Unai Emery

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Report: Conte, Pochettino top manager choices for PSG

Leave a comment

Paris Saint-Germain’s crushing UEFA Champions League defeat this week has the club scrambling to reboot after the French side spent exorbitant money last summer to challenge for Europe’s top crown.

[ MORE: Giovani dos Santos talks Galaxy, El Tri and more ]

Manager Unai Emery was in hot water after his side lost their first leg encounter to Real Madrid last month, however, PSG’s failure to progress in the Round of 16 second leg has the former Sevilla boss looking more and more likely that he’ll be sacked this season.

Several reports have suggested that the Ligue 1 giants have lined up their top candidates to replace Emery, as Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino have been tabbed to take over at the Parc des Princes.

Conte — the current Chelsea manager — has been in hot water of his own at Stamford Bridge with the reigning Premier League champions having fallen to fifth place in England’s top flight.

Meanwhile, Pochettino has found success in the PL over recent seasons, but struggled to complete the task of winning a major title. Spurs crashed out of the UCL on Wednesday after a tragic defeat to Juventus.

While the two PL bosses appear to be the clear favorites to take over in France next season, Andres Villas-Boas has also emerged as a candidate due to his ties PSG sporting director Antero Henrique when they worked together at FC Porto.

Emery makes PSG roar in Ligue 1, silent in Champions League

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
1 Comment

PARIS (AP) A 6-1 humiliation from Barcelona plus the loss of the French title were not enough to end Unai Emery’s tenure as Paris Saint-Germain coach last year.

PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi decided to keep Emery, probably thinking that spending 400 million euros on new forwards would help solve the team’s defensive weaknesses. And bring the Champions League trophy he craves so much to the French capital.

[ MORE: PSG squabbling after first leg ]

The big investment has brought instant dividends in the French league. After 25 matches, PSG enjoys a 12-point lead over defending champion Monaco going into the home game against promoted Strasbourg on Saturday.

Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe have been formidable, and only a couple of teams threaten PSG’s hegemony. Emery does not have to scratch his head too much to find the appropriate tactics to dominate the local league.

The Champions League is a different story.

A year after the Barcelona fiasco, Emery – a respected tactician who guided Sevilla to three Europa League titles – had the chance to redeem himself at PSG against Champions League-holder Real Madrid in their last-16 first leg match this week.

He took bold risks, but his moves backfired as Neymar, Cavani, and Mbappe were silenced. They left Madrid 3-1 losers, on the verge of another early elimination from Europe’s top competition.

The fact that Madrid was not particularly impressive makes PSG’s loss even harder to take, and other tactical choices might have produced a different result. Emery’s decisions to leave captain Thiago Silva on the bench, to start Presnel Kimpembe at center half, and to omit Lassana Diarra or Thiago Motta in midfield to make room for Giovani Lo Celso turned into big question marks.

Kimpembe did well until the 83rd minute when his poor pass led to Cristiano Ronaldo’s second goal of the evening.

The biggest gamble was likely on Lo Celso as holding midfielder in a position that did not suit him, for a game that everybody expected to be played at a very high pace.

The talented Argentine was often caught out of position and gave away a penalty for a silly foul on Toni Kroos. Emery failed to deal with Lo Celso’s struggles properly and left him on the pitch for an 85-minute ordeal. Surprisingly, Emery praised Lo Celso for his “great match,” preferring to blame the referee for the loss.

“The team played well,” Emery said. “They showed character.”

Emery also left observers puzzled by his decision to replace Cavani with Thomas Meunier just after the hour mark. Cavani, the French league’s top striker, delivered a mediocre performance but, in his defense, had been set up just once by Neymar.

The Brazil star, who was bought by PSG for 222 million euros precisely to be a factor in the Champions League, played second fiddle to Ronaldo throughout the match. Neymar had a hand in Adrien Rabiot’s opening goal with a backheel assist, but his flashes of brilliance were not enough. Neymar’s striking partner Mbappe was disappointing too, failing to convert three good chances.

“We always say the same things, we always do the same things and, in the end, we are always floored in the same way,” Rabiot said. “The problem is that it’s easy to put eight goals against Dijon, or four, in the league. It’s in matches like this that you have to be decisive.”

Emery on eve of PSG at Real: “We have a right to be confident”

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Paris Saint-Germain’s outstanding UEFA Champions League form will be tested Wednesday in the house of the 12-time champions.

Unai Emery knows this. The Spaniard’s had plenty of experience managing against Real Madrid from his time leading Sevilla.

[ MORE: Cahill “devastated” by Mason retirement ]

Emery went 2W-6L against Madrid as Sevilla boss, 2W-1D-7L when he guided Valencia, and 1W-1L with Almeria.

None of those five wins came at the Bernabeu, but Emery had led PSG to an insane win percentage of almost 80 percent during his one and a half seasons at the Parc des Princes.

As for the Champions League, PSG didn’t allow a goal in its first four group stage matches. That includes a 3-0 win over Bayern Munich. And Les Parisiens‘ lone loss, a 3-1 defeat at Bayern, came with the group essentially sealed on massive goal differential

That’s reason to look forward to Wednesday, and Emery said he’s looking forward to matching wits and talent with Zinedine Zidane and Los Blancos.

From PSG.fr:

“I live every match as a great opportunity and I want to make the most of these two matches. I have every confidence in our team, but we also know how tough these games are. We want to play with desire, motivation, and to see a great PSG. We have worked very hard to get here and I think we have a right to be confident.”

Will PSG get over the hump and take advantage of a relatively wobbly Real?

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

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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).