Mauricio Pochettino may only have taken the helm at Paris Saint-German in January, but the Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich already looks like a crucial competition for the Argentine – so how does the former Tottenham boss has he behaved so far at the Parc des Princes?
In many ways, Pochettino seemed the obvious candidate to replace Thomas Tuchel when the German was sacked by PSG as the Ligue 1 champions took third place in the table just before Christmas.
Not only was the 49-year-old available after leaving Spurs in November 2019, he was also a popular former player in the French capital, having represented the club between 2001 and 2003.
This popularity only increased when Pochettino almost immediately led PSG to a 2-1 victory over fierce rivals Marseille in the delayed 2020 Trophee des Champions – the French equivalent of the FA Community Shield – the first trophy of his career. 12-year-old manager.
Meanwhile, in February, Pochettino orchestrated one of PSG’s most memorable European displays, a stunning 4-1 Barcelona win that helped set up the last eight Champions League clashes on Wednesday night with the Bayern, the team that propelled Tuchel’s side to the trophy in August.
However, it hasn’t been easy so far for the new man in Paris, with Pochettino having already overseen four losses in his first 14 games at the helm, while Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Lille leader was unthinkably the third consecutive PSG. at home.
And as French football writer Tom Williams explains, the new manager has yet to really make an impact on the side.
“So far, his record has been a mixture of the very good (the first leg victory against Barcelona, an excellent 4-2 loss for Lyon before the international break) and the very bad (a 3-2 loss to Lorient in difficulty and home defeats against Monaco, Nantes and Lille), ”said Williams.
“The Champions League success against Barca – and in particular the manner of the first leg victory at Camp Nou – has earned him a lot of credit, but he doesn’t feel like he’s really made his mark on the team yet.
“PSG always look like a collection of talented individuals, rather than a real team, and that was precisely their problem under Tuchel.”
As most new managers tend to do, Pochettino made some tactical adjustments, abandoning the 5-3-2 setup Tuchel had chosen at the end of his tenure for a 4-2-3-1 scoring system, while there have also been some line-up changes.
The Champions League success against Barca – and in particular the manner of the first leg victory at Camp Nou – has earned him a lot of credit, but he doesn’t feel like he’s really made his mark yet. on the team. PSG always look like a collection of talented individuals, rather than a real team, and that was precisely their problem under Tuchel.
The end results, Williams says, weren’t always convincing, however.
“During Neymar’s recent injury absence, Pochettino experimented by moving Marco Verratti into the No 10 role and achieved some success, especially in the 4-1 win over Barcelona,” he said.
“Skipper Marquinhos has returned to his preferred role as center-back, having often played as a midfielder under Tuchel, and Abdou Diallo has joined the squad from left-back.
“Pochettino also helped Kylian Mbappe get back to his best form. But despite some bright moments, there is still a lack of cohesion in the way PSG play with and without the ball, which was noticeable in Saturday’s loss. against Lille. “
Ultimately, however, it will be how Pochettino makes the most of his two world-class forwards that will decide the success of his return to Paris.
“One of Tuchel’s main failures as a PSG coach has been that he struggled to get the most out of Neymar and Mbappe’s involvement over an extended period and that is one of the main challenges that Pochettino faces, ”Williams says.
“If he can get these two men to come forward and put pressure on opposition defenders like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Heung-min Son and Christian Eriksen did during the best years of his tenure at Spurs , PSG will be a truly terrifying proposition.
“But Unai Emery and Tuchel both tried the same thing and ultimately failed.”
All of this makes the Champions League quarter-final match with Bayern – whose first leg is Wednesday night at the Allianz Arena – so crucial for Pochettino.
Win it and not only will it have taken revenge for last season’s 1-0 loss to the Bavarians in the final, but it will also be one more step towards the holy grail when it comes to Qatari owners of PSG, putting the hand on the Europeans. top notch club competition.
Lose and all questions about Pochettino having never won a (major) trophy will come up again, and that’s before they even start talking about their Ligue 1 title defense.
When the former Spurs boss took over at the start of the year, PSG were third in the table, and while they are currently in second place, three points behind the Lille leader, they no longer have only two points ahead of Lyon, fourth. there are seven games left to play in this campaign Championship.
In light of the money the owners have invested in the squad, it would be nothing short of a humiliation if PSG miss the Ligue 1 title.
There is therefore little margin for error in the running-in with regard to Pochettino and even if he was only appointed on an 18-month contract – with an option for an additional year – halfway through the season, failure to retain Ligue 1 would lead to serious questions being asked of the new head coach.
“Considering the amount of money the owners have invested in the team, it would be nothing short of humiliation if PSG miss the Ligue 1 title.
“The competition is fierce, with Lille and Monaco in particularly good shape, but PSG have one of the most lavishly assembled teams in football history.
“PSG’s hope, every season, is to win the Ligue 1 title. At an absolute minimum. They’ve only failed twice in the QSI era – once the first season after the Qataris arrived, when ‘they lost in Montpellier, and once in 2016-17, when they were knocked out by an extraordinary Monegasque team.
“Pochettino has credit in the bank due to his previous associations with the club and the fact that he only arrived mid-season, but if he misses the title it will only serve to fuel the accusations that he has sort of a blind spot when it comes to leading teams to trophies. “
Given that this is PSG, however, not even getting their hands on the big one will guarantee his survival at work.
“Of course, if PSG did end up winning the Champions League this season, everything would be forgiven. But Tuchel was sacked just four months after leading PSG to their very first Champions League final, which shows that in as far as club owners are concerned, even continental achievements do not guarantee immunity. “
View from France: PSG facing Mbappe’s dilemma
Recent reports in France have claimed that Neymar has reached a pre-contract deal with PSG until 2026, with the club now focusing on making a similar deal with Mbappe.
However, as Williams explains, while the Brazilian forward is expected to stay at Parc des Princes, his striking partner’s long-term future looks less certain.
“It seems likely that Neymar will commit his future to PSG in the near future,” he said. “Mbappe’s situation seems a little less clear.
“The France international admitted in January that he is ‘thinking’ about his future and with his contract expiring in 2022, PSG could make the choice between losing it for free next year or cashing in – as best they can. , in the current financial climate – this summer. “
Follow the two stages of the Champions League quarter-final between Bayern Munich and PSG via our dedicated live blog on Sky Sports digital platforms