Red mist proves costly as pressure grows on Pochettino at PSG ahead of French Cup semi-final against Montpellier

Poor disciplinary record contributing factor to Parisian's Champions League exit and possiby missing out on Ligue 1 title

A penny for the thoughts of Maurico Pochettino when he sits down to watch the season’s two major European finals.

First up, Manchester United, a club who recently and very seriously sized up Pochettino as their potential manager, will be taking on Villarreal, the small-town club guided to their historic Europa League showdown by Unai Emery, the coach who used to be where Pochettino is now, at Paris Saint-Germain.

Three nights later, Pochettino will view the latest all-English final of the Champions League. He was one of the managers, Tottenham’s, for the last all-Premier League version two years ago. On Chelsea’s touchline on May 29 will be Thomas Tuchel, who was until December in the job Pochettino has now.

The closed merry-go-round of elite coaches can often produce these sorts of coincidences and crossovers and, at PSG, there is a regular churn of managers. A coach’s typical duration in the job is around two seasons. The experiences of Emery – two seasons – and Tuchel – nearly two and a half – provide a fairly clear template of what terminates a manager’s stay.

Emery failed to win the French league in his first campaign – a rarity at modern PSG. He survived that mishap, but was bid ‘au revoir’ after falling short twice in Europe. Tuchel, who won successive Ligue 1 titles, took PSG to the club’s first Champions League final last August. He finished second-best there, and, once the following league campaign hit some bumps, he was sacked.

PSG sat third when Tuchel left. They had suffered four defeats and drawn twice in their first 17 matches. Pochettino has since elevated them one place. In his 19 matches in charge he has suffered four defeats and drawn twice.

Not much change, then, from old boss to new boss, but time is running out to recuperate the points dropped by both Tuchel and Pochettino. Lille, who beat PSG in Paris last month, are top of the table, three points clear with two matches to go.

“It’s not over yet,” insisted Pochettino after PSG conceded a 70th minute equaliser at Rennes in Sunday’s 1-1 draw. “In football so many things can happen.” For PSG in the last two weeks, not many of those things have gone right.

After being outthought and outbattled by Manchester City, Pochettino will not be confronting Tuchel’s Chelsea with the European Cup at stake on May 29. PSG, as against Rennes at the weekend, went ahead in their semi-final tie against City but finished up 4-1 losers on aggregate.

They finished both legs with ten men, Idrissa Gueye and Angel Di Maria shown red cards, a habit followed at Rennes by Presnel Kimpembe, who, like Neymar after his red card against Lille, was involved in hot-tempered altercations in the players’ tunnel afterwards.

Gallery: PSG 0 Lille 1

There is a stubborn Parisian pattern here. Seven times this season PSG players have been sent off after the 80th minute of matches, which puts them at the top of at least one European table. No other club in any of the top five leagues can match PSG’s record of so many shortened fuses whenever the odds against winning a contest start to lengthen.

“You could see there’s been frustration in certain moments because of results,” said Pochettino of Kimpembe joining the list of suspensions and ruling himself out of tonight’s French Cup semi-final at Montpellier.

The domestic Cup now looks like PSG’s best shot at retaining any title this season, but Pochettino will have to reach the final without Kimpembe, or the suspended Ander Herrera or Marco Verratti, who is both suspended and has a knee problem diagnosed as grave enough to keep out him out of action for the whole of May.

“There have been ups and downs,” admitted Pochettino. “We [he and his coaching staff] came in four months ago, and the aim was to help the players and the club. Everything we have seen and the information we have gathered will allow us to move forward in the future.”

It sounded like a subtle reminder that on-field indiscipline will become a topic to address in the summer, that ownership of this season at PSG is only partially Pochettino’s, that some of the responsibility for where PSG are in the league table still belongs to Tuchel.

Not that Tuchel will be gazing back. He has his second Champions League final in two seasons to focus on. As for Emery, his PSG chapter seems a long time ago, although his repeated warnings that the French league title should never be taken for granted by the country’s most powerful club once again look rather relevant.

Published: May 12, 2021 06:58 AM

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