AS Monaco inflicted a heavy defeat on Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday at the Stade Louis II. Wissam Ben Yedder broke the deadlock after 25 minutes, and Kevin Volland added the second goal in the 65th. Ben Yedder eventually bagged one more from the spot in the 84th, after Presnel Kimbembe brought down Volland inside the box.
It was certainly a surprising result. One would have expected PSG to build on the 3-0 win over Bordeaux the previous week and work towards getting the Madrid shock out of their minds as soon as possible, but here we are.
The failings of Pochettino
When a team consisting of great players doesn’t perform to the level that may have been expected, many will shout about ‘too many stars’ and not enough hard work or tactical discipline. It’s not always that simple; sometimes even professional managers with years of top-level experience cannot pin-point the exact root of the problem.
However, on this occasion, some things seemed pretty clear even before the first whistle.
With Lionel Messi unavailable through a bout of flu, Mauricio Pochettino arranged his team in a 4-4-2 shape with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar upfront and the back four consisting of Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Nuno Mendes and Achraf Hakimi. But the main curiosity was the middle section of the team, a flat four consisting of Marco Veratti, Danilo Pereira, Leandro Paredes and Georginio Wijnaldum.
I’d seriously like someone (preferably Pochettino) to explain this midfield setup. pic.twitter.com/mSz9wNrB5u
— Vesko Trajković (@VeskoTrajkovic) March 20, 2022
These four players mainly boast similar qualities, and even though some of them are versatile enough to make this midfield setup in essence something different than it looks at first glance, that simply wasn’t the case. In fact, it was hard to tell what exactly each of them had been tasked with. They mostly seemed to be getting in each other’s way in the middle, and when out wide, they frequently found themselves in the way of the fullbacks, thus limiting their usually significant attacking potential.
As a result, PSG struggled to keep hold of the ball for the most part of the first half, not to mention getting it over the halfway line, and Monaco’s high press was highly effective. It’s fair to say the visitors should’ve thanked their luck and a few moments of questionable finishing from the home side for the fact that they were only one goal down by halftime. At the other end, they found themselves close to getting a goal on only one occasion, and that was a consequence of a poor back-pass which Monaco goalkeeper Alexander Nubel miscontroled half a yard from the line and almost put in his own net.
The bottom line – PSG had four players in their midfield, and arguably two of those would have been enough if complemented by one or two more creative, attack-minded ones.
It was pretty different after the break when Neymar dropped deep to pick the ball up more frequently and started pulling the strings as a playmaker. That, in turn, caused Mbappe to be more isolated upfront, and the introduction of Mauro Icardi in the place of Paredes in the 69th minute was obviously supposed to counter that. But the other changes Pochettino made – Idrissa Gana Gueye for Wijnaldum, Abdou Diallo for Mendes and Julian Draxler for Neymar – made no difference whatsoever.
Following the loss of the Ligue 1 title last season, the Champions League failures both last and this season (not to mention the manner of the Santiago Bernabeu defeat), and thoroughly unconvincing recent outings such as this one, it stands to reason to expect that Pochettino’s days in the French capital end soon. Manchester United are reportedly interested in his services, and it may be better for the Argentinian to return to the league of his greatest triumphs as of yet. Some managers simply aren’t cut out to work at clubs boasting such stars and wielding apparently unlimited funds.
Despite playing at home, Monaco were rightly regarded as the underdogs ahead of this match, and impeccable tactical discipline, approaching each task between the first and final whistle with maximum dedication, is often the only way of producing a satisfactory result in such circumstances. That’s exactly what the home side did, exposing the flaws PSG were full of, and they fully deserved the convincing victory.
Philippe Clement in the Monaco dugout has recently been criticised heavily and it seemed the club might have made a mistake when they appointed him in the place of Niko Kovac. League defeats at home to Reims and away to Strasbourg, as well as the Coupe the France and the Europa League exits Clement oversaw since arriving, prompted some serious thought. It was said that the club weren’t considering sacking him just yet, fearing to make another hasty decision at this point, but if this match was anything to go by, they may well hope that the 47-year-old will yet prove worthy of their trust.
Arranged in a 4-2-3-1,Youssouf Fofana and Aurelien Tchouameni did a brilliant job as the midfield duo, protecting the back line quite efficiently, pressing high and adding to the attacking numbers when required. The trio of Geison Martins, Jean Lucas and Aleksandr Golovin was deployed further up and made the day particularly hard for the PSG defence.
At the other end, they may have been lucky in one or two situations, but luck is often an important part of any sport, and football is obviously no exception.
PSG still on course for the title
The crisis the Parisians appear to be in so far hasn’t really produced strong consequences. Pochettino’s men still top the Ligue 1 table with 65 points, 12 more than Olympique Marseille in second place, and they’re obviously still close to regaining the title that currently resides with LOSC Lille.
Nonetheless, winning the domestic title hasn’t been enough for this club for a long time now, and they’ll still have their eye on the Champions League next season. Even though Mbappe and Pochettino seem set to leave as a free agent this summer, Messi is said to be up to the task of leading this team, along with suitable reinforcements that will surely come, on that mission.
The Argentinian seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will likely have to play closer to the opposition goal with a stronger emphasis on scoring than was the case this term, but that will, naturally, largely depend on the man hired to succeed Pochettino in what has truly become a hot-seat.
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