Despite a cup and—probably—a league title, the PSG brass may not be convinced that Laurent Blanc is the long-term answer as manager.
By Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip)
Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc—along with fellow Ligue 1 tactician Claudio Ranieri at AS Monaco—finds himself in the most difficult of situations.
Though the French champions have won the Coupe de la Ligue and are surely about to secure a second consecutive Championnat title, the suggestions are that the PSG hierarchy are not entirely convinced that he is the man for the job long-term.
The media certainly are not convinced.
Ranieri finds his head on the chopping block after leading Monaco straight into the Champions League after being promoted from Ligue 2 just last season—but that was to be expected—as the belief has always been that les Monegasques would look for a more prestigious coach at the first opportunity.
Blanc’s situation is little more perplexing, though.
For a start, PSG have had their chance with a top-level coach in Carlo Ancelotti, yet they lost his trust by not having the patience to allow him to fully stamp his authority on a team that was full of individualistic talents, but devoid of genuine chemistry.
Le President—although considered a second-rate coach—has bettered the Italian’s record with PSG in one solitary season. What is not to like?
The problem for Blanc at present is that he is giving the capital club the ammunition with which to shoot down all of his achievements this season by running out of steam—like his side—as the campaign draws to a close, lending credence to the criticisms that have surfaced in the past month.
Plenty has been made of the Parisians’ Champions League exit, but that should be forgiven if not completely forgotten. Although the elimination was particularly disappointing considering the two-goal advantage built up in the first leg, Jose Mourinho’s tactical brilliance—love him or hate him—is difficult to argue with.
What can be debated, though, are Blanc’s tactical limitations. And they are already under great scrutiny in France.
The Frenchman’s inept strategic performances against Olympique Lyonnais (twice), Evian Thonon Gaillard and now FC Sochaux-Montbeliard—even the pre-Champions League games against FC Lorient and OGC Nice—belie a coach who does not know how to react when “Plan A” doesn’t work.
More often than not, there will always be a saving grace for PSG’s coach: that the quality of the squad is so superior—particularly to domestic opposition—that even tactical ineptitude can be overcome because of the sheer level of ability that the capital outfit can boast.
Ligue 1 is an excellent league for cancelling out that sort of advantage thanks to its physicality, but recent 1-0 wins over Lorient, Nice and Evian are perfect examples of that star quality providing the slightest of advantages.
A combination of lacklustre leadership and the poor attitude of certain players is now exposing that Blanc appears to have done little more than find a way to get a team brimming with largely individual talents to function efficiently within a specific formation.
This is something that Ancelotti failed to do, but the Italian crucially did not lose the confidence of any of his players while in charge. His successor has, though, according to recent reports.
Perhaps that is where Blanc is letting himself down, and his inability to keep his players focused right up until the title has been won is what is beginning to undermine him at the Parc des Princes.
Or, it is just that he does not know how to organise a top-heavy team other than in a 4-3-3 formation—the same problem that Ancelotti had, except he did not even get that system to work effectively?
Blanc has lost tactical battles in both recent encounters against Lyon—although PSG did ultimately beat OL in the Coupe de la Ligue final—because of an inability to react to his players’ struggles in front of goal or the opposition finding the net.
The 48-year-old has shown the same hesitance in the matches against Evian and Sochaux, preferring to make like-for-like substitutions that change the personnel but not the shape, substitutions that have also become all too predictable for anyone that watches PSG regularly.
Although Blanc’s side did not lose to Evian and Sochaux, they needed a late Blaise Matuidi winner— owing more to the player’s refusal to give up than anything else—and could have found themselves on the end of a shock defeat against les Lionceaux last weekend.
Both sides are currently battling relegation and are hardly of Champions League quality.
The concern is that if Blanc is now getting found out at a domestic level and appears to have no answer to these recent problems, then how long is it until PSG get found out in Europe, too? Many will argue that they already have been by Chelsea in the quarterfinals.
Nobody can take away from Blanc’s achievements this season, and the Frenchman deserves the praise that he will eventually receive for guiding PSG to a more convincing title win than Ancelotti’s. But even that will not guarantee him much slack next season if he does not develop alternate strategies in time for next campaign’s assault on all fronts.