It was simultaneously a week to remember and a week to forget for Paris Saint-Germain, who was able to hold on against FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League to advance to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, the club fell to an inferior FC Nantes side in Ligue 1.
Although some PSG supporters may have been ecstatic when the final whistle blew on Wednesday, March 10, the reality is that any non-delusional fan knows that the club of the capital held on by the skin of its teeth, and even that is an understatement.
In what can only be classed as the worst performance Paris has had in domestic and European competitions this season, the players acted with a fear and cautiousness that is attributed to small clubs. Although the Qatari-backed institution has massive amounts of cash and some of football’s greatest talents, the harsh and bitter reality is that their artificial-ness shows when they go up against massive, historical clubs in Europe’s most competitive tournament. No amount of money, fame or notoriety can combat this.
From the opening minutes, Paris sat back and allowed Barcelona to hold on to the majority of possession, and attack them at will (something they would have done regardless, as they were down by four goals). However, the defense looked extremely shaky and lacked the stability that is needed when one concedes possession and attempts to counter attack the opponent.
Paris’ inability to effectively defend led to three massive opportunities for Barcelona in the opening 25 minutes. In the 10th minute, forward Ousmane Dembele was able to get in behind PSG center backs Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe to receive a ball from left back Jordi Alba. The French international took a touch before shooting it towards Paris goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who was able to get down and save the shot.
Then, in the 18th minute, Dembele was able to get in behind Paris’ center back partnership again, as he received a ball from winger Lionel Messi that he shot towards net. If it wasn’t for the outstretched left hand of Navas, the Catalans would have struck first.
Finally, in the 22nd minute, Barcelona center midfielder Sergio Busquets found a wide open Sergino Dest in Paris’s final third. The right back dribbled towards Paris left back Layvin Kurzawa, and upon reaching the 18-yard box, cut out and smashed it towards the top of the net. Navas was just able to get his fingertips on the ball to redirect it toward the crossbar.
Messi found the back of the net in the 37th minute, and Kurzawa gave away a penalty just before the half to give Barcelona the chance to cut its deficit to only two goals. Nevertheless, Navas once again came up huge and kept out Messi’s penalty, something that proved to be a massive blow to Barcelona’s morale, as they were never quite able to recover.
Clearly, the heroic efforts of the Costa Rican international are the only reason as to why Paris did not suffer a second “remontada.” This dreadful performance is another example of how easily the squad can collapse; of course, we saw it in 2017 when Barcelona came back from 5-1 down to win 6-5 on aggregate, and it emerged again against Manchester United in 2019, when the Parisians blew a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 on aggregate.
If there is one thing that I can guarantee, it’s that PSG will come nowhere close to lifting the big-eared trophy if they perform like this in the next rounds of the competition. Furthermore, other teams will not be as forgiving as Barcelona, and will make Paris pay for careless errors.
Clearly, the Parisians’ poor form against the Catalans followed them into their league match against FC Nantes at the Parc Des Princes on Sunday, March 14. Pochettino’s men were stunned 2-1 in a loss that, in all honesty, should not be surprising to anyone who has watched the squad’s performances in recent weeks.
Paris dominated the majority of possession and created a lot of chances in Nantes’ final third. Without a doubt, their attack seemed to be running on all cylinders, even without midfielder Neymar Jr. On the other hand, the defensive abilities of the back line and midfield were as bad, if not worse, as they were against Barcelona. Massive gaps were found by the Nantes attackers, along with careless mistakes that ultimately led to Nantes’ equalizer in the 59th minute by forward Randal Kolo Muani.
Soon after, Marquinhos’ and Kimpembe’s inability to read a ball coming towards them allowed Muani to get in behind and square it to his fellow forward Moses Simon, who passed it into the net to give the “Yellow Submarine” a 2-1 lead with twenty minutes left in the contest. Paris had many chances to find the equalizer, but lacked composure in the final third of the match. Ultimately, Simon’s goal would be enough for Nantes, as the relegation-bound side picked up a crucial three points.
This result means PSG will remain second in the league table, three points back of league leaders LOSC Lille. A Parisian victory would have catapulted them to first, but they’ll have to wait another week before attempting to leapfrog Christophe Galtier’s men. Even more worrisome is the fact that this loss now means third place Olympique Lyonnais is now level on point with the Parisians, and if Paris drop points in their next contest, Lyonnais have a chance of overtaking them in second.
Overall, there seems to be a lethargic attitude inside of the dressing room that needs to be addressed before it costs them in domestic or European competitions. It seems as if the players have become a little too comfortable in their starting roles, and they believe no one can relegate them to the bench. As a result, the best possible solution for Pochettino is to change the lineup in order to humble and motivate his players, as they will realize that their starting roles are not guaranteed.
Time will tell if the sacking of Thomas Tuchel in December and the acquisition of Pochettino in January was the right decision. But as of now, it seems as if the desire to bring about a positive change may have actually proven to be counterproductive.