Paris Saint-Germain had hoped that Sunday night in Lisbon would be the culmination of something. The culmination of ‘Project PSG’ which has seen in excess of $1 billion in Qatari oil money pumped into the Parc des Prince club in the attempt to create a European soccer superpower. The sight of PSG lifting the Champions League trophy would have symbolised their achievement of this objective.
Instead, PSG must look at their 1-0 defeat in Lisbon to Bayern Munich as another moment of evolution. While Thomas Tuchel and his players experienced disappointment in falling at the final hurdle, that they cleared these long-standing hurdles at all and were within sight of the finishing line represents progress.
The quarter-final comeback win over Atalanta, which saw PSG score two late goals to snatch victory, represented an exorcism of many of the French club’s demons in the competition. This is, after all, a team that suffered catastrophic collapses in more than Champions League knockout tie in recent years.
If PSG had a mental barrier preventing them from achieving their continental goals, that has surely been broken through. What unfolded in Portugal this month might, in time, be looked back upon as a turning point. It may go down as the moment PSG proved to themselves as much as anyone else that they belong at the elite level of the European game.
Tuchel and the recruitment staff, led by Leonardo, are charged with building on top of what was achieved last season at Parc des Princes. Thiago Silva is set to leave PSG, with the Brazilian expected to sign for Chelsea as a free agent in the coming days. The French champions must therefore install a new defensive bedrock.
While PGS’s frontline is among the most potential in the sport at this moment in time, their midfield could do with some reconstruction. Ander Herrera, Marquinhos and Leandro Paredes formed the central trio against Bayern Munich, with an injury preventing Marco Verratti from starting. It would be incorrect to state PSG lack quality in this area of the pitch, but is this really sufficient quality to conquer Europe, at least when compared to the quality they boast elsewhere in the squad?
Then there are the full-backs. Thilo Kehrer was targeted by Kingsley Coman during the Champions League final, with Juan Bernat on the opposite side of the defence also given a tough time by Serge Gnabry. Of course, this is no great indignity given the brilliance of those two Bayern Munich wingers, but the performance of Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich for the opposition proved just how large an advantage world-class full backs can provide.
With Neymar and Kylian Mbappe as frontmen, PSG are a top-heavy side. While that is enough to retain their perennial crown domestically, winning the last three Ligue 1 titles in succession, a greater degree of balance would give them a better chance of going all the way in the Champions League. This will surely be Tuchel's primary aim during the 2020/21 season, which has already begun for most other Ligue Un sides.
Whether or not the nature of Ligue 1 helps or hinders PSG in their European ambitions is largely down to individual interpretation. While Tuchel has more freedom to rest his key players for Champions League fixtures, PSG have struggled in the past to find their best form when required in the competition. Sometimes it’s as if the comfort of Ligue 1 dulls their edge.
It seems unlikely that PSG will face any real competition for the French title next season either. Marseille have progressed under Andre Villas-Boas, but are still a long way off PSG’s standard. Monaco are similarly a work-in-progress, while Lyon, whose quality shone through during their run to the Champions League semi-finals, may sell on some of their key players in the coming weeks. Their business model depends on it.
The business model is rather different at the Parc des Princes. ‘Project PSG’ needs the club to win. While the French capital outfit have made great strides in turning PSG into a brand that transcends soccer (see the celebrities who now regularly turn up for home games), the whole endeavor relies on the success of the team on the pitch. Tuchel’s side aren’t far from fulfilling their potential, but Sunday’s final against Bayern Munich underlined that they are still lacking in a number of ways.