It didn’t take long for the sniping to begin. The French newspapers the morning after Paris Saint-Germain’s crushing Champions League defeat to Real Madrid were filled with dressing room disgruntlement and backroom scrutiny of Unai Emery and the tactics he employed at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Indeed, PSG were largely passive against the defending European champions, failing to make the most of the opportunity they were presented. Emery already had a reputation in Spain for being something of a big game coward, for bottling the big occasion, and what happened last month only added to that reputation.
And so Emery’s job is very much on the line in Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 second leg. With the deficit standing at 3-1, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that PSG could still overturn Real Madrid, even without Neymar. But elimination from the competition would surely spell the end for the Spaniard in the French capital.
The Champions League is, after all, where PSG want to make their mark. They didn’t spend £200 million on Neymar to retain the Ligue 1 title. They have their sights set on the very top of the European game, with the club’s Qatari owners disappointed that they haven’t already scaled such heights.
Everything looked to be in PSG’s favour this season, with the field as open as it has been for years. Real Madrid, even taking their recent upturn in form into account, aren’t the formidable force they were a year ago, with Barcelona still in transition under Ernesto Valverde. Manchester City are something of an unknown quantity, with Bayern Munich enduring a mixed campaign, sacking a manager earlier in the campaign.
For many, PSG were the favourites to win the whole thing after the group stages. They were the competition’s top scorers after six games, with the much-hyped frontline of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani the most potent in the game. Yet all this was unravelled in the first leg against Real Madrid.
Increasingly, Emery is being viewed as the weak link. PSG now have a team strong enough to challenge in the Champions League, such has been in the investment at the Parc des Princes over the past few years. He has failed to harness the quality of his best players when the occasion has called for it. He’s not of the same caliber as his squad having never achieved anything in the Champions League before. Europa League titles don’t count for a lot in this case.
It’s not just in the defeat to Real Madrid that Emery has provided a rod for his own back. PSG faced a similar season-defining moment in the Champions League last season, taking a 4-0 lead into a round of 16 second leg against Barcelona. What happened in that second leg (an astonishing Barca 6-1 win) showed to many that Emery isn’t up to the job. Now, with the scenario flipped, he must show to his doubters, of which there are many, that he is.
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