The title aspirations of PSG and first-year manager Laurent Blanc have hit a minor speed bump with recent defeats in Europe and Ligue 1.
By Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip)
Paris Saint-Germain slipped to their first consecutive defeats in all competitions since December 2012 with Sunday’s 1-0 Ligue 1 loss to Olympique Lyonnais at Stade Gerland.
It was also the first time since August of that same year that the French champions have failed to score in successive encounters.
One week ago, PSG coach Laurent Blanc was being lauded for his performance at the helm so far this season for the Championnat leaders, and the capital club’s president Nasser Al-Khelaifi had revealed on French radio that he was keen to tie the Frenchman down to a new deal.
Now—barely seven days later—Blanc’s position appears somewhat less stable after a UEFA Champions League exit at the hands of English Premier League side Chelsea and a surprise second league defeat of the season against OL.
A loss in next week’s rematch against Lyon in the Coupe de la Ligue final at Stade de France could now see what has generally been an impressive debut campaign in the capital completely unravel for Blanc.
What a difference a week makes.
On the face of it, this season has not been a disaster for PSG—far from it, in fact.
Although they have exited the Champions League at the quarterfinal stage for the second consecutive campaign—both 3-3 away-goal defeats on aggregate—the Parisians have made impressive progress domestically.
The Lyon defeat still leaves the three-time Ligue 1 winners 10 points clear of second-placed AS Monaco with only five games remaining. It is still very difficult to imagine PSG throwing away a double-digit lead at this stage of the campaign.
Blanc has also led the capital outfit to Saturday’s Coupe de la Ligue final, something that predecessor Carlo Ancelotti failed to do last term.
Considering that the Italian’s side only pulled clear of Olympique de Marseille to secure an eventual 12-point margin at the top of the table in the final five weeks of last season—only boasting a nine-point cushion at this stage 12 months ago—there has been clear progress made under Blanc.
Not only are PSG one point better off—in terms of their lead over their closest title rivals this time around—but they boast nine greater in total than Ancelotti’s title-winners.
So what is the big deal about the Lyon defeat?
For a start, the problems are not all down to Blanc and his influence over the side, nor is it based on one match. It is a culmination of things.
For a start, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s loss has had a considerable negative impact on the side—once again exposing PSG’s over-reliance on the Swede—and also has knocked their confidence without his leadership on the pitch.
Blanc, for his part, has then shown a degree of tactical naïveté in the past two matches. That was particularly true in the way that he tried to get his team to defend their two-goal advantage against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, knowing that the team was ill equipped to play in that style.
However, being outshone by Jose Mourinho and making a few uncharacteristically poor selection choices for the Lyon clash should not define Blanc’s tenure at PSG.
The former France national-team coach has also shown his intelligence time and again this season, using his tactical nous to secure big results—the 2-1 win in Marseille back in October being one such example.
Generally speaking, though, results do not appear to be the problem for Blanc in Paris at present. The real issue here is player power and how the 48-year-old might be about to fall foul of it.
According to reports last week, the tactical ineptitude shown by Blanc against Chelsea was disappointing for the PSG hierarchy. But it is the subsequent loss of his players’ faith that concerns Al-Khelaifi and the club’s owners more.
Those reports also suggested that the Frenchman has lost the support of key members of the Parisian dressing room.
Although he did not appear to be untrusting of Blanc in his post-match interview, captain and Brazilian international Thiago Silva is thought to be one of those players least impressed by the PSG coach.
Many will point to the Seleçao star’s major error in conceding the sloppy penalty that gifted Chelsea the vital away goal in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg at the Parc des Princes a fortnight ago—suggesting that he takes a long look at himself.
Few can argue against his otherwise imperious presence at the heart of the PSG defence over the past two seasons, though.
Player power is inevitable at a club of the size and ambition of the French champions, not to mention one that boasts the stellar array of talent the side from the capital can at present.
The reservations many had regarding Blanc from the start were always about his authority—or lack of it—when faced with stars such as Silva, Ibrahimovic and the misfiring Edinson Cavani.
They may now ultimately be proved correct.
Should Blanc have really lost the dressing room at this crucial stage in the season, it is a slippery slope from there.
No matter how good the quality of play has been under le President, PSG’s star names will always rule the roost and dictate whether the coach’s face fits or not. In Blanc’s case—as was suspected last summer when he was appointed in desperate circumstances—it appears that his does not.