Few clubs could canter to a treble and end the season disappointed, but Paris Saint-Germain have made a habit of it recently. They won the Coupe de la Ligue earlier this month, wrapped up the Ligue 1 title on Sunday night with a ludicrous 7-1 trampling of Monaco and are likely to pick up the Coupe de France in a few weeks’ time. You might think that such an effortless domestic campaign would be stabilising for the club, especially after they were ambushed by Monaco last season, but the PSG “project” is under more pressure to develop than ever.
PSG have won the last seven domestic cups in France and only missed out on the league last season due to Monaco’s irresistible form. Monaco’s threat has been removed this season, largely by themselves. Leonardo Jardim had hopes of defending the title but that proved impossible after his team lost so many significant players. Jardim accepts that the club moves in cycles – winning the title was the culmination of one such cycle, which allowed them to sell their main assets and start again €300m better off. With Monaco in transition this season, PSG were free to gallop clear.
Of course, PSG took the opposite approach last summer and splurged €400m on Neymar and Kylian Mbappé – employing their usual “solution”. Despite all their managerial changes and new players – Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2012, Edinson Cavani in 2013, David Luiz in 2014, Ángel Di María in 2015, Julian Draxler in 2016 and so on – their results in Europe have remained disappointingly consistent. The limp Champions League exit at Manchester City that hastened Laurent Blanc’s departure in 2016 was no worse than the debacle in Barcelona under Unai Emery the following year. And the less said about their inept second-leg display against Real Madrid this season, which will cost the Spaniard his job, the better.
Their defeats in Europe over the last three seasons have not led to wholesale changes at the club. More big-money stars are expected to arrive this summer, with Paul Pogba a target, FFP-willing; the manager will be replaced again; and the new boss will also take over without having unanimous support from all factions of the club.
The club’s owner, Emir Al Thani, seems to have chose Thomas Tuchel rather than Porto’s Sérgio Conceição (sporting director Antero Henrique’s first choice) or Carlo Ancelotti (the option favoured by some of the key players). At first glance, Tuchel seems to be a smart appointment. He has a reputation for being an innovative and versatile coach who can build a successful side if given time and the right conditions. PSG could finally develop some identity. But again, Tuchel looks set to be forced into the same box as Blanc and Emery, underlined by a reported two-year offer, which reeks of the same short-term thinking.
For Tuchel to succeed in Europe, PSG’s hierarchy have to throw out the methods that have repeatedly hindered their progress. They need a more holistic, longer-term approach to squad development. Last summer they should have signed a goalkeeper, a defensive midfielder and a left-back but they prioritised bringing in two forwards for the sake of brand recognition.
The influence of a cliquey squad needs to be broken. Divisions in the camp are so ingrained that Le Parisien designed a Venn Diagram outlining each social group; the Brazilian contingent supposedly has so much power that Emery was dissuaded from removing Thiago Silva as captain after the loss to Barcelona last season. Some players are afforded too much latitude, none more so than Neymar, who threw an extravagant, drunken birthday for the entire squad nine days before the Real Madrid tie, was allowed to go back to Brazil and miss domestic cup matches, and clashed with Emery in training.
The club’s focus on huge signings and established names continues to squeeze out developing, homegrown talent. Emery often looks like a passenger but, to his credit, he has made strides in giving more opportunities to established youngsters; Giovani Lo Celso, Presnel Kimpembe and Adrien Rabiot have been occasional bright spots this season, although none of them have shone consistently throughout the campaign. PSG generally ignore the depth of their own academy – in contrast to Monaco, Lyon and their European “peers”, who often have a core of youth graduates interwoven with established players.
Despite their inevitable treble and some effervescent displays in the league, PSG have stagnated this season. The club lacks direction, heart and a clear philosophy for developing players. They will not make any progress until they stop indulging in short-termism and pandering to their stars.
• Lyon’s 3-0 victory at home to Amiens was their fifth straight win in the league, an impressive run considering the absence of Nabil Fékir. He returned from injury on Saturday and looked slightly rusty. His return to fitness is a welcome one – especially if he can replicate the form he showed earlier in the season – but Bruno Génésio now must figure out how to combine his captain with in-form Memphis Depay. The Dutchman was at it again on Saturday, scoring and setting up a goal, but there are worries now about how the pair will play together given that both seem to only be at their best as the sole focal point of the attack. Third place is still Lyon’s to lose, but Marseille also have a fairly easy run-in, so they need to get their tactics right.
• Marseille’s dramatic win at Troyes on Sunday afternoon took them level on points with Lyon. Things looked to be going seriously awry for Marseille after Samuel Grandsir opened the scoring in the first minute with a bullet header. The match was an open affair throughout, with both teams badly needing a win, but Marseille picked up all three points thanks to Florian Thauvin’s superb late winner. Things are looking up for Marseille. Adil Rami is also back from injury; they have a favourable draw against RB Salzburg in the Europa League semi-finals; and have five games left in the league where they can secure a place in next season’s Champions League.
• Relegation also remains a tight affair. Troyes’ defeat to Marseille and Lille’s draw against Guingamp have given Metz a shred of hope. Nolan Roux was the hero for Metz this weekend – his brace in their 2-1 win at Rennes means he now has 14 goals this season – but the team as a whole played with a relentlessness they had been missing of late. They are still bottom of the table, five points from the play-off position, but their remaining fixtures are more than kind so a great escape may yet be possible.