Paris Saint-Germain

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Emery under pressure again after PSG’s first losses of season

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PARIS (AP) Less than halfway through the season, speculation has already started as to who might replace Unai Emery as Paris Saint-Germain coach.

Two straight losses brought PSG’s unbeaten run to a sudden halt and heaped the pressure onto Emery — the man hired to turn PSG from European also-rans into Champions League winners.

Since Qatari investors QSI invested hundreds of millions after taking over in June 2011, PSG has never been beyond the European Cup quarterfinals.

This was supposed the season when PSG, after spending record amounts during the offseason, was supposed to reach the next level. But five coaches were touted as possible replacements in a critical article of Emery in Thursday’s edition of sports daily L’Equipe.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who has openly flirted with a move to PSG in the past, and Chelsea’s Antonio Conte were among the big names.

Emery has been on slippery ground before, notably last season when PSG failed to make the Champions League quarterfinals after losing 6-1 at Barcelona following a 4-0 victory at home in the first leg.

PSG also lost the league title but Emery — hand-picked by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi after guiding Sevilla to three straight Europa League titles — kept his job.

Furthermore, he was given huge funds to buy the so-called missing ingredients for European success.

Brazil forward Neymar and rising teen star Kylian Mbappe arrived for a combined $474 million dollars — making them the world’s two most expensive players.

But last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at promoted Strasbourg — a team that spiraled into obscurity after going into liquidation six years ago — was followed by Tuesday’s 3-1 loss at Bayern Munich.

Both games exposed the same flaws as last season.

PSG looks to be a top-heavy side overly slanted toward attack and highly vulnerable in defense. Against Bayern, Mbappe did well but Neymar drifted in and out and they did not look like a partnership.

Mbappe and Neymar hardly tracked back and PSG’s fullbacks were easily exposed by the pace of Bayern’s wide players, and when the ball was played behind them.

While PSG arguably needed one of the two forwards, buying both appears to be a waste of funds that could have been invested into weaker areas. Given that PSG’s problem has never been scoring goals, over-loading the attack seems futile.

When Thiago Motta is not protecting the back four as a defensive midfielder, there is little cover from the other midfielders. Adrien Rabiot can play the holding role but has openly expressed a preference to play a more attacking midfield game.

PSG also lacks a commanding goalkeeper.

Alphonse Areola is promising, but the 24-year-old Frenchman is largely untested at the highest level and is not yet vocal enough to command his back four with authority.

Within moments of losing to Bayern, Al-Khelaifi was responding to questions on French television.

“We hope this loss will help the team in the Champions League,” he said, looking ahead to the last 16. “We need to prepare well. We need to learn this lesson.”

Al-Khelaifi said much the same after last season’s loss to Barcelona. His constant media presence increases the pressure by casting a shadow over Emery’s methods.

It’s sometimes difficult to tell who’s running the team, and there appears to be a lack of unity when things become difficult. Against Bayern, the players became passive after the German team took control.

While Emery said, inaccurately, that PSG did not deserve to lose against Bayern, his president was firmly critical of the team’s performance. So were some players.

“We played too much like individuals. We didn’t play together enough as a team,” Rabiot said. “For the time being we’re not able to. When we try to do things by ourselves, it doesn’t work.”

Big victories over Celtic and Anderlecht padded out PSG’s goal tally during the group stage to a whopping 25 goals in six games. But those easy wins might have instilled a false sense of security.

“It’s very important to wake up now,” Al-Khelaifi said. “It’s not too late.”

Who are the favorites to win the UEFA Champions League?

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The bookies have a tendency to know the market, and the bookies like the chances of a new UEFA Champions League winner.

Both clubs would break a four-year Spanish hold on the trophy, but who are they and where do the rest fit (more or less, we checked several sites)?

[ UCL: Final 16 set ]

Sixteen teams remain alive in the tournament, and Real Madrid have won three of the last four (Barcelona the fourth). They place third and fourth on the list.

Here’s how the oddsmakers say it’ll go.

16. Basel
15. Shakhtar Donetsk
14. Besiktas
13. Sevilla
12. Porto
11. Roma
10. Liverpool
9. Chelsea
8. Tottenham Hotspur
7. Juventus
6. Manchester United
5. Bayern Munich
4. Barcelona
3. Real Madrid
2. Manchester City
1. Paris Saint-Germain

Now PSG is certainly a wonder team, and both they and Man City have made deep runs into the tournament before, but it’s a little wild to see them as favorites. Granted that Man City is averaging 4:1 compared to Real’s 5:1 and Barca’s 6:1 (PSG is 7:2), but it says something about how convincing Pep Guardiola‘s men have looked this season.

Who can Premier League clubs draw in Champions League Round of 16?

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Chelsea’s failure to win its UEFA Champions League group conspired with its four Premier League peers winning theirs to limit their Round of 16 opponents to three teams.

There’s a 67 percent chance the Blues will draw Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain when the balls are drawn on Monday.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

The other four Premier League sides can meet six teams each, separated from Chelsea and the second-place team in their groups.

Tottenham’s dismantling of its group means it cannot face Real Madrid, though it could still draw Bayern Munich or Juventus.

Chelsea
Barcelona
Besiktas
Paris Saint-Germain

Liverpool
Basel
Bayern Munich
Juventus
Shakhtar Donetsk
Porto
Real Madrid

Manchester City
Real Madrid
Porto
Sevilla
Juventus
Bayern Munich
Basel

Manchester United
Bayern Munich
Juventus
Sevilla
Shakhtar Donetsk
Porto
Real Madrid

Tottenham Hotspur
Porto
Shakhtar Donetsk
Sevilla
Juventus
Bayern Munich
Basel

PSG tops Monaco 2-1 to extend Ligue 1 lead

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Paris Saint-Germain wasn’t at its best, but Monaco was worse as the Ligue 1 leaders extended their lead with a 2-1 win behind goals from Neymar and Edinson Cavani.

Cavani put PSG in front 19 minutes in. Julian Draxler received a through-ball and nutmegged Jemerson to feed the striker, and Cavani redirected the cross into the back of the net with the outside of his foot.

Neymar doubled the lead just after halftime after he won a penalty when Almamy Traore barreled him over from behind looking to defend a ball over the top. The Brazilian buried the spot-kick for a 2-0 lead.

Monaco erased the clean sheet with a free-kick goal in the 89th minute, assisted by a very heavy deflection off the back of Kylian Mbappe and into the top-right corner. It wasn’t enough though, as Monaco could only muster two shots on target all match. PSG was somewhat wasteful, but deserved to win as they held 66% possession and peppered Danijel Subasic’s goal with 18 shots, five on target.

PSG’s lead at the top of the table now sits at nine points, with Lyon moving into second after a 5-0 win over Nice put them level with AS Monaco on points and moved them above in goal differential. Monaco drops back into third, with Marseille a point back of them in fourth after beating Guingamp 1-0.

VIDEO: Celtic’s 1st minute goal breaches PSG

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Celtic still have hope of advancing to the UEFA Europa League, but have a new feather in its cap regardless of whether they hold their table advantage on Anderlecht.

Moussa Dembele became the first UEFA Champions League player to score against Paris Saint-Germain, when he side-footed a first minute corner kick off PSG backstop Alphonse Aréola.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Neymar would score just eight minutes later to level the score at the Parc des Princes, but Celtic had its moment and PSG is no longer unbreached despite entering the match with 17 goals scored, conceding zero.