When Nasser Al-Khelaifi and his Qatar Sports Investments took over at PSG, it was with one goal in mind. It was why they appointed Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc, Unai Emery and Thomas Tuchel. That goal was not to win Ligue 1, the Coupe de France or the Coupe de la Ligue. It was first and foremost to win the Champions League. It is something that, to be frank, they have not come close to. So, will this year be any different, and, if so, why?
PSG’s Champions League Record
Cracking the Champions League is not easy. Just ask Manchester City, who have been unable to convert domestic dominance into success in Europe and who, of course, are facing a two-year ban from all European competition. The spectre of FFP has also been hovering around the French side, so this year (the same as for Manchester City) there is an added incentive to lift Europe’s biggest cup competition.
Since QSI came on board, PSG have failed to make it past the quarter finals. The last three seasons have seen them bow out in the last 16; last March they threw away a 2-0 away win at Old Trafford to lose out on away goals. Admittedly, the two previous seasons they met Real Madrid and Barcelona in the last 16, but were outclassed in both legs. Those are teams that a club with the money, players and ambitions of PSG should be competing against, not waving the white flag at.
The same as with clubs, there are managers who seem to prefer and prosper in European competition as opposed to domestic football. Surprisingly, this is not the case with Thomas Tuchel, whose track record on winning silverware is limited. He was brought in with a reputation as an up-and-coming coach who is not afraid to bring in and develop young talent. That is perhaps surprising, given QSI’s ambitions, but there are definite signs that his side are in a better place in terms of the Champions League this time around.
PSG’s 2019/20 European Campaign – the Positives
Once again, the Champions League odds for PSG this year show that they are just outside the top four most fancied sides to go all the way in Istanbul. That would suggest nothing has changed. Look a little below the surface, however, and that is not the case.
Going into previous years, the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid were always looming on the horizon. You got the impression, much like fighters climbing into the ring against Mike Tyson in his heyday, that they were beaten before it had kicked off. Real Madrid are nowhere near the team they were, as demonstrated in the group games when they were beaten by PSG 3-0 before drawing at home. That game, along with the fact that they topped the group, will give the Parisians belief that, firstly, they can beat the old guard and, secondly, that things do change (have changed) among Europe’s elite.
Their opponents for the round of sixteen, while not easy, are certainly not the toughest. Dortmund sit third in the Bundesliga, and Tuchel and PSG will be confident they will be able to overcome them. Tuchel will obviously know them very well from his time spent managing their rivals in the German top tier, and his team certainly possess the talent to win over the two legs.
And that is the other main positive that PSG’s fans can draw on. Their team has always looked good in part, but almost to a man, they now appear to have strength in every position, with no weak links. Throw in the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, Ángel Di María, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani, who are all world class players who would get a starting place in any top European side, then you do have to think they could very well be the real deal.
The other side of the coin
Until they achieve their goal, though, questions will always be asked if they can compete both domestically and on a European front. It is a question Liverpool appear to have answered emphatically, though (of course) the other way around. PSG’s biggest problem has always been the lack of top-quality pressure, as well as the opponents in their league. The players are not tested to their limits week-in, week-out, so they find it hard to find that very top gear when needed. That has not changed.
Additionally, though Real Madrid have slipped, there are still Barcelona, Liverpool, Bayern and Manchester City. The latter are a wounded animal in terms of UEFA and will feel even more motivated to lift the trophy they could well be banned from defending. Juventus are also another side that are extremely capable of going all the way. PSG will certainly be in the mix, and it will be intriguing to see if they can finally defeat their Champions League hoodoo.