If ever there was a match to encapsulate the baffling paradox of Mauricio Pochettino’s Paris Saint-Germain team, it came in Wednesday’s Champions League defeat to Manchester City. While the French giants produced some moments of brilliance and even had the lead for a spell, their imperfections ultimately cost them.
City’s imperfections were also on full display as they failed to convert their dominance of the ball and their series of chances into goals. Indeed, the hosts were the better team by almost every metric - they had twice as many shots and created 16 chances to PSG’s six - but lacked cutting edge.
However, Manchester City’s performance was still underpinned by the coaching principles of their manager. They played in the way they do most weeks, controlling the ball and suffocating their opponents through quick movements and even quicker speed of thought. None of this was evident in PSG’s display, though.
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Pochettino might boast one of the strongest squads in European football, and certainly the strongest attacking line, but it’s clear he is struggling to get across his ideas. PSG have the individual quality to win most matches, particularly in Ligue 1, but they are lacking in the big games against the best opponents. And these are the matches that define the tenure of any PSG manager.
At Tottenham Hotspur, Pochettino forged a team renowned for their proactive play. The work rate of his players was among the highest in the Premier League with the North London side cohesive in the way they pressed from the front. There is no sign of these hallmarks in his PSG team, though.
Instead, PSG are a distinctly reactive outfit. Out of possession, they often attempt to stay compact, but this frequently leads to a passive approach. Wednesday’s defeat to Manchester City illustrated this, with the visitors to the Etihad Stadium happy to concede large areas of the midfield.
Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar combined brilliantly for the goal that put PSG ahead in the second half, but this trio were also the primary source of their team’s biggest problems against the Premier League champions. There is only so much Pochettino’s system can compensate for three luxury attackers who generally stay forward no matter the situation.
On the counter attack, this gives PSG a lethal outlet, but puts a lot of pressure on the other eight players on the pitch and leaves them vulnerable to overloads - see how PSG were repeatedly pulled to the left leaving Riyad Mahrez in acres of space. It’s surely not how Pochettino wants his team to play.
Of course, it should be noted that Pochettino took around a year to reshape Tottenham Hotspur in his own image. By that measure, it’s possible that the Argentine’s methods will soon take root at the Parc des Princes with the one year anniversary of his appointment in the French capital approaching in January.
Pochettino, however, had the freedom to get rid of players who didn’t buy into his ideas at Spurs. At PSG, though, the players not buying into his ideas are Mbappe, Messi and Neymar, three superstars Pochettino doesn’t have the political power to drop. As long as those three are at the club and Pochettino is in charge, PSG will stay stuck in ideological no man’s land.
There’s no doubting Pochettino’s ability as a coach, but he’s not the right man to lead this group of PSG players at this moment in time. He is a misfit at the Parc des Princes and is being philosophically undermined by the situation he has been placed in. PSG aren’t a Pochettino team and Pochettino isn’t a PSG manager.
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