Paris Saint-Germain: 2018/19 Ligue 1 Preview

Paris Saint Germain go into the new season with a different manager and hope to better a treble winning season. Can they do it in the Champions League with Tuchel?

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REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Paris Saint Germain won three trophies last season. Ligue 1, the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue were swept up with ease. And yet, they find themselves with a new manager this season following Unai Emery’s departure from the French capital.

PSG might be the only club to sack a manager following a treble winning season, and now they’ve done it twice. Laurent Blanc was the first to face the axe after his victorious 2015/16 campaign. 

Both managers can look back on their time at PSG with dreams of what might have been. The board’s impatience means that now Thomas Tuchel will have just two years to improve on his predecessor’s efforts. 

That will be no mean feat. Blanc won the domestic title in every season at the club but lost in the quarterfinal of the Champions League at each attempt. Emery won five trophies in two years, but went out in the round of 16 in Europe’s premier club competition.

It’s clear where the board’s priorities lie. Success in Europe is what defines PSG’s season, and that will be Tuchel’s only goal.

2017/18 Season Review

Domestically, PSG had a near perfect season in 2017/18. They suffered only three losses throughout the campaign, including cup competitions. A shock Monaco Ligue 1 campaign briefly questioned the Parisians’ dominance in France in 2016/17, but last season was very much a return to the norm. 

Finishing 13 points clear of second place, PSG were never in any doubt of taking the league title. They hadn’t lost a match until December and the media already talked about a possible invincible season. A shock defeat to strugglers Strasbourg ended any hopes of that. 

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe played in their debut seasons for PSG, and both had years to remember. They took Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year respectively in the UNFP awards (the equivalent to the PFA in France) and scored a combined 32 goals in the league. 

REUTERS/Edgar Su

The only real blip on French soil was the spat between Neymar and fan favourite Edinson Cavani. Before last season, Cavani was on penalty and free kick duties for PSG, but Neymar came to the French capital expecting all to go his way. 

Dani Alves infamously took the ball away from Cavani following a foul before handing it to his compatriot which caused widespread rumours over the egos in the dressing room. Unai Emery did little to stamp out the trouble and said it was the players’ duty to sort out. For the rest of the season, the two shared set-piece duties.

In the Champions League, Paris Saint Germain crashed out to eventual winners Real Madrid in the round of 16. After a convincing start to the tie from the French side, Cristiano Ronaldo did what Cristiano Ronaldo does and saw the Parisians off with ease.

Following their Champions League elimination, the rest of the season fell flat. Even their cup finals were nothing special; PSG players barely even celebrated simple 3-0 win in the Coupe de la Ligue over their closest rivals Monaco. 

They will once again focus all of their efforts into Europe and hope to come out on top.

Who’s In?

Gianluigi Buffon has been added to the ranks. But at 40 years old, this feels like more of a symbolic signing than anything. He is still a great goalkeeper, but Alphonse Areola had arguably the best season of his career in 2017/18. Kevin Trapp provides another big name back up, and surely all three goalkeepers can’t stay at the club. 

REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Other than this, Kylian Mbappe has officially joined the club after his season-long loan from Monaco and claimed the number seven shirt. 

Jerome Boateng is a name closely linked with PSG and he could be a vital addition if Tuchel wishes to switch to a formation with three centre halves as they lack significant depth in this area.

Who’s Out?

Javier Pastore joined at the beginning of the Qatari takeover of the club in 2011. Back in the early days, he was a key player for the side. Over time, however, PSG invested more money into the first team, upgrading every single position. Pastore was part of the players who were sacrificed to aid the club’s situation with Financial Fair Play. His transfer to Roma brought £22m into the coffers.

Yuri Berchiche is a peculiar appearance on the departure list. He signed for PSG last summer and eventually rose above Layvin Kurzawa in the pecking order at left back due to the Frenchman’s poor performances. 

He looked to have cemented himself in the position, but Athletic Club bought the Basque for £21m. Perhaps the club saw him as a less important cog in the machine and cashed in to balance the books. If Kurzawa regains his first team spot, this is a downgrade.

Thiago Motta has hung up his boots at 35. He was a good servant to the French club, but PSG have needed to replace him for two years now. His quality was never in doubt, but his stamina had become a real issue and his retirement should give the side a good excuse to bring in fresh blood.

Predicted Lineup

Tuchel seems to favour a new formation for the French champions. The German manager has used a three at the back system in pre season with wing backs to support the attack. 

The addition of another centre back is vital if they are to continue with this strategy as only three are really up to scratch. Another left back would not go amiss as Kurzawa is not reliable enough. He can be very clumsy, though he does show some flashed of brilliance. That should not be enough to secure him a starting 11 spot in a team that wants to win the Champions League though.

In attack, all three of Neymar, Cavani, and Mbappe have to play, and so the midfield spots are the ones to keep an eye on. 

Adrien Rabiot has done his reputation a lot of damage over the summer. After they left him out of the France World Cup squad, he threw a tantrum aimed at Didier Deschamps and PSG refused to come out to support the 23-year-old.

After Giovani Lo Celso’s fantastic season, he has to play week in, week out, though a midfield of him and Marco Verratti looks weak defensively. The final central midfielder in the squad is Lassana Diarra. He is a solid player all round, but does not excel enough is any individual department to merit a starting place. 

The Key Question: Can they do it in the Champions League?

Paris Saint Germain will win Ligue 1. Monaco and Lyon are clubs famous for their youth development but sell any top class talent before long. The latter have kept most of their squad this season but lack the depth to challenge PSG throughout the season. Marseille are still several players away from mounting a serious challenge.

Tuchel will probably win both domestic cups, too, but it would not be a surprise to see them miss out on one as upsets can happen in a knockout tie.

REUTERS/Bobby Yip

So close but yet so far seems to sum up PSG’s Champions League campaign each year. They set a record for the most goals scored in the group stage last year, but crashed out immediately after. 

All the pressure will be on how they do in this competition and they have failed to prove that they have the will to go all the way in the last few years. Memories of La Remontada in the Nou Camp are no doubt still haunting the dreams of many Parisians.

Prediction

Best Case

The quadruple. Champions League victory is not out of the question alongside the domestic treble this year.

Worst Case

One trophy. With a new manager coming in, it may take time to settle, and lack of interest in the domestic cups might cause a slip-up.

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Paris Saint Germain will most likely win two trophies this season. Lyon and Marseille have both strengthened, and Monaco have revitalised their team, as they always do. It is probable that one of these three will win one of the Coupe de France or Coupe de la Ligue to end PSG’s hegemony in France. Ligue 1 should be a formality.

In the Champions League, they should surpass last year’s round of 16 and should make it to the semi-finals. They lack the defensive depth to go all the way and need an anchorman to sit in front of the defence. Tuchel’s change of shape might reduce the need for that defensive midfielder, but for the German to win the tournament in his debut season would be quite a feat.

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