Paris Saint-Germain suffered a surprise 2-0 defeat to AS Monaco at the Parc Des Princes on Sunday, Feb. 21, less than a week after thrashing Spanish giant FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League.
“Les Monegasques” dominated the Parisian sophisticants from the start, with an almost inhumane press throughout the entirety of the match that did not let PSG get comfortable with possession.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men lined up with practically the exact same lineup they put out against the Catalans. Keylor Navas was in goal, Layvin Kurzawa and Alessandro Florenzi made up the fullbacks and the center half partnership of Presenal, Kimpembe and Marquinhos captained the backline. The sole change came in the middle of the park, as midfielder Ander Herrera replaced fellow midfielder Marco Verratti. Idrissa Gana Gueye and Leandro Paredes played just in front of the Spaniard, and the front three was made up of Kylian Mbappe and Moise Kean on the wings, with Mauro Icardi as the sole forward.
Paris knew it was going up against a different Monaco team under first year head coach Niko Kovac, who has revitalized a club that were nearly relegated to Ligue 2 in 2019. Moreover, Kovac’s men defeated PSG in November of 2020, coming back from 2-0 down to snatch a 3-2 victory at the death.
This time, however, it would be Monaco who struck first. Five minutes into the contest, center attacking midfielder Kevin Volland found right wing-back Ruben Aguilar at the far post, who played it across his body to an open Sofiane Diop with the attacking midfielder simply heading it into the net to put the wealthy microstate up 1-0.
From then on, Paris consistently tried but failed to break down Monaco’s staunch defensive setup, as all of Kovac’s men remained tactically disciplined. Most importantly, Monaco did not let the opposition breathe on the ball, as they frequently pressed the Parisian players and double or triple teamed best attacking player in Mbappe.
PSG went into the dressing room frustrated, while Monaco were more than content with its first half performance.
Despite the chance to regroup at the half, Pochettino’s attempt to motivate a team who were getting absolutely dominated fell on deaf ears. The second half began, and Monaco was once again a step ahead of the Parisians, as if it wanted it more than a team who were clearly still on cloud nine after destruction of Barcelona.
The Monegasque club would strike five minutes into the half once again as center back Benoit Badiashile’s low cross into the box deflected off Kimpembe in the direction of Herrera. The Spaniard’s poor attempt to clear the ball was intercepted by Badiashile’s center back partner, Guillermo Maripan, who placed it into the bottom right corner to beat Navas and give Monaco the 2-0 lead.
This early goal would truly affect Paris’s mentality for the rest of the half, as the confidence they had coming out of the break was destroyed from the offset. Each attack would be continuously stifled by the opposition’s defense, or the squad as a whole would make avoidable errors that stemmed from its desperate urge to find the breakthrough.
Whereas the insertions of Verratti and Rafinha Alcantara in the 51st minute were meant to give energy to a team in desperate need of life, their impact was simply not enough to change the momentum of the match. They did create more fluidity in the final third, but the fullbacks’ service into the box was simply not good enough to beat a backline who had Mbappe, Icardi and Kean in their back pockets the entire night.
The final whistle blew, and the principality club would take all three points. Monaco became the first team to do the double over PSG since AS Nancy in 2011/12, according to French media outlets Stats Du Foot and Get French Football News.
Most importantly, Pochettino has only picked up 19 points from his first nine matches, the worst record for a Parisian manager under Qatari ownership, according to Get French Football News. In spite of its victory against Barcelona, it seems as if Paris have issues that lie under the surface. The Catalan giants are a shell of what they once were, and one must question how impressive a victory over such a dreadful side truly is. As a result, if PSG does not sort out its problems, they will most definitely come back to haunt them when they face better and more talented squads in the Champions League (of course, Paris first has to hold off Barcelona in the second leg of round of 16 bout).
Pochettino took full responsibility for the squad’s lackluster performance in the post-match press conference: “The first person responsible is the manager and I take responsibility for it. When you lose, the first person responsible is the manager and I fully assume it.”
There are two issues that face the Argentine manager, with one more easy to solve than the other. First, we’ll start with the big concern, and that is the fullbacks. Pochettino’s system relies on great fullbacks due to the fact that he plays with inverted wingers, which leaves lots of space out wide to be filled up by, in this case, Kurzawa and Florenzi. The harsh reality is that they are simply not good enough; their services into the box are subpar, and they are greatly limited in the attack.
Now, the second issue just comes down to mentality. Of course, changing the squad’s mindset can also be a difficult task, but it is much more feasible. On multiple occasions this season, PSG has switched off in crucial situations; this was seen in both of Monaco’s goals.
The first one saw Florenzi far too high up the pitch, and Kurzawa incorrectly take up Marquinhos’ man, which left Volland open at the far post. Moreover, Gueye was caught ball watching, and failed to get back to Diop on time. Maripan’s goal after the break saw Herrera try to play out from his own box, despite being under a large amount of pressure. This allowed the Chilean to cut off his pass, and score Monaco’s second goal.
In short, the Parisian coaching staff have a tall task on their hands. They are not going to be able to bid for other fullbacks until the Summer, which means they’ll have to get the most out of Kurzawa and Florenzi for the time being. Additionally, PSG must change its mindset as a collective if they wish to achieve domestic and European glory.
Paris now sits third in the table, one point behind second place Olympique Lyonnais and four points back from LOSC Lille at the top. They’ll have a shot to get back to winning ways on Saturday, Feb. 27. when they travel to the Stade Gaston Gerard to face last-place Dijon FCO.