Paris Saint-Germain currently sits in first place in Ligue 1 and lead their UEFA Champions League group by a sizable margin. Despite the early success of the season, there have been a few results that are cause for concern in the French capital.
Through 12 league games, PSG has already lost three times. This might not sound all that uncommon but due to the club’s financial advantage over other teams in the French league, losing three of their first 12 games is unheard of since Qatar Sports Investments took over in 2011. They’re still favorites to win the French league and worth betting on despite the rocky start.
Last season, Thomas Tuchel’s squad didn’t lose their first Ligue 1 match until February 3 against Olympique Lyonnais. After 38 games, they only lost five times all season with the majority coming at the very end after the devastating loss to Manchester United in the Champions League and things unraveled from there.
In the 2017-18 season, PSG lost three games all year with their first loss coming on December 2 against RC Strasbourg. Even during the 2016-17 season where PSG finished second to AS Monaco in the final league standings, the capital club only had five losses all season with their third loss coming on December 3 against Montpellier HSC.
PSG’s defeats this season are especially confusing when you consider their opponents. You can kind of explain the 2-1 loss to Stade Rennais on August 18. It was early in the season and Julien Stéphan is one of the few managers in Ligue 1 who has figured out how to play against Tuchel’s tactics having defeated PSG last season in the Coupe de France final.
However, it’s a bit hard to explain the 2-0 loss to Stade de Reims on September 25 and even more difficult to explain how PSG could travel to the Stade Gaston Gérard and lose 2-1 to the last place team in Ligue 1 on November 1.
Sure, PSG has been extremely unlucky with injuries to key players this season and fatigue has played a role with several members of the squad traveling from France with their national teams. Tuchel has had to juggle a lot of lineups and apply different tactics to keep the team performing at the highest level possible.
There are those will who will criticize Tuchel though. According to Le Parisien, the German tactician has managed 71 games at PSG since joining in the summer of 2018 and has a record of 53 wins, 7 draws, and 11 losses in all competitions. That’s a win percentage of 74.6, slightly more than Lauren Blanc but lower than Unai Emery who is on the verge of being sacked at Arsenal FC after only two seasons.
The article from Le Parisien goes on to make the point that Tuchel, who has been at PSG for a year and a half, has already lost as many games as Emery and Blanc during their entire tenures. The Basque manager was at PSG for two seasons while the Frenchman was at the helm for three seasons.
Is it possible that three losses this early in the season is a good thing? Marquinhos certainly thinks so. After that shocking loss to Dijon, the Brazilian was asked for his thoughts on three early-season defeats.
“Some years, we started well, we did not lose and we did not reach our goals at the end,” Marquinhos said to Le Parisien.
Marquinhos is exactly right. PSG has rolled through their French competition in recent years, winning Ligue 1 and the two domestic cups nearly every season only to fall flat on their face in the Champions League. It’s often the talking point pundits use to criticize PSG’s shortcomings in the European tournament. They claim that PSG is ill-prepared for the bright lights of the Champions League because they have it so easy in Ligue 1. I’m not sure that narrative fits this season.
There’s an old saying in sports that you learn more from losing than you do winning. By losing to Rennes, Reims, and Dijon, the squad will feel that they are not invincible and that they have plenty to work on during training. When you win all of the time you start to believe the hype and that’s when you go into a return leg at the Parc des Princes against a depleted Manchester United side and lose 3-1 and become the laughing stock of the footballing world.
Tuchel has stressed in his press conferences that he is trying to get the team to focus on one game at a time and not look ahead to an opponent. He wants every player, including the third-string goalkeeper, to prepare for every game as if they are going to start. By losing to mid-tier Ligue 1 opponents, Tuchel can use those results—as well as the loss to Manchester United and the famous 6-1 loss to FC Barcelona—as fuel in training to reinforce his message.
In an interview with beIN Sports, Tuchel revealed what the mood was like last season within the squad heading into the second leg of their Round of 16 tie with Manchester United where they held a 2-0 lead. The German said that his team was “trying too hard to be good.” Tuchel confirmed that he felt that his players wanted to show everyone that this was the year they broke through and had success in the Champions League. Up to that point, PSG had cruised through their fixture list and even topped their Champions League group over eventual winners Liverpool FC. The mixture of an easy run-in before a big match and trying too hard to turn on the intensity ultimately cost them a chance to advance past the Red Devils.
This season, Tuchel is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen and if it means losing a few relatively meaningless Ligue 1 matches so that he can preach that they’re not invincible and that every game is equally important, I think it could ultimately work out.
I’m not saying that Tuchel is intentionally throwing games to teach a lesson, I’m just saying that I don’t think he’s terribly upset that his team has three defeats already. He’s using the results as a teachable lesson.
We’ll have to wait a few more months before we see if losing early-season matches will pay off in the second half of the season. If PSG wins against Club Brugge on Wednesday, they will confirm their place in the Round of 16 of the Champions League and that’s where we will learn if this version of PSG is different or if they’re the same as the rest.
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