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Misery in Paris: the complete failure of one of the greatest squads in football history

When Benzema completed his hat trick against PSG, many would have celebrated Real Madrid’s incredible Champions League pedigree, but the real takeaway from the game was simple: how have PSG failed so badly?

The Steve Nash Lakers, The England ‘golden generation’, the Dallas Cowboys for the last 20 years. The 2021/22 Paris Saint-Germain side has now joined these sides in the hall of shame for team failure. When Lionel Messi joined the Ligue 1 side, many had already crowned PSG as champions of their eligible competitions. Fast forward to early March, and the nine-time French champions have yet again failed to secure Europe’s top prize, this time failing to even make an appearance in the quarter-finals. Whilst it would be easy to look back and laugh at ourselves for our predictions, it was not a bold idea that a team containing the likes of Neymar, Mbappe, Verratti, Hakimi, Di Maria, Donnarumma, Ramos, and Messi could finally bring the Champions League to Paris.

Benzema shoots, Marquinhios slides to block the ball

This result can’t be dismissed as a one-off, as PSG (despite being top of the league) have lost three of their last four games in all competitions; as well as underperforming in recent weeks, PSG’s main man has failed to deliver on the lofty expectations that have been set for him. It is March, and Lionel Messi has two league goals. If you proposed that statement to a football fan when the news first dropped that Messi wasn’t going to be staying at Barcelona, you’d be laughed out of the building. Audrey Hepburn once famously stated “Paris is always a good idea”, but unless things change dramatically, one of football’s biggest ever stars may have good reason to disagree with that particular sentiment.

Lionel Messi on a pitch, looking forlorn

There’s a strong argument to be made that the current PSG squad is the most complete in football history. The team contains no notable flaws, with top-class players in every position, and world-class players in a number of them. The issues that were present before at full-back and in central midfield were negated by the signings of Nuno Mendes, Achraf Hakimi, and ex-Liverpool engine Gini Wijnaldum. An already strong defense (on paper, at least) was bolstered with the acquisition of legendary Spanish center-half Sergio Ramos. Messi was the cherry on top of an already stacked cake.

So, is the abstract failure of Les Parisiens down to the Argentine that many call the GOAT? Is the blame down to the Qatari ownership that has comprised a modern version of Real’s Galacticos? Whilst the answer is inevitably down to several factors, the largest is manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Mauricio Pochettino looks miserable in front of the subs bench

Some of PSG’s defending against La Real would’ve sent ex-manager Thomas Tuchel into fits of tears. With such a high-profile set of defenders, questions must be asked of the man that organizes them. As Karim Benzema added another accolade to his already-elite Champions League career, the oldest player to score a hat trick in the history of the competition, his ex-teammate Ramos was side-lined with injury; despite this, all four starting defenders feature regularly for their international sides. This is a world-class defense playing at a subpar level.

Pochettino has a myriad of different styled midfielders to pick from, yet chose a midfield that got run ragged by a 36-year-old Luka Modric. Danilo Pereira was chosen over Idrissa Gana Gueye, who has often been the underrated difference-maker in the center of the park, winning the ball back in a similar fashion to Kante for Chelsea; Marco Verratti, one of the most technically skilled midfielders on the planet, has failed to produce to demonstrate the full extent of his abilities in a system that isn’t built to get the best out of him. Poch has failed miserably at getting the same player out of Gini Wijnaldum that Klopp managed to over his five seasons on Merseyside. Wijnaldum was an unused substitute against Madrid. This is a Champions League midfield that, at times, appeared to be playing at a Championship level.

Pochettino embraces Ancelotti, shaking his hand

Some may say that the issues with PSG’s attack, and getting the best out of Messi, comes from a “too many cooks” perspective, the idea that having three players as good as Neymar, Messi, and Mbappe together means that you will inevitably not be able to get the best out of all three. This is not true. History tells us that great managers can get the best out of stacked attacks. Pep Guardiola has consistently challenged for, and won titles, with between four and six starting quality attackers at Man City; Carlo Ancelotti won the Champions League with an attack of Bale, Ronaldo, and Benzema; Luis Enrique achieved the same feat with two of the players Poch has in his current attack, Messi and Neymar, who was complimented with the talent of Luis Suarez. Messi may have regressed from the level he was at during the age of MSN, but Neymar has improved his game to make up for that. Pochettino has no excuse for not outscoring his opposition every game. With Neymar failing to score a Champions League goal (with only four in the league), and Messi putting up the worst numbers of his career, Pochettino has arguably the best attack ever not looking far better than average.

Neymar is bent forward, hands on knees.

Individual players do deserve criticism, the number of players who looked far from their best in crucial games such as the second leg against Real, the Coupe de France round of 16 against Nice and, away at the Etihad demonstrates that the issue is with the conductor, not the band. Whilst Pochettino took Tottenham Hotspur to impressive heights, he failed to take the club to the next step and win a trophy that the white half of North London is so desperate for. For two clubs that found themselves in relatively similar positions when they were appointed, it would be hard to compare Pochettino’s time at Tottenham to the miracle work Klopp has pulled off with Liverpool. With so many world-class assets in Paris, the only thing that is missing is a truly world-class manager. Thomas Tuchel took PSG to a Champions League final with a weaker team, and with the German manager demonstrating unbelievable defensive coaching weekly with new side Chelsea, the owners of France’s richest club may be regretting the decision to fire him.

Written by Sam Houston

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