Right after the Champions League loss, PSG head coach, Tuchel said “It was a performance without intensity, aggression, ball winning, counter-pressing, without intensity with the ball. It was a little strange.”
The totally damning but entirely accurate assessment of PSG’s 2-1 opening night Champions League loss to Manchester United didn’t come as a surprise.
Barely 58 days after tussling it out with Bayern Munich in the 2019-20 final, PSG instantly find themselves under threat of missing out on the last 16 entirely after a display that ranks among their poorest of the past decade.
In Lisbon, where the ‘Final 8’ was dramatically played out in August, the Parisians looked a united group, with even the defensive contribution of the notoriously work-shy Neymar catching the eye.
Back home two months later, there was no hint of that togetherness, as Tuchel deployed his side in such a way that he was reliant on Kylian Mbappe, Neymar or Angel Di Maria producing a moment of brilliance to unpick the packed but patchwork zebra-striped defence facing them.
With players of such quality, of course, there were moment of brilliance, notably when Mbappe danced into space in the box early in the second half only to see a fierce effort bound for the far corner turned wide by David de Gea, yet the home side’s gifted attackers were all too readily contained in a display barren of imagination and spirit.
PSG’s reliance on the trio – and particularly Mbappe and Neymar – was made painfully clear in Paris.
Given their improved work rate in Lisbon, it might be unfair to suggest that this performance was coming, but the facts underline that the two most expensive players of all time are presently struggling to deliver in Europe.
Mbappe is on a six-game scoring drought in the Champions League, having never previously gone more than two without a goal (aside from a trio of substitute appearances amassing to just 25 minutes when he was just 17), while Neymar has not registered in four – the Brazilian’s worst sequence since his debut season in Barcelona.
Also note that PSG’s Di Maria had been missing in action for close to four weeks due to suspension. It is all the more puzzling that Tuchel was happy to effectively leave the trio to it while packing his midfield with three defensively minded players who were always unlikely to offer the type of craft or dynamism to break down Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s well-organised ranks.