Unai Emery

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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.”

PSG, Barca quizzed on Neymar rumors; Pique blasts Ligue 1

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We don’t have a ton of sympathy for them, but credit to Barcelona stars Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique for giving actual answers when put in the awkward position of hearing the media’s Neymar-to-PSG questions on Tuesday night.

PSG boss Unai Emery was far less interested in doing that.

Emery has refused to comment on speculation linking Neymar to big move to the Parc des Princes.

[ MORE: Van Dijk to Liverpool after all? ]

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s International Champions Cup match against Juventus, Emery had nothing of substance to say to the idea of Brazil’s captain heading to his stable.

“Our focus is to talk about the game tomorrow and a season to get ready for. I prefer to focus on the present moment and the preparation with the team.”

As for Edinson Cavani?

On the Barca side of things, Mascherano said he thinks Neymar will stay because he’s very important to the team, while Pique backed off a little after causing a stir by posting a photo of the defender with Neymar captioned, “He stays.”

“The post was nothing official, it was a gut thing, it doesn’t depend on me. Only (Neymar) can say what will happen, but I hope he stays. I tried to explain to Neymar, as a team-mate and a friend, the situation he’s in. I would say don’t go to a league which, with all due respect, is not as good.”

Boom, roasted (Though there’s some pot-kettle-black here, as there’s a fairly precipitous drop-off further down La Liga’s table, too).

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.

PSG takes pressure off Emery with 5-0 thrashing of Lorient

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Paris Saint-Germain snapped a three-match winless streak in league play by beating FC Lorient 5-0 with goals from four different goalscorers plus an own-goal to round things off.

Thomas Munier, Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani, and Lucas Moura all picked up goals for the Parisians who took a bit of pressure off manager Unai Emery who has faced some criticism recently for poor performances. The three-match winless streak was PSG’s first in Ligue 1 play in almost exactly two years, when they lost two and drew one bracketing the 2014/15 holiday break.

With that in mind, PSG hammered the Ligue 1 bottomfeeders, holding 63% of possession and out-shooting Lorient 19-4, including 7-1 on target.

Emery decided to bench starting goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, instead selecting Kevin Trapp, who admittedly had little to do in this contest. Areola has been the 5th-best goalkeeper in Ligue 1, according to Squawka’s ranking system, but PSG had conceded seven goals in the last three matches. The Spaniard has also decided to stick with Thiago Motta in midfield despite a back injury, favored instead of Grzegorz Krychowiak.

PSG goes into the break five points off the pace in the Ligue 1 table, and are staring down a matchup with Barcelona in the Champions League knockout stage.

Ligue 1: Pressure increasing on PSG’s Emery after 4th league loss

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Defending champion Paris Saint-Germain slipped to its fourth defeat in the French league, losing at Guingamp 2-1 on Saturday in another setback that cranks up the pressure on coach Unai Emery.

With one game left before the winter break, PSG has already lost twice as many league games as it did last season, when it was unbeaten in the league until Feb. 28, won Ligue 1 by a record 31 points, and scored 102 goals for whopping goal difference of +83.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Chelsea go 9 points clear; Man Utd streaking ]

PSG lost only four games last season in all competitions, winning a second straight domestic treble under former coach Laurent Blanc. The other two defeats were in the Champions League against Real Madrid in the group stage, and Manchester City in the quarterfinal return leg.

“Something’s not right,” PSG midfielder Marco Verratti said. “For us, it’s a crisis.”

With the exception of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who left for Manchester United, PSG has the same side.

“It’s a problem in our minds, with concentration,” Verratti said. “We’re starting games as if we’ve won them. Football is not like that. Last season, we won because we were at 100 percent when we came out onto the pitch. We have to get that back.”

[ MORE: La Liga — Atleti end poor run of results; Sevilla go 2nd (for now) ]

Still, Verratti backed Emery.

“We’re working harder than previous years. It’s not a problem with the coach,” the Italy international said. “It’s our fault, the players.”

PSG’s defensive frailties were exposed again as Guingamp scored twice in quick succession midway through the second half.

After forward Yannis Salibur opened the scoring in the 66th minute, midfielder Nill De Pauw added the second four minutes later.

Last weekend, PSG trailed 2-0 at home to league leader Nice and salvaged a 2-2 draw thanks to two second-half goals from league top scorer Edinson Cavani.

But despite Cavani’s 80th-minute goal – his 17th of the season – against Guingamp, PSG lost for the fourth time away from home this season.

The others were at Monaco, Toulouse, and Montpellier two weeks ago.

“I spoke to the president (Nasser Al-Khelaifi) after the game and he’s behind us,” Emery said. “It’s difficult for everyone.”

PSG has taken only one point from its last three league games and won only one of its past five overall – a midweek League Cup win over Lille – and Emery is struggling to impose his methods after replacing Blanc.

[ MORE: Serie A — Juventus beat 2nd-place Roma, go 7 points clear ]

Blanc was fired in the summer because of PSG’s failure to get past the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Just months before, Blanc was given a new contract and it reportedly cost PSG around 20 million euros ($21 million) to remove him and his coaching staff.

PSG replaced him with Emery, whose reputation was high having just led Sevilla to its third straight Europa League title.

Guingamp’s win must have been particularly satisfying for coach Antoine Kombouare.

He was sacked by PSG at roughly the same stage of the season five years ago, despite his side being three points clear at the top heading into the winter break.

Kombouare explained his strategy for beating PSG.

“The idea was to stop them passing out from the back,” he said. “We closed them down high up, and when we won the ball we pushed forward quickly.”

The win moved Guingamp up to fourth place behind PSG, which trails Monaco by three points and Nice by four.