Veteran Buffon screams a warning to complacent PSG teammates
PARIS (AP) — Gianluigi Buffon screamed from the dugout watching his Paris Saint-Germain teammates crumble in the second half of Saturday’s game.
PSG wasn’t playing Marseille, Monaco or Lyon away from home but Nimes — the side with Ligue 1′s smallest budget returning to the top flight after 25 years.
PSG won 4-2, but could have lost as Nimes clawed back from 2-0 down to equalize, hit the crossbar and draw a save from PSG’s goalkeeper.
During that flurry of pressure, PSG’s composure completely disappeared and it looked anything but a team able to win the Champions League. That’s what doubtless flustered Buffon, one of the best goalkeepers of all time.
The 40-year-old Italian has played 176 times for Italy, winning the World Cup and playing in a European Championship final. In a glittering career with Juventus he has played in three Champions League finals and won the past seven Serie A titles.
This is a player who has seen it all, and simply does not accept complacency.
Although nearly retired, he remains one of the most dedicated and hard-working professionals in the game — an inspiration to many.
He was rested for Saturday’s game, and clearly the lackadaisical attitude he saw in the second half irritated him as he barked from the touchline as if he were PSG’s coach. At one point he stood with both index fingers pointed at his temple, the veins of his neck seemingly near bursting as he yelled at his teammates to think more clearly about how they were playing.
A glance at the league table shows PSG has a maximum 12 points, but two of those games could have been lost because the defense is vulnerable and the midfield lacks leadership now veteran Thiago Motta has retired.
As in previous seasons, PSG’s lack of teamwork and tendency to switch off puts it under pressure in matches it should comfortably win — given the quality of its squad and the relative inequality of the French league.
Invariably, an incredibly strong forward line saves PSG.
This was often the case in previous seasons and has already happened twice this season, with 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe making the difference in tight matches with late goals.
Both he and Neymar have scored four each, while Edinson Cavani — top scorer in the past two seasons and PSG’S all-time leading scorer — has netted in both games since returning from a calf injury. Also, Argentina winger Angel Di Maria scored an exquisite goal direct from a corner on Saturday.
But it is telling that coach Thomas Tuchel bought two defenders during the transfer window.
Veteran Brazilian defender Thiago Silva looks cumbersome and way past his best — he gave away a clumsy penalty against Nimes — and the fullbacks are easily caught out with passes played behind them.
This is clearly an issue Tuchel needs to address.
PSG remains a top-heavy team overly reliant on its attacking armada to bail it out, which usually works in Ligue 1.
But PSG has an incredibly tough Champions League group featuring last year’s runner-up Liverpool and Carlo Ancelotti’s ambitious Napoli.
Complacency and poor defending against those sides will be ruthlessly punished.
Rennes could be an outside bet to qualify for the Champions League, thanks to the quality of its summer signings.
Coach Sabri Lamouchi has taken powerful Senegal striker M’Baye Niang on loan from Serie A side Torino. Niang previously played several seasons with AC Milan.
Winger Hatem Ben Arfa joined after a miserable spell with PSG. He remains one of the most skillful players around and a proven match-winner on his day. After not playing all last season, the former France winger will be hungry to impress.
Lamouchi, a former midfielder, also moved for Clement Grenier.
Before persistent injuries stalled his career at Lyon, Grenier was one of the best midfielders in the French league and played five times for France. At 27, the free-kick specialist is still young enough to turn his career around.
All of which is very good news for Rennes.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire