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From glory to humiliation: PSG loses in dramatic style

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PARIS (AP) The man hired to lead Paris Saint-Germain to Champions League glory delivered the most embarrassing result imaginable.

PSG became the first team to throw away a 4-0 lead from the first leg in the Champions League, losing to Barcelona 6-1 in the second. The awful outcome was made worse by the calamitous way PSG conceded three late goals.

In the previous four seasons, PSG had reached the quarterfinals. That was insufficient in the eyes of Qatari owners QSI, who fired coach Laurent Blanc – despite Blanc winning back-to-back domestic trebles – and replaced him with Unai Emery.

[ MORE: Barca inspired “by the Super Bowl” ]

When PSG dismantled Barcelona at home with an electric display of attacking soccer three weeks ago, the back-slapping and congratulations were in full swing. There was a growing confidence, if not certainty, that Emery was the perfect man to lead PSG to its first European Cup. He was credited with instilling the breathtaking energy the players showed that night.

Now, he and his players will be known as the ones who threw it all away.

“We had everything in hand and we gave them the game,” PSG right back Thomas Meunier said. “We made an enormous amount of errors.”

On a disastrous night, the club’s initials could have stood for something else: Pathetic. Spineless. Gutless.

The French press let rip.

Shortly after the loss, sports daily L’Equipe’s website carried the headline “A Historic Disaster” along with a picture of midfielder Marco Verratti lying on his back with his hands covering his face. L’Equipe’s newspaper called it “Unqualifiable” – underlining the shock while delivering a scathingly sarcastic verdict on PSG’s inability to progress in the most favorable of circumstances.

“We weren’t worthy of playing for PSG,” Meunier said.

Angry fans gathered at the airport to jeer and heckle the players when they arrived back.

LACK OF LEADERS

As the exasperated Emery gesticulated wildly on the sidelines, there was no one on the field to stop the damage.

From the first minute, PSG sat far too deep, inviting Barcelona to overrun midfield and camp around the penalty area. That gave PSG the look of a small, retreating army with a massive one bearing down on it, attacks coming from all sides.

[ MORE: Ranking the greatest comebacks ]

Thiago Motta’s absence in central midfield was sorely missed. A great organizer, strong tackler and neat passer, Motta would have added steel and calmness. The hard-nosed Italian is also a relentlessly competitive character and would have got a response from his flagging teammates.

“We were a bit lost,” Meunier said. “We allowed ourselves to be victims.”

PSG also missed veteran left back Maxwell, with Layvin Kurzawa out of position all game and scoring an own-goal.

CHANGING A WINNING TEAM

When PSG routed Barcelona at Parc des Princes, observers marveled at Emery’s tactical innovation.

His three-pronged attack of Edinson Cavani, Julian Draxler and Angel Di Maria worked to perfection, while his decision to pick inexperienced center half Presnel Kimpembe paid off as he contained Lionel Messi.

Then he changed a winning team.

[ ROBERTO: I woke up wondering if it was a dream ]

Kimpembe was on the bench for the return leg. Worse, with PSG needing only to see out the last few minutes, Emery kept him there.

Di Maria was overlooked in favor of Brazilian player Lucas. When Di Maria came on, PSG looked sharper going forward and soon pulled a goal back.

If Barcelona had to defend the whole game against Cavani, Draxler and Di Maria, they might have had fewer occasions to charge forward.

SHEER COMPLACENCY

PSG’s lethargic absenteeism on the field was mirrored by a complacent approach before the game.

Two days before the match, the club released a video on YouTube called “Supper Club” with four players sitting around a table.

As they pick at their pizzas and slurp soft drinks, Blaise Matuidi and Verratti are joined in conversation by Draxler and Meunier. They are casually discussing the game ahead.

“The first 20 minutes are going to be tough, eh Marco? The field is really big,” Matuidi says. “(Barcelona) attack, attack, and they leave a lot of spaces.”

Draxler then intervenes, telling Matuidi “you will need to run a lot” and they both laugh when Matuidi retorts “I’ll need you to (run) as well.”

The players certainly appeared to taking Barcelona lightly.

BAD GOALKEEPER

When Emery took over he recalled goalkeeper Alphonse Areola from a loan spell and made him his No. 1. Then, uncertain about Areola’s level, he picked Kevin Trapp.

Against Barcelona, Trapp exposed all of his limitations: Poor composure, weak handling, erratic decision making.

On the first goal, the German keeper came up to claim a looping ball with his fists bunched rather than his hands apart, reducing his own surface area.

Trapp appeared to be terrified and his inability to command his back four made sure that panic set in – and stayed throughout.

WHAT NEXT?

Emery’s future clearly hangs in the balance.

PSG trails Monaco by three points in the French league and Emery’s position will be further undermined if he does not win the title. PSG also faces Monaco in the League Cup final next month.

After the Barcelona match, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was asked if Emery was still the right man for the job.

“That’s not a question for now,” Al-Khelaifi said.

It will be soon, though.

“Three trophies and CL”: Mourinho relieved after “most difficult season”

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Don’t try to tell Jose Mourinho that his first season at Manchester United wasn’t a raging success, because all you’d get in return is a simple shake of the head before he walks away.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Following Wednesday’s Europa League final victory over Ajax, one which put Man United into next season’s UEFA Champions League, Mourinho was adamant that the club’s 2016-17 season was a success, despite the fact the Red Devils finished sixth in the Premier League.

“Three trophies in one season and the Champions League,” as Mourinho put it, in his “most difficult season as a manager” — quotes from the BBC:

“We totally deserved the win. I am so happy to see the boys with the crutches with the trophy and now I am on holiday. I don’t want to see any international friendlies, I am selfish. I can’t do it.

“For me, enough is enough. It has been a very hard last few months, we were short of numbers.

“Three trophies in one season and the Champions League. I am very happy in my most difficult season as a manager.”

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

As for his summer shopping list and Wayne Rooney‘s future at the club, well… Mourinho was much clearer about one than the other — quotes from the BBC:

“Ed Woodward has my list, what I want, what I would like for more than two months. So now it’s up to him and the owners. But I don’t care about football for now.

“Wayne Rooney was ready to play, he was a big option. But I didn’t need to attack at 2-0. I told him yesterday that he could be the key man but he can perfectly be here next season. He is a very important player for us. If he stays next season I’d be very happy.”

USMNT’s Gedion Zelalem out 6-9 months with knee injury

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Following much fanfare as he rose through the ranks of Arsenal’s youth academy system, and even more after officially pledging his international allegiance to the U.S., Gedion Zelalem‘s progress stalled a fair bit this season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | U-20 World Cup ]

After failing to force his way onto the fringes of Arsenal’s first team, the 20-year-old was sent out on loan to VVV Venlo, where he made just nine league appearances (one start) in the Dutch second division. Now, with the U.S. U-20 national team at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea, his tournament is over after just 34 minutes.

Zelalen suffered ligament damage to his left knee during the first half of the Americans’ tournament-opening draw with Ecuador. The Washington Post received confirmation on Wednesday, from Zelalem’s family, confirming that he’ll be sidelined for at least six months. An earlier report, from Football.London, pinned the recovery time at up to nine months.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

“For Gedion, this was his second U-20 World Cup, so his experience was invaluable for us,” said U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos. “His passing ability is second to none in this tournament, and we’ll miss that. He was running the team from his position.

Europa League final: Man United too tough for Ajax, qualify for UCL

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Though it may have required a minor detour in the journey to the intended destination, Jose Mourinho’s first season as Manchester United manager ultimately reached the promised land: qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Once it became clear that Man United’s season was unlikely to result in a top-four finish in the Premier League (they eventually wound up sixth), Mourinho put every Mancunian egg into the Europa League basket, and it paid off on Wednesday, as United topped Ajax, 2-0, in the Europa League final inside the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Paul Pogba put United 1-0 ahead after just 18 minutes (WATCH HERE), benefitting from a wicked deflection off a defender’s shin, and Mourinho’s famously rigid, organized midfield and defensive structure frustrated a young Ajax side (a starting lineup with an average age of just under 23 years old) that reached the final on the back of a free-flowing, attacking tidal wave.

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

Down just a goal, Ajax needed little more than a moment of brilliance from any number of rising stars sure to fetch massive transfer fees and land big-money contracts elsewhere in Europe, in the not-so-distant future.

That hope lasted less than 180 seconds into the second half, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, thanks to some unbelievably quick reflexes and a tidy overhead kick from three yards out. Ajax would manage just two shots on goal all night (four for United).

Not only did Mourinho deliver Champions League qualification, alongside a European trophy, United also claimed the EFL Cup back in February. With the allure of UCL football next season, expect another busy (and expensive) summer of spending at Old Trafford.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.