Paris Saint-Germain’s glitzy off-season recruitment campaign has been hailed as the best in European football and designed to lead PSG to Champions League glory.
But that fell flat completely as goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s error against Real Madrid on Wednesday night led to yet another capitulation in football’s elite competition.
Now, PSG only have the league title to hope for, having also been eliminated from the Coupe de France.
The dreams of a hat-trick are over for coach Mauricio Pochettino.
While Sunday’s home game against Bordeaux at rock bottom is a good chance to increase PSG’s goal difference – and Kylian Mbappe’s big goal tally – a win won’t do much to ease the pressure on Pochettino.
The mild-mannered Argentine was hailed as an ideal replacement following the dismissal of tumultuous manager Thomas Tuchel midway through last season.
Pochettino was strengthened last summer as the club took aggressive action in the transfer market, including bringing in Lionel Messi from Barcelona.
They certainly caught the attention of the footballing world back then, but they didn’t work against Madrid.
Right-back Achraf Hakimi, who cost 60 million euros ($66 million) from Italian champions Inter Milan, was exposed in defense and taken off late.
Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, signed from Premier League powerhouse Liverpool, hasn’t even come off the bench. Veteran defender Sergio Ramos, winner of four Champions League titles with Madrid, has been out injured for most of the season.
The reason why PSG needed to sign Donnarumma is puzzling, as the club already had one of the best goalkeepers in Europe last season in Keylor Navas.
Navas kept PSG in several games, including brilliant performances against Barcelona and Bayern Munich as the French club reached the Champions League semi-finals.
Donnarumma was the star of Italy’s European Championship victory in the penalty shootout against England and is famous for his composure under pressure. But with PSG up 2-0 on aggregate against Madrid, the goalkeeper played a bit too cool trying to dribble past Karim Benzema rather than clear a routine back pass. It offered Madrid a lifeline, after which PSG’s lack of composure under pressure was again revealed as Benzema netted twice more for a 3-1 victory.
A familiar story.
Three years ago, PSG became the first team to be eliminated after winning the first leg 2-0 against Manchester United 3-1.
In 2017, they were the first team to be knocked out after winning the first leg 4-0, losing 6-1 away to Barcelona.
Then-coaches Unai Emery and Thomas Tuchel claimed that PSG had no problem coping with the pressure. But Pochettino watched in a state of bewilderment as Madrid went from 2-0 on aggregate to 3-2 in 17 minutes.
The way the PSG midfielder was so easily rounded on Madrid’s second and third goals is symptomatic of the way he has played all season.
Only Marco Verratti stands out in PSG’s midfield and, with Neymar and Messi both well below their best form, only Mbappe really performs in attack.
His goals carried PSG into a season where, without late equalizers or more consistent winners and opponents, PSG’s 13-point lead over Nice would be much less.
Lille beat PSG for the title last season thanks to their consistency and iron defence, which Nice and third-placed Marseille lacked this season.
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