April 12, 2024

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PSG’s latest Ligue 1 title feels empty, unsatisfying and unexciting | Paris Saint-Germain

3 min read
PSG’s latest Ligue 1 title feels empty, unsatisfying and unexciting | Paris Saint-Germain

“A star without shine” was how L’Équipe described PSG winning the Ligue 1 title this weekend after a 1-1 draw with Lens. Although their 10th championship equals St-Étienne’s all-time record and adds a star to their shirts for next season, few triumphs have felt so hollow. PSG have been fortunate, disjointed and distracted by the Champions League this season and they are among the least satisfying champions on the continent this century. Change is often glacial at the Parc des Princes but, after a decade of missed chances, revolution could arrive soon.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side have triumphed largely by default. A chasing group who regularly beat each other allowed PSG to ease away from the pack without a sole dominant challenger to apply pressure. Despite Lionel Messi joining Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, PSG have lacked fluidity, cohesion and even excitement all year. The dream of joyous interplay and champagne football routing Ligue 1 is now a rapidly fading mirage, hastened by Mbappé’s uncertain future.

Without a landmark win or standout results, only rarely have PSG threatened to resemble the team France expected – and they have not done it for the 90 minutes once this season. A 13-point margin suggests dominance but PSG have, by their standards, ground out wins and snatched victories though barely deserved late goals. On seven occasions over a 19-game run, PSG took points through goals scored in the 87th minute or later, including five wins. Had PSG been an unlucky team, the title may have eluded them, regardless of their overpowered squad.

Pochettino’s lack of a gameplan, other than relying on individual quality, has led to a season of frustration and even confusion, with Georgino Wijnaldum, for one, seemingly unsure over his exact role. Although PSG should be praised for their persistence, their results felt like getting blood from a stone.

PSG’s latest Ligue 1 title feels empty, unsatisfying and unexciting | Paris Saint-Germain
PSG ultras outside the stadium. Photograph: Julien Mattia/Le Pictorium//Rex/Shutterstock

As usual, their season was defined by the Champions League. After another embarrassing collapse, this time to a 16-minute Karim Benzema hat-trick in Madrid after they had dominated the previous two and a half hours of the tie, the rest felt empty. In opting for Erik Ten Hag instead of Pochettino as their next permanent manager, Manchester United have made the right call, based on the evidence in Paris. His fast-transitioning, counter-attacking style is more suited to the Champions League, where PSG have been more comfortable, but Pochettino’s team has struggled when up against low blocks. At Manchester United, he would not have a gulf in class to fall back on.

Faced with an entrenched cycle of hope, failure and a deepening malaise bred by European misadventures, the Qatari owners are now looking to reshape the club. Pochettino will be the first to go. A coaching swap with Tottenham for Antonio Conte seems likely, with the Italian reportedly offering to join PSG. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has been in regular contact with Pochettino in recent months about a return to London.

Having failed miserably to move on players in the last two windows, PSG sporting director Leonardo may be next. The Brazilian remains in the dark about his future. He orchestrated a huge influx of players last season, but Messi, Sergio Ramos, Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Achraf Hakimi have all failed to meet expectations. Leonardo’s erratic handling of Mbappé – an €180m signing who has become perhaps the best player in the world but may leave for free – will be difficult to justify, although some momentum is gathering behind the striker staying with PSG in the short term.

Club president Nasser Al-Khelaïfi is expected to survive any reshuffle, however. His closeness with the Emir of Qatar, as well as his status within the European game as president of the European Clubs Association and as a member of Uefa’s executive committee, should protect him – although many in Doha have been eyeing up his job.

Of an unwieldy squad, only right-back Achraf Hakimi, midfielder Marco Verratti and captain Marquinhos are sure to stay. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is expected to be made first choice despite interest from Juventus; teenage defender Nuno Mendes should join on a permanent deal from Sporting; and reports that Neymar and Lionel Messi could be sold seem speculative, but the rest of the squad is effectively for sale or likely to leave for free. Players who have been happy to sit on the bench are now worried about missing out on the World Cup, which should finally force an exodus.

Having failed to utilise the Île-de-France region, the biggest talent pool of younger footballers in Europe, under QSI, PSG’s academy should finally play a more prominent role. Leonardo has spent much of the year signing up the club’s young talent to longer-term deals. He has also promised to give gametime to the 18-year-old midfielder Xavi Simons and the highly regarded 16-year-old centre-back El Chadaille Bitshiabu. Both could still leave for free, however. Despite the club’s resources, they have sorely lacked a core of passionate homegrown players under QSI ownership.

That issue could finally be addressed. Reports of interest in re-signing Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig, probably for many times what they sold him for in 2019, would be the ultimate admission that PSG’s youth policy, or lack thereof, has failed. Too often players such as Nkunku and Moussa Diaby have been lazily moved on only to quickly turn up in the Champions League or the France national team.

Never has a league title felt so anticlimactic to a club’s fans. Having whistled Lionel Messi and Neymar in recent weeks, repeatedly protested against the way the club is run and sat through Le Classique in silence, PSG ultras walked out of their game against Lens on Saturday night 20 minutes early to celebrate on their own outside the Parc des Princes. QSI may be targeting a revolution but, after a decade of PSG’s constituent parts – fans, players, coaches, hierarchy and academy – failing to come together, it may take more than one summer to achieve real change.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results

Show

Rennes 5-0 Lorient

Clermont 2-2 Angers

Metz 0-1 Brest

Nantes 5-3 Bordeaux

Nice 1-0 Troyes

Lille 1-0 Strasbourg

Reims 0-1 Marseille

Lyon 5-2 Montpellier

St Etienne 1-4 Monaco
PSG 1-1 Lens

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Talking points

Monaco beat St-Étienne 4-1 on Saturday.
Monaco beat St-Étienne 4-1 on Saturday. Photograph: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty Images

Monaco put four past St-Étienne on Saturday, winning their sixth straight game to stay above Nice and level with third-place Rennes. With Strasbourg losing at Lille, Philippe Clement’s side may now be favourites to join PSG and Marseille in next season’s Champions League thanks to their building momentum and kind run-in. It’s taken Clement time to find balance after replacing Niko Kovac in January, but the surprise resurgence of Aleksandr Golovin and dropping previously standout midfielder Sofiane Diop has helped Monaco click. A podium place was unthinkable after one win in eight before this run.

Now seven points behind St-Étienne in the playoff spot with four games left, Metz’s 1-0 loss to Brest seems to have confirmed their relegation. After a European charge in the first half of last season, Les Grenats have won just five of their last 45 league games. Temperamental creator Farid Boulaya has been so ineffective he has been dropped; their previously stoic defence has crumbled; and they never really had a reliable source of goals. Tottenham fans will be especially concerned by the form of 19-year-old midfielder Pape Matar Sarr, who was signed by Spurs and loaned back to Metz last summer. Not even sure of a start, Sarr has regressed dramatically this season. The decision to loan him back to France, rather than nurture his development in London, has proven fruitless.

Ligue 1 table

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