A season that initially looked like the beginning of a new era ended in yet another frustration for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Despite pulling well-away from its closest rivals in Ligue 1, the Parisians' collapse against Real Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16 was a low point for the team, the management, and the fans, who will look back at the season as yet another missed opportunity.
Paris failed in the strategic, psychological departments of the game against Real Madrid, but the lack of competition in the French League seems to have hurt its cause even more. If only Unai Emery and his players had regularly faced tougher opponents in Ligue 1, they could be better prepared for the Madrid storm.
Even though Paris has one of world football's most talented forward lines, made up of Kylian Mpabbe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar, it lacks strategic depth. They were fast and lethal, but only when left with ample time and space. But rarely did they face opponents like Real Madrid, who knows very well how to neutralize individual talents.
In the first leg of the tie, Paris at least created a number of opportunities against hosts Real Madrid. But with its collapse in the final ten minutes followed by Neymar's injury a week before the second leg, changed the whole story. It was now a team clueless about opening up a well-drilled defense that excels in upending its opponents' offensive strategies.
It would be fair to say that against Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain became aware of the fact that it lacked collective actions in the final third and relied heavily on individual talents, but it was too late. The scenario could have been very different if it faced tougher opponents, like Atletico Madrid or Manchester United, earlier in the tournament. It simply did not have a plan in place to tie-up the different elements of attack, other than keeping the ball and waiting for an individual miracle to take place. Kylian Mpabbe tried hard to break the Real defense for 90 minutes, but PSG lacked ideas that could make his job easier or effective.
As PSG's offensive woes became more apparent, Real Madrid tightened the screw on its opponent's individual talents. It was tragic but not surprising how PSG, a team with one of the best attacking forces in current world football, fizzled out against a more experienced team, a more organized defense and a clearly better opponent.
Many people, including me, did not question PSG's attacking strength and depth, but it was rarely tested in Ligue 1. Its defeat against Bayern Munich in the group stages should have come as a warning, but because it was a game of formality not many people paid attention.
For PSG and Unai Emery, the message is clear - putting a bunch of talented players in a team does not essentially make a title-winning side - it requires a well-thought-out plan, collective action and plenty of time. It might have a great squad and a very talented coach but success, or becoming the best team in Europe, for that matter, will remain a dream as long as those pieces of the puzzle do not fall into place.
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