Paris Saint Germain and the Champions League is a chequered history. It is a history in which PSG have tried numerous times to get as far as possible or get to the final as during the Corona summer of 2020. Luck was not in their side either on this occasion.
The post as manager of PSG is one that brings with it some obstacles. There is expectations. Ever since the arrival of the big money bags from Qatar it is not enough to win the league each year. With the exception of 2017 when AS Monaco were crowned French champions, it has been PSGs since 2012. That is seven league titles in eight years.
The Champions League match against Leipzig in November was a tough match as either team have played constantly since the beginning of the season. It is therefore natural that some fatigue begins to show. The result of that match was a 1-0.
The real highlight came during the press conference after the game. It was a simple question whether his players lacked nerves in front of goal. And Tuchel exploded. Commentators applauded him for speaking out frankly against the media. There seems to be many people with many axes to grind when it comes to lashing out against the media. However, on this account, Tuchel got it wrong. His reply completely missed the question!
His response refers to the physical effort his players and everyone else playing in these circumstances, make. It is a grinding business and will affect many careers in the short and long term, for sure. The question asked, whether his players lack the psychological aptness was justified and in previous seasons, the answer would have been a resounding ‘No!’. Just last year, in spring 2019, Manchester United eliminated PSG from the Champions League in the first round of knock matches when Marcus Rashford scored a late penalty to make it 3-1 for United; PSG had won at Old Trafford 2-0 and were sure to progress if not for the mental toughness of United.
Three years ago, in February 2017 PSG had Barcelona beaten 4-0 at home and no one cold have foreseen what happened in the return game. As early as the third minute Barcelona scored and ended their goal haul in the 95. minute, scoring six along the way and conceding one. So, the answer whether PSG have the balls to close down matches and progress is no, because they have shown more often than not that they lack this mental toughness required to dominate an opponent over two legs. Of course, Tuchel would never admit that – would he do so, he would be out of his job immediately. What Tuchel has attempted to do with his reply was to protect his players from what he considers undue criticism for a performance that was below their own (PSG’s that is) expectations. This may be so yet it is normal that not every game is a festival of passes, long and short, and goals or goal scoring opportunities. Football is a game that is entirely focused on results and on the night of the Leipzig match, PSG got their result.
Last season, distorted by Corona, PSG got to the Champions League Final where they were beaten by Bayern Munich. It may have been their best chance as the knock-out stages from the quarterfinal onwarded consisted of only one game per round, which means the Parisians were spared the nerve wrecking second leg when they beat Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig.
The relatively rough tone of Tuchel’s reply indicates however that there are deeper lying issues troubling him and his squad. They are not delivering. The club’s direction wants a European trophy, just as the fan base. Yet, this trophy eludes Paris every time the knock out stages begin. There are questions about Neymar’s discipline and how much Tuchel lets him get away with. Surely, such huge personalities must have an impact in the dressing room while at the same time the pressure to deliver mounts with every defeat in the Champions League.