And yet there’s no doubt the pressure is mounting on manager Thomas Tuchel and that the cracks are starting to show.
There is a make-or-break feel about PSG’s visit to Manchester United on Wednesday night, a sense that not only their Champions League ambitions but their entire season hinges on the outcome at Old Trafford.
Thomas Tuchel is feeling the pressure as Paris Saint-Germain head to Manchester United for a crucial Champions League meeting on Wednesday night
Tuchel has taken aim at his players and the unreasonable levels of expectation placed on his shoulders in recent weeks amid defeats in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League
Not to mention Tuchel’s future. It doesn’t seem very likely PSG’s Qatari owners will keep faith with the German coach if they’re facing the prospect of Europa League football after Christmas.
A second defeat to United in this group stage would not kill off PSG’s hopes of making it through to the last-16 but it would mean a fraught matchday six encounter with Istanbul Basaksehir and more than a few anxious requests for updates from the RB Leipzig vs United game.
When the group stage draw was made, PSG were heavily fancied to finish top of Group H. They were last season’s Champions League runners-up, after all, and surely had the class, firepower and knowhow to finish above a shaky-looking United, young pretenders Leipzig and debutants Basaksehir.
Instead it’s United who need just a point on Wednesday to advance and PSG locked in a dogfight with Leipzig to take the other spot and avoid the very scant consolation of dropping into Europe’s secondary competition.
PSG and RB Leipzig, both on six points, face a tense shoot-out to make it into the last-16
It’s been a frustrating Champions League campaign so far for Mbappe, Neymar and PSG
They were stung by United at the Parc des Princes in their opening match, looking lacklustre in the opening half before improving in the second, only to be repeatedly denied by David de Gea and an unlikely back three of Victor Lindelof, Axel Tuanzebe and Luke Shaw before Marcus Rashford’s late winner.
That defeat immediately put them on the back foot and things worsened with a 2-1 loss away to Leipzig on matchday three.
Angel Di Maria put them ahead just six minutes in but then saw a penalty saved. Leipzig, well-beaten by PSG in last season’s semi-final, spied an opportunity for revenge, especially with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe both absent through injury.
Of all people, Christopher Nkunku, who spent nine years at PSG, equalised and then the discipline of Tuchel’s side just disintegrated.
Emil Forsberg converted a penalty to put Leipzig 2-1 up before Idrissa Gueye and Presnel Kimpembe were both sent off.
Marcus Rashford’s winner for Manchester United consigned PSG to defeat on matchday one
Neymar and company found themselves well shackled by United’s defenders that night
Tuchel seemed to sum up the lot of a PSG manager in his post-match comments: ‘No, I don’t feel in danger. It’s the life of a coach in Paris, I have the impression that the press, the environment is very critical, but that does not change my work with the team.
‘It’s the life of a trainer in Paris, it’s never enough.’
It was certainly a sound point. If it isn’t enough for PSG to merely win as opposed to winning with supreme style and authority, then it’s positively a crisis when they lose.
Tuchel’s evident frustration with the intolerable level of sky-high expectation at the club boiled over after the reverse fixture on matchday four.
They edged a 1-0 win thanks to Neymar’s early penalty, but Leipzig squandered all the best chances having enjoyed 62 per cent possession. It was a PSG win that could be described as ‘ugly’.
RB Leipzig came from behind to get the better of PSG in Germany on matchday three
PSG lost all their discipline with two players, including Presnel Kimpembe, seeing red
And when a journalist ventured to ask afterwards why PSG weren’t playing with greater style, Tuchel exploded. ‘The questions are always the same! Why don’t you go and ask them in the dressing room – if you’ve got the balls to do that.
‘I am sick and tired of this – I am tired of being measured against your expectations!’
Those expectations are at their highest domestically. PSG have won 24 of the last 28 domestic trophies going back to 2013 and their dominance of French football has long been taken for granted.
But after 12 matches this season, Tuchel’s team have already suffered three league defeats, the same number as they suffered in the whole of 2019-20 which was, admittedly, curtailed because of Covid-19.
It isn’t really mentioned that after 12 games last season, Tuchel’s side had also lost three times. Indeed, their 12th game was an embarrassing 2-1 defeat at bottom side Dijon.
Neymar’s penalty helped them past RB Leipzig last week but qualification is far from assured
PSG were well below their best but their ‘ugly’ 1-0 win keeps them in contention for the last-16
The big difference is that back then PSG sat eight points clear at the summit and looked set to win another league title at a canter.
This time around, they have a slender two-point advantage over a chasing pack of Lille, Lyon, Monaco and Montpellier and look altogether more vulnerable.
They opened the season with a surprise defeat at newly-promoted Lens and a loss at home to arch-rivals Marseille, a fiery game to say the least with five red cards.
PSG then proceeded to win their next eight league matches, all with considerable ease, but the past couple of weeks have seen shortcomings exposed.
Mbappe removes his runners-up medal after PSG came within touching distance of their goal
A tearful Neymar reflects after PSG lost August’s Champions League final 1-0 to Bayern
They conspired to throw away a two-goal lead at Monaco and lose 3-2, after which a furious Tuchel described their second-half performance as ‘catastrophic’.
‘We weren’t serious enough… we are completely responsible for this defeat, when the match was almost over in our favour. I have to accept all the criticism, because we have completely stopped playing,’ he added.
The manager was even more annoyed after PSG again surrendered a lead in Saturday night’s 2-2 draw with Bordeaux, launching into another rant.
‘Normally I always protect my team but today I totally disagree. It is not necessary to lose points a second time like that after Monaco. It was worse than against Monaco,’ he said.
So even if a glance at the league tables doesn’t scream ‘crisis’ for PSG, there’s definitely a sense that Tuchel is feeling the heat.
PSG are in their familiar position atop Ligue 1 but don’t have their usual points margin
PSG were stunned by newly-promoted Lens on the opening day of the Ligue 1 season
They then lost a bad tempered clash with rivals Marseille in which five players were sent off
Neymar walks from the field after being shown a red card in the clash with Marseille
Of course, he isn’t helped by the sky-high expectations he rails against. The whole of French football relishes any little slip-up by this lavishly-assembled team, which is expected to win every competition it enters.
The Champions League, of course, continues to elude them but Tuchel took them closer than anyone else when they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich back in August.
That, however, might not prove enough mitigation to save him if PSG don’t emerge from the group stage ahead of Leipzig next week.
They haven’t played in the Europa League since the season the Qatar billions arrives in 2011-12 and the owners will have no intention of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Molde, Braga and Maccabi Tel Aviv in the new year.
One thing in their favour is their superior head-to-head record with Leipzig, thanks to that ‘away goal’ scored in Germany, which would split them if they finish level on points.
The Brazilian star has also suffered injury issues this season, heaping more problems on PSG
Another factor has been the inevitable fatigue caused by a shorter-than-usual turnaround between seasons. PSG’s 2019-20 campaign finished with the Champions League final on August 23 and 2020-21 started just 18 days later at Lens.
Another knock-on effect has been injuries. Even a club with the squad depth of PSG has been down to the bare bones of 13 fit players at times this season.
Star man Neymar has been in and out of the side with injury niggles, a positive coronavirus test and a suspension following his red card against Marseille.
His partner in the forward line Mbappe also tested positive at the start of the season. Curiously, he’s gone almost a year without scoring in the Champions League, yet remains in fine form in the league.
But none of these factors are likely to spare Tuchel if PSG aren’t in the Champions League last-16 draw. He is out of contract next summer anyway and may well have taken them as far as he can.
Whether he makes it that far could well depend on Wednesday night’s outcome at Old Trafford.