‘All that, for that?’ – PSG and Emery digest another Champions League exit


“All that, for that?” read L’Équipe’s damning headline on Wednesday morning. On a night when the team’s fans had done their best to create a raucous, fiery atmosphere, evincing their belief in a comeback for their side, Paris Saint-Germain unequivocally let their supporters down. Overturning Real Madrid’s 3-1 lead from the previous leg was always going to be a tall order, and the loss of Neymar to injury was also a not inconsiderable obstacle, even if his replacement, Ángel Di María had been in form of late. However, it was not the elimination itself that stung the most, even after a summer in which the club had spent the better part of €400m, but rather its insipid manner.

The most expensively assembled team in the history of football collapsed with barely a whimper, unless Marco Verratti’s dismissal for dissent shortly after the hour can be considered. Much like the first leg, there was a chaotic feel to the match, particularly in its opening moments, but unlike three weeks ago, this was never an encounter decided by fine margins, even as most of the players and Unai Emery stumbled over themselves to take the blame in the aftermath.

Thiago Silva, back as captain after having been dropped in the first leg, offered a frank statement to redouble his belief in Emery and emphasise that haste was not the necessary response, even at such a frustrating juncture.

“It is a shame after the competition we had produced up until now. It is hard for us and the fans,” he said. “We need to concentrate on coming out of this situation. Changes, now is not the right time to talk about that. But it is not the manager’s fault. Those who play are the players. He had to make difficult choices. It is not his fault. We stand together with him. We need to continue, to pick ourselves up and continue.”

Silva’s words may sound like toeing the company line, and to a large extent, the Brazilian’s thoughts echoed those of his manager, who was similarly both elusive and lugubrious when pressed on his own future after the match. “Today, I’m not thinking about that. We all want to win the Champions League quickly. PSG need to digest this disappointment but it’s certain that we will continue with patience to build a team that will win in the future. It’s a process in time but I’m sure PSG will win it.”

Julian Draxler offered a dissenting opinion, with the German winger telling ZDF after the match: “When we equalised, we needed to bring something else in. We needed to continue to push, to go forward. I do not know what happened, I was surprised and a bit annoyed. The goal at 1-1 changed nothing for us. I felt like we needed to continue to press and play attacking football. Real Madrid were playing slowly, calmly. We moved the ball around but you cannot win by just doing that.”

The opinion of Draxler, who would have been nailed on to start this match had it been played a year ago, must surely be taken with a grain of salt, but parsing these various views to get at the heart of what ails PSG is nevertheless important. Silva, in saying it was not the manager’s fault, was correct, even as there have been raised eyebrows over Emery’s decision to drop Layvin Kurzawa, and his substituting of Kylian Mbappé in the match’s waning stages.

But Draxler’s comments have some merit even if his own selfish metrics do not apply. Given the attacking propensity of Marcelo, was it really wise to start the 34-year-old Dani Alves against him? Could Emery really not rouse a more determined and focused performance from his squad? After Real Madrid had weathered an intense start to the match, PSG, having not scored, dropped their heads, losing the determination necessary to succeed in a match of this magnitude.

That loss soon became mixed with frustration after they conceded, and if Verratti’s dismissal was the most readily apparent manifestation of that, the Italian was far from alone. PSG’s players by and large reverted to individualistic displays, seemingly lacking confidence in their team-mates and their manager’s tactics.

Perhaps each player wanted to turn in the sort of heroic individual display that Neymar has offered so often in the past, but they would have been better served by remembering that all of his step-overs and feints had amounted to next to nothing in the first leg.

While a show of unity may not have been enough for them to progress, a resolute performance would have warded off the excoriation the team now face. Despite the (mostly) united front afterwards, it was a lack of that same quality on the pitch that undid PSG. No matter the manager, the transfer fees, or the personnel, until this side learn the value of playing together, success will continue to elude them against the world’s best sides.

Source https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2018/mar/07/psg-emery-champions-league-exit-real-madrid-paris-saint-germain

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