Whilst Paris come into the hotly anticipated second leg 3-1 down, they have a 3 successive times Europa League winner at the helm, some of the biggest stars in the world and they may be able to simply throw money away like there’s no tomorrow, but why do they continue to falter in the one trophy they are desperate for?
Well first and foremost they are simply just not a team, it’s Neymar v. The World. I’ve watched them many times during their Ligue 1 campaign and Neymar has been in scintillating form and carried them through games and that’s fine in the French League, but not in Europe. The 8-0 demolition of Dijon earlier on in the year completely sums this up, Neymar hardly passed the ball to his team mates instead electing to go on his own, netting a measly 4 goals in the game. His mindset slightly changed once Mbappe came off the bench with Neymar more than happy to pass to his new best-friend culminating in Neymar’s only assist of the match. The penalty awarded in the 83rd minute showed Neymar’s true colours once again, Cavani was 1 goal away from becoming PSG’s all-time top goalscorer so what better way to achieve this than with a penalty. Neymar had already scored 3 so surely anyone in his position would be more than happy to let their teammate go down in history? Nope not the prodigal son Neymar, he demanded the ball and scored to a chorus of boos emanating from the Parisian crowd. Whilst you may argue that Neymar won the penalty and thus rightly deserved to take it, the game in the Serie A of Roma v. Benevento shows how it should be done. Dzeko had the chance to get himself higher on the goal scorers chart, instead granted the penalty to Defrel in an opportunity to get him his first Roma goal. Whilst the one man approach may be successful in a league that was wrapped up before the kick of a ball with their acquisition of Monaco’s starlet, it is clearly not an approach that is going to be fruitful in a competition that features Europe’s elite. The example of Leicester City back in the 15/16 season showed the world that teams win trophies, not individuals, a lesson that Neymar will soon have to learn if he wants to go down as one of the greatest players in history.
Defensively they aren’t good enough either for a Champions League winning team. Yes, they beat Bayern 3-0 in the group stages, but that was a Bayern who only a few weeks later sacked their manager seemingly because he had lost the favour of the dressing room. In the reverse fixture Bayern made a meal of PSG’s defensive vulnerability beating them 3-1, this should have been an early warning sign with Bayern yet to be firing at full capacity fairly comfortably getting the better of a team touted to be one of the favourites for the trophy. An ageing Dani Alves and Thiago Silva are no longer the backbone of a truly great defence, 3 or 4 years ago maybe but not in 2018, thrown in with Yuri Bechiche and Areola it doesn’t scream solid but instead cries of frailty. Kimpembe and Marquinhos both look like they may have great futures ahead of them but how long will Paris be able to keep hold of them for if the superpowers come calling? PSG have all the money in the world to strengthen but if their recruitment is anything like it was this summer, they’re not going to progress. Buying Neymar and Mbappe was great for increasing their commercial value, but it was like spending all your money on a Ferrari to nip down to the shops when your boiler has packed in. Monaco were not going to be able to keep up their form from the previous season – the league was PSG’s to lose from the start, yet like myself on Football Manager, they couldn’t resist throwing their whole budget on players that they didn’t really need. The acquisition of Guedes was an extremely good purchase but who knows how much longer he will be there for, with his current form at Valencia he’s going to want to start games and if Paris can’t offer him that then one of their smarter signings could be heading for the exit door. As Sir Alex Ferguson once proclaimed, “attack wins you games, defence wins you titles”, this was no more true than in PSG’s last Champions League campaign against Barcelona. The 4-0 lead after the first leg was unassailable, the tie was all wrapped up neatly with Paris cementing their place as one of the greatest teams in Europe. Then disaster hit, as good as Barcelona are, to lose 6-1 is unthinkable. So exactly 1 year and 6 days later the same 4 defenders still make up their back-line so it comes as no surprise that their search for the Champions League trophy has hit a major roadblock and will continue to do so until they recruit players they actually need.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the French league holds them back and until the league itself improves overall PSG will never win the Champions League. When you’re winning comfortably week-in week-out complacency is an issue and there is no impetus to implement the changes they need to get to the next level – it just papers over the cracks. Take Giovani Lo Celso for example, the defensive midfielder has been immense for Paris in Ligue 1 averaging 3.65 tackles per game (Squawka) which trumps both N’Golo Kante and Casemiro, yet he was probably the worst player against Madrid because he struggled to take his game to that next level. The notion that Ligue 1 is filled with farmers is obviously untrue, but the standard is a lot lower than that of the other top European leagues where teams like Man City, Barcelona, Bayern and Juve face tests almost every single game so stepping up to Champions League standard is not difficult as they have to play to their highest standard every week. Monaco’s brief foray into Europe this season demonstrates this worrying standard exceptionally, the second-best team in France that put Man City to the sword last year found themselves 4th in one of the weakest groups in the competition. Without constant competition every week a team is never going to perform to their highest level and for the foreseeable future this is going to remain the same and Paris won’t reach the heights that they so desire.
However, football is a wonderful creation and who knows what will happen in the second leg against Madrid, with Neymar looking like he’s out injured for a few weeks with a nasty ankle injury suffered against Marseille, it will be interesting to see how PSG operate without him. Mbappe will have to show the world he’s the superstar he can be, and Di Maria will need to continue his fine form otherwise it could be curtains for the Parisians. Madrid’s domestic form this season suggests that the tie could still be open, but a defeat appears the more likely. Even if they do manage to overcome Los Blancos the thought of them facing someone like Man City or Barcelona is truly worrying and could easily see Unai Emery’s head role come the end of the season.