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.”