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PSG’s glitzy recruitment drive backfires on coach Pochettino

March 10, 2022 GMT
PSG's head coach Mauricio Pochettino watches his players during the Champions League, round of 16, second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
PSG's head coach Mauricio Pochettino watches his players during the Champions League, round of 16, second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
PSG's head coach Mauricio Pochettino watches his players during the Champions League, round of 16, second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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PSG's head coach Mauricio Pochettino watches his players during the Champions League, round of 16, second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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PSG's head coach Mauricio Pochettino watches his players during the Champions League, round of 16, second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain’s glitzy offseason recruitment drive was hailed as the best in European soccer and designed to lead PSG to Champions League glory.

But it backfired completely as goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s error against Real Madrid on Wednesday night led to another capitulation in soccer’s elite competition.

Now PSG only has the league title to look forward too, having also been eliminated from the French Cup.

Dreams of a treble are over for coach Mauricio Pochettino.

While Sunday’s home game against rock-bottom Bordeaux is a good chance to boost PSG’s goal difference — and Kylian Mbappe’s large goal tally — a win will do little to ease the pressure on Pochettino.

The mild-mannered Argentine was hailed as an ideal replacement after tempestuous coach Thomas Tuchel was fired midway through last season.

Pochettino was bolstered during last summer as the club made aggressive moves in the transfer market, including bringing in Lionel Messi from Barcelona.

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They certainly caught the attention of the soccer world back then, but they did not work against Madrid.

Right back Achraf Hakimi, who cost 60 million euros ($66 million) from Italian champion Inter Milan, was exposed in defense and taken off late on.

Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, signed from Premier League powerhouse Liverpool, did not even get off the bench. Veteran defender Sergio Ramos, winner of four Champions League titles with Madrid, has been injured most of the season.

Why PSG needed to sign Donnarumma at all is baffling, since the club already had one of the best goalkeepers in Europe last season in Keylor Navas.

Navas kept PSG in several games, including brilliant performances against Barcelona and Bayern Munich as the French club reached the Champions League semifinals.

Donnarumma was the star of Italy’s European Championship win in the penalty shootout against England and is famed for his coolness under pressure. But with PSG up 2-0 on aggregate against Madrid, the goalkeeper played it a little too cool trying to dribble around Karim Benzema rather than clearing a routine back pass. That gifted Madrid a lifeline, after which PSG’s lack of composure under pressure was again exposed as Benzema scored twice more for a 3-1 win.

A familiar story.

Three years ago PSG became the first team to be eliminated after winning the away leg 2-0, losing to Manchester United 3-1.

In 2017, it was the first team to be eliminated after winning the first leg 4-0, losing 6-1 away at Barcelona.

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The coaches back then, Unai Emery and Thomas Tuchel, claimed PSG does not have a problem coping with pressure. But Pochettino watched in a state of bewilderment as Madrid went from 2-0 down on aggregate to 3-2 up in 17 minutes.

The way PSG’s midfield was so easily bypassed on Madrid’s second and third goals is symptomatic of the way it has played all season.

Only Marco Verratti stands out in PSG’s midfield and, with Neymar and Messi both well short of their best form, only Mbappe really performs in attack.

His goals have carried PSG in a season where, without late equalizers or winners and more consistent opponents, PSG’s lead of 13 points over Nice would be far less.

Lille beat PSG to the title last season on the back of consistency and an iron defense, which Nice and third-place Marseille have been lacking this season.

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