Wednesday’s big stories

Poch at PSG destined not to work

PSG came from behind to beat RB Leipzig 3-2 at Parc des Princes. Lionel Messi scored a brace to paper over the cracks.
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One of those cracks is that Mauricio Pochettino to PSG made absolutely no sense in January and makes less sense now. Pochettino is an elite-level coach. The fact that he will – on the balance of probabilities – fail at PSG has no impact on that status.
The Leipzig match was again evidence that Pochettino and PSG are struggling. But this is no issue of coaching acumen. This is an issue of profile. Simply, Pochettino and the Parisian club are not a good fit. All of Argentine’s success has been built on intensity. His best teams suffocate their opponents, but swathes of this PSG team will not complete the requisite running to even approach the required intensity.
Against Leipzig, PSG struggled against the high-pressing system employed by Jesse Marsch’s side and, having taken an early lead through Kylian Mbappe, found themselves behind after strikes from André Silva and Nordi Mukiele.
Pochettino would make a tactical switch and the hosts would win. It was that change – introducing Georginio Wijnaldum and Danilo Pereira for Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera – coupled with the excellence of Messi and Mbappe that saw PSG to the three points. However, the fact they needed to switch to plan B and rely on the individual brilliance of Messi and Mbappe to beat the eighth best team in the Bundesliga only served to crystalise the fact that plan A is not working. It probably never will.
Pochettino’s remit is clear: win the Champions League. However, he does not have the personnel to do so. His philosophy can barely accommodate one physical passenger but three in Messi, Mbappe and Neymar will not work.
Granted individual brilliance will see them win the majority of their matches. But when it comes to it, at the upper echelons of the game, there are two requirements of a successful team – to have a clearly defined philosophy and for the players to execute it. The Argentine has a philosophy but if there is a front three less equipped or willing to execute it than the trifecta at the point of this PSG team, well they are yet to present themselves.
There is a complete disconnect between how Pochettino wants his side to play and the personnel at his disposal. The decision to take over at the Parc des Princes in January made limited sense, it makes even less so now. And the win against Leipzig only served to demonstrate that.

Romelu Lukaku and Mohamed Salah proof that footballers just need a rest

Mohamed Salah became the first player in Liverpool's history to score in nine consecutive matches for the club as he bagged a brace in their 3-2 win over Atleti. It was another milestone in what has been a stunning campaign for the Egyptian. Elsewhere on Tuesday, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel had said that Romelu Lukaku was “mentally tired” after being “overplayed”.
Lukaku, for reference, played 44 times for Inter last season, and has played a further 12 games for Belgium in 2021. He played through the summer at the Euros, and, as such, has been playing football more or less continuously since June 2020 when Italian football returned after the coronavirus-enforced break. Salah, in contrast, had an 81-day gap between his last match of the 2020-21 season and the first of his 2021-22 season.
The Egyptian more or less had the summer off and has sustained his supreme start to the season. Lukaku, meanwhile, was again not afforded the privilege of any notable rest and - after a bright start – has not scored since September 14 against Zenit in the Champions League.
These two facts are not unrelated.
Yet administrators continue to pile game upon game upon its players. Players need a rest. Salah is illustrative that a rest would not only be beneficial for the health of the players but also the game: he has put forward a strong candidacy as the world’s best player on current form.

Lukaku 'mentally tired' ahead of Chelsea’s CL match with Malmo

If Solskjaer can’t see the problem, he can’t fix it

Here is what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said regarding the progress of the Manchester United team when he has been at the helm.
"You know we've progressed over the years. [We were] sixth when I was here for half a season, then third, second; you can see the progress, improvement, development and this season we still want to improve,” said Solskjaer at a press conference.
Yes, they have improved. Performance levels have, in general, been better season on season. However, considering the wealth of talent that has been signed under his watch, United should be challenging for the title. During his tenure they have never threatened that.
For complete clarity, here are some of the notable players United have signed since his appointment:
  • Harry Maguire - £80m
  • Bruno Fernandes - £57m
  • Aaron Wan-Bissaka - £50m
  • Dan James - £16m
  • Donny van de Beek - £35m
  • Amad Diallo - £19m
  • Alex Telles - £13m
  • Facundo Pellistri - £7m
  • Edinson Cavani - free
  • Jadon Sancho - £76m
  • Raphaël Varane - £36m
  • Cristiano Ronaldo - £13m
Excluding wages that is the bones of £330 million and no real, actual progress. The Warm-Up would expect an improvement from sixth to second with that sort of expenditure as a bare minimum. Solskjaer seems to be presenting as some sort of success. Have United challenged for the league title? No. Have the won a trophy? No.
If Solskjaer can’t see that the lack of genuine progress is a huge issue - and his quotes suggest that - then he won’t be able to address the problem. And, well, that is a huge problem.

HAT-TIP

It is a couple of days old, but this interview with Francesco Totti by Nicky Bandini is excellent. Here is one pick from some great insight into one of the all-time greats.
I started out in different times. A different football. A football made of love, of affection toward fans. But to make a comparison between my time and today, it’s difficult. Today it’s more business. You go where you can make more money. And that’s fair enough, no?

COMING UP

It is only the Champions League, with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Manchester United and Juventus all in action.
Andi Thomas will be here to bring you all the fallout from that.
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