Paris St Germain are facing one of the game’s greatest challenges as they aim for victory at Manchester United in a pivotal Champions League Group H game today, coach Thomas Tuchel said. Last year’s runners-up PSG are second on six points, three adrift of United and ahead of RB Leipzig, who face Istanbul Basaksehir, only thanks to their better head-to-head record.
“We’re at Old Trafford to win, not just to get a good result, and winning here is one of the world’s toughest challenges,” Tuchel said yesterday. PSG have only grabbed one point from their last two Ligue 1 games and they were fortunate to beat Leipzig 1-0 at the Parc des Princes last week. United, on the other hand, have won their last four games in all competitions, scoring 11 goals. “Tomorrow, depending on the result of Leipzig at Istanbul (in an early kickoff), our game could be a final,” Tuchel said. “We have to be ready for a big battle.”
PSG’s injury woes have however almost disappeared with only fullbacks Thilo Kehrer and Juan Bernat, as well as midfielders Pablo Sarabia and Julian Draxler, out of the Old Trafford clash. Tuchel is also hoping that France striker Kylian Mbappe will rediscover his scoring touch in the Champions League, having failed to find the net in his last eight appearances in the competition, a streak that dates back to last December. “I’ve heard about this stat an hour ago and to be honest I was really surprised,” said Tuchel.
“Maybe that’s another reason why we’re where we’re at now, but I know Kylian has the qualities, the personality and the experience to score again (in the Champions League),” the German added.
Midfielder Marco Verratti, recently back from yet another injury layoff, said PSG will need to be faultless against United. “We’ll have to be perfect, individually and collectively, to grab all three points,” he said. “They’re quick, athletic. But we have to focus on ourselves.”
PSG are top of Ligue 1, although their lead has been trimmed back in recent weeks following more disappointing displays. There will be potentially major consequences if they fail to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League, something they have managed in each of the last eight seasons since becoming regulars in the competition again after the Qatari takeover.
Tuchel is out of contract after this season and sporting director Leonardo is not believed to be a huge fan of the German, even if he recently dismissed reports he was looking for a replacement. “Honestly the club has never thought about another coach to replace Tuchel. Now is the time to concentrate on our objectives and to stick together,” Leonardo said in a question and answer session with supporters.
Despite that, it is hard to imagine Tuchel surviving in the event of a European disaster, as being dumped out at the first hurdle would be a huge blow to PSG’s prestige. Over the last decade it has become almost impossible for such ignominy to befall one of Europe’s super clubs, a category into which PSG now fit as the fifth-richest in the world according to Deloitte’s Football Money League.
Barcelona have made it out of their group in every season since returning to the competition in 2004, while Real Madrid have got out of their group in every year since 1997. Bayern Munich have done so in every year since 2008. Manchester City have already secured an eighth consecutive appearance in the last 16, Juventus a seventh.
Financially, the repercussions could be serious. PSG are looking at ways of extending the contracts of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, whose existing deals expire in 2022, but how can they in their current financial predicament?
Documents released in 2018 by Football Leaks showed Neymar’s after-tax salary to be 30mn euros ($35.8mn) a year while Mbappe’s salary was due to rise to 11mn euros this year. If PSG are prepared to offer whatever it takes to keep them, will they be able to invest in the other areas of the team that need upgrading?
They have been hamstrung by the coronavirus crisis, suffering huge losses from the decision to cut short the last French season. RMC Sport recently reported that PSG were preparing for a loss of some 200mn euros this season, chiefly from lost gate receipts due to the pandemic. A group-stage exit from the Champions League would only make things worse. Just reaching the last 16 was worth 9.5mn euros last season, while reaching and winning the final was worth another 41.5mn euros, enough to cover the wages of Neymar and Mbappe for a year. UEFA is set to reduce prize money over the next few years because of the impact of the health crisis, but PSG can ill afford to miss out on these sums. The stakes in Manchester will be high.
Champions League fixtures
GROUP E: FK Krasnodar vs Rennes; Sevilla vs Chelsea
GROUP F: Borussia Dortmund vs Lazio; Club Bruges vs Zenit St Petersburg
GROUP G: Ferencv?rosi TC vs Barcelona; Juventus vs Dynamo Kyiv
GROUP H: Istanbul Basaksehir vs RB
Leipzig; Manchester United vs Paris
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