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PSG becoming Champions League specialists in failure

By JEROME PUGMIREMarch 7, 2019
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PSG forward Kylian Mbappe reacts end of the Champions League round of 16, 2nd leg, soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, Wednesday, March. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
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PSG forward Kylian Mbappe reacts end of the Champions League round of 16, 2nd leg, soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, Wednesday, March. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS (AP) — There really are no excuses left for Paris Saint-Germain.

For the second time in three seasons, the cash-rich French club made the wrong kind of Champions League history in a competition it has never won.

PSG became the first team to be eliminated after winning the away leg 2-0, losing to Manchester United 3-1 on Wednesday. In 2017, it was the first team to be eliminated after winning the first leg 4-0, losing 6-1 at Barcelona.

Wednesday’s result was perhaps the most embarrassing.

Barcelona’s attacking lineup in 2017 included Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, arguably one of the best of all time. United, on the other hand, was without two key midfielders in Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, and going forward it was missing Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was forced to select players out of position, some of them inexperienced. But United still found a way to win — or rather PSG contrived to somehow lose.

All three of United’s goals stemmed from mistakes, two from defenders and one from PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. It underlined how — just like in Barcelona — the players were unable to cope with pressure.

Thomas Tuchel was hired to replace Unai Emery as coach and tasked with leading PSG to at least the Champions League semifinals. Marseille is the only French team to have won the competition, back in 1993, while Monaco has reached one final and three other semifinals.

But Tuchel has taken the club backward in terms of results.

Emery and predecessor Laurent Blanc were fired for perceived failures in Europe despite winning a domestic treble, something out of Tuchel’s reach.

PSG was eliminated from the League Cup following a humiliating home loss to Guingamp — the team in last place in the French league. In that match, PSG’s frailties were evident in conceding three second-half penalties. They were seemingly not addressed.

DEFENSIVE ERRORS

United’s opening goal in the second minute stemmed from a careless back pass from right back Thilo Kehrer.

The injury-time penalty, awarded after a video review, was given after center back Presnel Kimpembe jumped with his back to the ball and hit it with his right arm.

Buffon’s error, spilling Marcus Rashford’s long shot to striker Romelu Lukaku, was dismissed as a one-off error by the PSG coach.

Tuchel denied PSG’s players lack composure and mental strength in pressure games, despite overwhelming evidence from the United game and the Barcelona rout in 2017.

“We should not make the error to step into this trap, to build now a story out of it just to make our brain happy,” he said. “Because we all know as human beings, we love stories and we love logic. So for us it’s good to interpret it and good to understand the way that life goes.”

GOALIE CHOICE

Tuchel has not designated a clear No. 1 and No. 2 goalkeeper, alternating between Buffon and Alphonse Areola this season.

His decision to choose Buffon against United backfired.

While Buffon is one of soccer’s greats, at 41 his reflexes and agility are on the wane. In order to stay as sharp as possible he needed to be No. 1 all season, not swapping in and out with Areola.

RABIOT OMISSION

PSG midfielder Adrien Rabiot, sidelined because of a contract dispute , was sorely missed against United.

With PSG lacking midfielders, Tuchel has been using Marquinhos as a makeshift central midfielder alongside Marco Verratti. While Marquinhos is good enough to play there, he is also PSG’s best defender.

PSG spent 402 million euros ($452 million) on forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe two years ago, missing the chance to strengthen other areas.

TOO CASUAL

When Tuchel was told of Neymar’s Instagram rant against the video review officials who awarded the injury-time penalty against United, he smiled.

“Don’t be too harsh on him ... I wouldn’t over-interpret the use of his words in the heat of the (moment), Tuchel said. “It’s quickly typed into a smart phone.”

The response was perhaps indicative of excessive leniency toward the club’s stars, already evident when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was allowed days off to go hunting back home in Sweden.

After Wednesday’s loss, images circulated of Rabiot partying with a friend in a Paris night club.

Those that played were reportedly given four days off from training because PSG does not have a league game this weekend.

CULTURE OF COMPLACENCY

In 2017, two days before the return leg against Barcelona, the club released a video on YouTube called “Supper Club.” Four players sat around a table, eating pizzas and slurping soft drinks. Doubtless designed for online appeal, the casual tone smacked of taking Barcelona too lightly.

Earlier this season, Mbappe and Neymar arrived for a home game against Lille each wearing a face mask from a television series. It had appeal on social networks, but it was a frivolous scene you would not expect to see at a big club.

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