The excitement around Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the 2021-22 season was palpable.
In scenes reminiscent of the ‘Galactico’ era at Real Madrid, PSG appeared to be attempting to build their own version of the Harlem Globetrotters.
The signing of right-back Achraf Hakimi from Inter at the start of the transfer window not only filled a problematic position, but also brought in one of the best young defenders in the world.
Nuno Mendes, albeit on loan, followed to fill the left-back position later in the window, but between those signings PSG completed three sensational free transfers.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and, to top it off, Lionel Messi have joined. Their joint presentation at the Parc des Princes was the main event ahead of a game against Strasbourg in August.
Curiously, Kylian Mbappe’s name has been booed as it was read ahead of this game, amid speculation he could join Real Madrid.
That could well have been the case, but PSG turned down several Madrid advances. Despite all the glitz and glamor of their new signings, Mbappe was still seen as the key to their dream: the Champions League.
But that dream of conquering all of Europe was dashed in March. Ironically, by Madrid. It was Mbappe who put PSG 2-0 in the draw before an inspired Karim Benzema comeback sent Los Blancos into the quarter-finals.
Since then, PSG’s monotonous march to another Ligue 1 title – albeit their first since 2020 – has continued and, inevitably, they claimed it on Saturday in a 1-1 draw with Lens.
Their fearsome top three produced some special moments, but last week’s 2-1 La Classique victory over Marseille, their closest rivals – for lack of a better term – for the title, was played out in front of a destitute crowd. of its most vocal supporters, who had chosen to boycott the match in protest against the management of the club.
And while an eighth league title in 11 years of Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) ownership cannot be scoffed at, it’s the least PSG can expect given the grandiose nature of their expensively superstar squad. constituted.
Mbappé bound for Madrid?
Mbappé is the first player to score more than 20 goals in the competition in three separate seasons before his 24th birthday since Hervé Revelli, who scored it four times between 1967 and 1970.
Ahead of the game against Lens, Mbappe’s tally of 33 goals in all competitions was surpassed only by Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski among players in Europe’s top five leagues, with the French star also surpassing his expected goals (29.5 ).
If this is to be his PSG swansong, then Mbappe steps out in style, if not on the biggest stage. After being mocked by his own supporters in August, the tables turned when Mbappe was cheered following PSG’s Champions League exit, with the boos reserved for Messi and Neymar instead.
PSG seem determined to try and keep their talisman, but it really doesn’t seem to be helping, and it seems certain that Mbappe will light up La Liga next season.
Messi move on?
Yes, you read correctly. Messi – arguably the greatest player of all time – was booed by PSG fans. Such is the fickle nature of football fans, they were cheering for his name when the next match came around, but at 34, does the Barcelona great really need to risk his reputation being damaged?
Goals haven’t come free for Messi at PSG, managing just nine so far. However, he contributed creatively with 13 assists, although his expected assists (xA) of 9.86 suggests he benefited from finishing above the norm (which can be expected when you provide Mbappe and Neymar as well).
One wonders if he will stay to help bid for an 11th league title in PSG history next season.
It’s time for Poch?
It’s not just the future of star players that is up for debate. Mauricio Pochettino replaced Thomas Tuchel as the latter failed to win the Champions League, only for Tuchel to go and win the tournament with Chelsea. Pochettino, meanwhile, saw his side lose in the semi-finals to Manchester City last season and then go down to Madrid in the round of 16 this time around.
His Ligue 1 record shows 39 wins from 55 appearances, with the Argentine coach overseeing eight defeats and eight draws to record a winning percentage of 70.9. Pochettino’s side have scored 123 goals and conceded well under half (49).
However, Pochettino’s 2.27 points per game ranks below his three predecessors; Tuchel took 2.37, as did Unai Emery, and Laurent Blanc recorded 2.35. Carlo Ancelotti (2.14) is the last PSG coach to take fewer points per game.
The ex-Tottenham boss may have been expecting a Manchester United call-up, but they’ve gone for Ajax’s Erik ten Hag. Given that the Champions League is the alpha and omega of PSG, will Pochettino get another chance?
More more more?
Regardless of what happens with Mbappe, Pochettino or Messi, one thing is certain: PSG will once again be linked with the biggest stars in the market.
If Mbappe decided to promise a bigger chunk of his career at PSG, would they step out and look to further boost their chances of Champions League glory? If he leaves, how do they replace his goals?
Backing Messi and Neymar to find the difference shouldn’t be out of the question, but it seems unlikely that QSI would want a star player to leave and not replace him.
Paul Pogba should be available for free, and it’s not hard to imagine the French star strutting around in PSG blue. Georginio Wijnaldum’s move was not a success and the Dutchman’s former club Newcastle United – now cash-rich of course – have been linked.
And Keylor Navas? Donnarumma, despite some careless mistakes, seems to be the number one choice as a goalkeeper now. Surely the Costa Rican will want to be a first choice elsewhere? Ramos has barely been able to keep fit and PSG lack a world-class partner for Marquinhos.
PSG may have to take a step back to finally move forward and become a dominant force in Europe, not just France. Maybe sticking with Pochettino is the right way, and they should forget about star signings for now and let the coach build something like he did in North London, using more players. young and adding stardust with the talent he already has at his disposal.
Based on the past decade, however, that doesn’t seem likely.