If there was a moment that encapsulated the problems Paris Saint-Germain have had so far this season, it came during an otherwise unremarkable sequence of play, not in either of the two goals the French giants conceded in Wednesday night’s 2-2 draw away to RB Leipzig in the Champions League.
With RB Leipzig passing the ball out from the back, PSG appeared in two minds whether to press high or to stay compact and keep their shape. Then, while still out of possession, Neymar kneeled down on the spot to tie his shoelaces, giving his opponent a clear route to move the ball into the midfield where RB Leipzig could do some damage.
This might seem somewhat inconsequential, and it was in the grand scheme of things, but it reflected how Mauricio Pochettino has so far struggled to get all his world class players pulling in the same direction this season. PSG might currently boast the strongest squad in European football, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a strong team.
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At Tottenham Hotspur, Pochettino was revered for the way he coordinated his team as a unit, but there has been no sign of this cohesion from his PSG side. While the Argentine was initially afforded some leeway to get across his ideas to a group that saw a number of new players added over the summer, lessons are not being learned. It’s still unclear what Pochettino wants his PSG side to be.
“We saw how facing a team performing well can cause us problems,” Pochettino said after the draw against RB Leipzig. “The stats show that we have to do better in terms of possession, and most of all we have to manage the game better against teams who can play on the counter like Leipzig. You have to be able to do it all.”
PSG are playing in much the same way now as they were at the start of the season when Pochettino threw together a team in the hope that their individual brilliance would get them results. For a manager considered one of the best in the game, this is confusing. Why isn’t Pochettino having a greater influence on his players?
Idrissa Gana Gueye and Achraf Hakimi are the only PSG players who have absorbed Pochettino’s ideas on how and when to press. Deployed in a slightly more advanced position against RB Leipzig, Gini Wijnaldum also demonstrated an incisiveness that could make him a useful figure, but there aren’t many ‘Pochettino players’ at the Parc des Princes.
Spurs fans might recall how specific Pochettino was about the players brought into the club during his time as manager there. Now, though, the 49-year-old finds himself at a club with more people passing through it than a Parisian metro station. It might be that PSG have simply signed Pochettino players he cannot mould in his own image.
Kylian Mbappe and Neymar for PSG during the Champions League match against RB Leipzig.
Image credit: Getty Images
Wednesday’s draw against RB Leipzig saw PSG drop points in the Champions League for the second time in four group games this season. For a club where success and failure is determined in Europe, this is a less-than-impressive record and only adds to the sense that Pochettino, whether he is to blame or not, isn’t getting the best from his squad.
These problems probably won’t stop PSG from securing their place in the last 16 of this season’s Champions League, but they will catch up with them at some point if they continue. Against better teams on the big occasion, Pochettino’s team in the shape they are in right now will be exposed.
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