News Live Scores
PSG

Pochettino leaving PSG makes sense: Messi, Neymar and Mbappe are undermining the coach at every turn

18:09 GMT 27/11/2021
Mauricio Pochettino Neymar Messi Mbappe PSG 2021-22 GFX
The Qatar-backed club have assembled one of the most star-studded forward lines in history but not one of them works hard enough for the team

Mauricio Pochettino looked fed up, hands in his pockets and frowning deeply throughout much of Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on Wednesday night.

This is not Pochettino’s team. They have none of the hallmarks of his tactical philosophy, none of the characteristics – neither technical nor psychological – to suggest the players are listening to his instructions. 

The Argentine demands collectivism and hard work to enact his Bielsa-inspired football of hard pressing and vertical lines.

PSG are the exact opposite: three forwards wandering carefree around the pitch, seemingly uninterested in helping their team-mates and, therefore, undermining Pochettino at every turn. 

We all know those superstars hold all the power; that Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar have free licence.

But being inside the stadium on Wednesday, keeping an eye on the front three at all times and not just when the camera is pointing their way, gave a whole new perspective on the extraordinary situation at PSG.

Pochettino has given up trying to impart his usual tactics, instead embracing the kind of conservative counterattacking football he would never have accepted at Tottenham Hotspur or Espanyol.

It is a pragmatic and rational way to cope with the unprecedented situation of being a manager with the full support of the board but holding less authority than the players.

Where Pochettino wants a collective high press, PSG must hunch in a low block and defend only their own third.

Where he wants razor-sharp interchanges through midfield he must accept longer passes towards ambling forwards – who then slow the game down. 

Their strategy in the Champions League – eight players cowered low and doing all the dirty work, while the forwards lounge about and try to do something on the break – is captured neatly in their pressing stats. 

PSG rank fifth in the Champions League for pressures applied in their own third (330) but are in the bottom three for pressures in the middle and attacking third (255 and 114). 

They should not be such extreme outliers at both ends. Only Malmo and Sheriff are similarly lopsided.

All of this, every tactical issue that leaves PSG incapable of challenging for the Champions League this season, comes down to the presence of Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe.

The TV camera has to follow the ball, and so when PSG are sat back, defending in two lines of four and three, the forwards are often not on screen. 

It would be fair to assume they are watching diligently, shuffling across in a specific pattern designed to pin back some of the opposition defenders while waiting for counterattacking chances.

That is not what is happening.

Nine times out of 10, Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe are walking, or looking in the wrong direction, or standing completely still with their hands on their hips.

More often than not they are clumped together on the same side of the pitch, a good 20 yards offside and in no position to be available for the pass should a transition happen.

Throughout the game at the Etihad, which Man City completely dominated with an immaculately choreographed team performance showing everything PSG were missing, Pochettino’s forwards failed to do even the most basic things.

Never mind defending (and, clearly, none of them will ever block a passing lane or press the ball) they were not even making the right runs. 

Ander Herrera would have possession down the left channel, for example, and need a simple 10-yard sprint down the line from Messi to open up the pitch. It would not come.

That happened again and again, with Messi the worst offender but not the only one.

Neymar and Mbappe were playing futsal, attempting something fun and frivolous at every opportunity. All three forwards looked visibly frustrated when forced to make a short or backwards pass.

This is not how a modern football club should operate. It is a fable on the influence of money, a consequence of Qatar Sports Investments bringing such riches to Paris. 

The lesson, clearly, is that tactical acumen and collective sacrifice are still the building blocks of the sport – which is a great relief to us all, and explains the schadenfreude when it comes to PSG’s problems.

It is unlikely PSG’s owners will learn that lesson any time soon. A surprising record of reaching the final and semi-final of the last two Champions Leagues suggests they’re doing just fine, although these are red herrings and the situation is only getting worse. 

What’s more, being 11 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 and social media awash with images of an iconic front three in PSG shirts shows Qatar’s project is working on some level. 

But this is not a serious team and not even an interesting one. It is certainly not a project for someone as talented and demanding as Pochettino, who understandably wants to join Manchester United as soon as possible. At least at Old Trafford he would be able to make big calls and sculpt the club in his image.

As GOAL has revealed, PSG are open to letting Pochettino leave at the end of the season and it certainly makes sense for both parties considering Zinedine Zidane is waiting in the wings.

Zidane – who won three Champions League titles with Real Madrid by controlling the egos, playing safety-first football and winning the ‘moments’ – is a considerably better fit.

But Zidane’s Real team had determined, battle-hardened winners like Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo in their prime. 

PSG, on the other hand, are bloated with ageing superstars, many of whom – judging by the 2-1 defeat to Man City – just don’t care enough.