PSG Champions League
PSG are relying on Mbappe and Neymar more than ever. Manu Fernandez/EPA.

Paris Saint-Germain were just one win away from achieving their ultimate goal. From the moment Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund completed a takeover of the French club in 2011, the Champions League was identified as the definitive symbol of fulfillment. Only when the famous old trophy is lifted will ‘Project PSG’ be complete.

August’s defeat to Bayern Munich in Lisbon saw PSG come closer than ever to the fulfillment of their ambitions, and yet it was a match that underlined how much further they still have to go to be crowned European champions. The 1-0 scoreline wasn’t quite reflective of Bayern Munich’s dominance.

Rather than using their run to the Champions League final as a platform to build upon, though, PSG have regressed somewhat since August. ‘Project PSG’ is fraying around the edges with Thomas Tuchel openly questioning the standard of the signings made by the club over the summer transfer window.

In response, PSG sporting director Leonardo publicly threatened Tuchel with sanctions, essentially declaring war against his own head coach. “We did not like these statements,” the Brazilian said. “The club did not like them, neither did I personally like them. You have to understand the moment we are all living through, not just in football. In the moment we are all living through, there are very grave situations.”

PSG’s summer additions were indeed underwhelming, especially for a club that has set a new standard for spending at the top of the European game over the last decade or so. Tuchel might have expected the run to the Champions League final would push the club to find the right players to take the final step in Europe. That didn’t happen.

Mauro Icardi was signed permanently from Inter, but the framework of this deal had been in place for 12 months since the Argentine’s arrival on loan the summer before. It was a similar situation for Sergio Rico, who signed permanently from Sevilla having spent last season on loan at the Parc des Princes. Moise Keane, Alessandro Florenzi and Danilo Pereira all signed, but only on loan while Rafinha joined on a free transfer from Barcelona. That was it.

Of course, PSG’s transfer activity was in line with that of many big European clubs this summer, with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid all dramatically cutting the outlay they would have ordinarily made on new signings. Nonetheless, Tuchel has reason to feel aggrieved about the missing of a golden opportunity.

Off-field disquiet has seeped into PSG’s performances on the pitch, with the defending Ligue 1 champions starting their season with back-to-back defeats to Lens and Marseille. This was partially attributable to the number of players missing through Covid-19 self-isolation at that time, but Tuchel’s side also kicked off their Champions League campaign with a home defeat to Manchester United.

That loss in particular exposed much of what is wrong with PSG right now. While their front three of Angel di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar is one of the most potent in Europe, the supply line to them is lacking. Bayern Munich controlled the Champions League final through their midfield, highlighting the deterioration in PSG’s central unit over the last few years, and nothing was done over the summer to address that.

Idrissa Gueye, Ander Herrera and Perreira are all good players, but as a midfield unit they are lacking at the elite level, certainly in terms of their creativity. Marquinhos, Leandro Paredes and Marco Verratti would all have started had they been fit against Manchester United, but there is too dramatic a drop-off between PSG’s best and the rest.

This is even more obvious in defence, where Thiago Silva was allowed to leave as a free agent at the end of last season without being replaced. Abdou Diallo has been asked to step up, but has so far failed to show he is capable of filling the void left by Silva. At left back, Mitchel Bakker has broken through while Florenzi is a short term solution following the exit of Thomas Meunier.

Regardless of PSG's options in defence and midfield, there's immense pressure for Tuchel to take this team to the very top given the aforementioned attacking talent. Adding to that pressure is the speculation that their two mega-stars, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, will soon search for greener pastures, with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester City already sniffing about. The window of opportunity could be closing.

Results have picked up since the disastrous start to the Ligue 1 season, with PSG now top of the table after Saturday’s 4-0 home win over Dijon, but there remains a deep malaise at the Parc des Princes. The road in the Champions League doesn't get easier after capitulating to Manchester United, with fellow 2019-20 semi-finalist RB Leipzig looming. The French club dispatched them with ease in that August match, but only one side appears to have improved year on year. Barring a return to form, last year's breakthrough will remain just that, with PSG's peak not quite enough.