By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – Paris St Germain may have clinched their long-expected sixth Ligue 1 title in the last seven seasons but that triumph cannot mask the French club’s shortcomings on the European stage where results have failed to match their huge investment.
Even the prospect of another domestic double — PSG play Stade Rennes in the French Cup final next Saturday — cannot soothe the pain felt by fans at seeing their galacticos again fall at the last-16 hurdle in the Champions League.
On the domestic front, their financial power helped them once again crush the opposition as they have so far scored 95 goals and conceded 27, losing three Ligue 1 games this season.
Lagging far behind, second-placed Lille have benefited from Nicolas Pepe’s scoring form, the Ivory Coast striker having plundered 19 goals and set up 11 this term.
He is, however, far off the pace set by league top scorer Kylian Mbappe who has found the back of the net 30 times.
Usual contenders Olympique Lyonnais and AS Monaco have also been unable to compete with PSG’s financial clout.
The principality club sacked coach Leonardo Jardim after a difficult start to the season and replaced him with their former player Thierry Henry but he failed to revive them and was ousted as they recalled the Portuguese midway through the season.
Monaco are hoping to avoid relegation while at the other end of the table Lyon, who are third, have had a see-saw season with Memphis Depay unable to live up to the hype surrounding the Dutch forward — just like PSG in their Champions League quest.
Having spent over 1 billion euros on players since Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) took over the club in 2011, including the likes of Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe, PSG have not got past the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition since 1995.
In the last three seasons they have gone out in the last 16 after squandering a four-goal lead against Barcelona in 2017 and a two-goal away advantage against Manchester United this year.
German coach Thomas Tuchel, who replaced Unai Emery this season, also could not manage a domestic treble which the Spaniard and France World Cup-winner Laurent Blanc achieved.
PSG can argue that bad luck struck as Neymar suffered a foot injury before the Champions League knockout phase but like last year they have not addressed several weaknesses including the need to develop a winning mentality. Just ask Dani Alves.
“I know how to win,” Brazil fullback Alves, who won three Champions League titles at Barcelona, said this week.
“When someone has been there, maybe it’s good to listen to them, rely on their experience. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. I’d like that when I say something, they’d listen more.”
Tuchel and the PSG management also failed to resolve Adrien Rabiot’s situation, with the gifted midfielder being left out of the squad for most of the season over a contractual dispute.
With Blaise Matuidi having departed for Juventus in 2017, Tuchel has often had to play Marquinhos alongside Marco Verratti in midfield, although the Brazilian is probably his best central defender and PSG have suffered by conceding some soft goals.
It was Marquinhos’s deputy, Presnel Kimpembe, who handled the ball to give United a last-gasp penalty at the Parc des Princes last month that ended the Champions League campaign.
Tuchel also failed to appoint a clear number one goalkeeper, with French international Alphonse Areola and Italian great Gianluigi Buffon swapping roles throughout the season, likely preventing either of them to get into their groove.
Buffon made a rookie mistake that led to Romelu Lukaku’s goal when United won their last-16 second leg 3-1 in Paris, a damaging result that left PSG’s expensive squad still chasing their elusive Champions League dream.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris, Pritha Sarkar and Ian Chadband)