration and creativity going forward, as well as a defence that crumbled any time Jürgen Klopp’s Reds charged at them.
In all fairness, Tuchel was without star midfielder Marco Verratti through a card suspension he picked up against Real Madrid back in February, and the vacant hole in midfield was filled by central defender Marquinhos. Alongside Adrien Rabiot and Ángel di María in midfield, the Brazilian failed to carry out the same job Verratti would have done and it cost Paris Saint-Germain control over the game.
Along with Verratti, left back Layvin Kurzawa, right back Dani Alves and goalkeeper Buffon were missing from the starting line-up, causing Tuchel to shuffle the squad around and travel to Anfield with a much weaker squad than he would have wanted.
Liverpool, who made the final of last season’s Champions League, are going to be a tough team to beat this year, especially at the intimidating Anfield, but it was PSG’s performance that let them down. Without even remotely looking like a team, lacking that all important collective spirit and desire, PSG will once again find it difficult to reach the deeper rounds of this very challenging tournament.
While the Liverpool defeat will have been a major setback in Tuchel’s plans, PSG are still capable of correcting their wrongs and moving forward with complete confidence. Given the star-studded team they possess, it would be foolish to write them off at any point, but they must start showing signs of mental fortitude when coming up against Europe’s heavyweights.