Mauricio Pochettino may have only taken the lead at Paris Saint-German in January, but the Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich already looks like an important match for the Argentine – so how has the former Tottenham boss fared so far in the Parc des Princes?
In many ways, Pochettino seemed like the obvious candidate to replace Thomas Tuchel when the German was sacked by PSG with the Ligue 1 champions sitting just before Christmas at the table.
Not only was the 49-year-old leaving Spurs in November 2019 available, but he was also a popular former player in the French capital, having represented the club between 2001 and 2003.
That popularity only increased when Pochettino PSG almost immediately led to a 2-1 victory over fierce rivals Marseille in the delayed 2020 Trophy of Champions – the French equivalent of the FA Community Shield – the first trophy of his 12- year-old managerial career.
Meanwhile, in February, Pochettino managed one of PSG’s most memorable European views, a stunning 4-1 win in Barcelona that helped set up the Champions League on Wednesday night eight times with Bayern, the team that Tuchel’s side in August the trophy lay.
However, so far not everything has gone smoothly for the new man in Paris, with Pochettino having already suffered four defeats in his first 14 games at the helm, while Saturday’s 1-0 loss to leaders Lille unimaginably the third in a row was from PSG Home.
And as French football writer Tom Williams explains, the new manager still has to really make an impact on the side.
“His record so far has been a mixture of the very good (the first-leg victory over Barcelona, an excellent 4-2 defeat of Lyon prior to the international break) and the very bad (a 3- 2-loss at warring Lorient and home defeats against Monaco, Nantes and Lille), “Williams said.
“The success of the Champions League against Barca – and in particular the way of the first victory at Camp Nou – deserves a lot of credit, but it does not feel like he has yet to really make his mark on the team.
“PSG still looks like a collection of talented people, rather than a good team, and that was just their problem under Tuchel.”
As most new managers tend to do, Pochettino made some tactical adjustments, thanks to the 5-3-2 formation that Tuchel had set up at the end of his term for a 4-2-3- trade deal. 1 system, dropped, while there have also been some line-up changes.
The success of the Champions League against Barca – and in particular the way of victory on the first stage at Camp Nou – deserves a lot of credit, but it does not feel like he has really made his mark on it team. PSG still looks like a collection of talented individuals, rather than a good team, and that was just their problem under Tuchel.
However, the end results, Williams says, have not always been convincing.
“During Neymar’s recent absence due to injury, Pochettino experimented with moving Marco Verratti into the No. 10 role and achieved some success, especially in the 4-1 victory over Barcelona,” he says.
“Skipper Marquinhos has returned to his preferred central role, having often played as a midfielder under Tuchel, and Abdou Diallo has joined the team as a left-back.
“Pochettino has also helped Kylian Mbappe rediscover his best form. But despite some bright moments, there is still a lack of coherence in the way PSG play with or without the ball, which was remarkable in the defeat. of Saturday by Lille. “
Ultimately, though, it will be how Pochettino costs to get the best out of his two world-class strikers who will decide how successful he is back in Paris.
“One of the main shortcomings of Tuchel as PSG coach was that he struggled to draw maximum implication from Neymar and Mbappe over an ongoing period and that is one of the main challenges for Pochettino,” said Williams.
“If he can get those two to run and push opposition defenders the way Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Heung-min Son and Christian Eriksen did in the best years of his Spurs tenure, he will PSG be a really scary statement.
“But Unai Emery and Tuchel both tried the same thing and both ended up short.”
All in all, this two-legged Champions League quarter-final clash with Bayern – the first leg of which takes place at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night – makes it so important for Pochettino.
Win it and will not only have revenge for last season’s 1-0 loss to the Bavarians in the final, but he will also be one step closer to the Holy Grail as far as PSG Qatari owners are concerned, and get their hands on it on Europe’s main club competition.
Loss and all the questions about Pochettino who has never won a (big) trophy will flood again, and that’s before we even start talking about their Ligue 1 title defense.
When the former Spurs boss took over at the turn of the year, PSG sat third in the table, and although they are currently in second place, three points behind leaders Lille, they are now just two points ahead of Lyon with fourth place seven games left to play in this campaign Championship.
Given the amount of money the owners have invested in the selection, it would be nothing short of a humiliation if PSG missed the Ligue 1 title.
So there is a small margin for error in the run-up to Pochettino and although he was only appointed on an 18-month contract – with an option for an extra year – mid-season, failure to retain Ligue 1 would lead to serious questions to the new head coach.
“Given the amount of money the owners have invested in the selection, it would be nothing short of a humiliation if PSG missed the Ligue 1 title.
“The competition is fierce, with Lille and Monaco in particularly good shape, but PSG have one of the most lavish squads in the history of the game.
“The expectation for PSG, every season, is that they will win the Ligue 1 title as an absolute minimum. They have only succeeded twice in the QSI era – once in the first season after the Qataris arrived. , when they lost out to Montpellier, and once in 2016-17, when they were piped to the post by an extraordinary side of Monaco.
“Pochettino has credit in the bank because of his previous associations with the club and the fact that he only arrived all season, but if he misses the title, it will only serve to make accusations that he is a kind of blind man. takes place when it comes to leading teams to trophies. “
This PSG, though, will not even get their hands on it, will guarantee its survival in the job.
“Of course, if PSG were to win the Champions League this season, everything would be forgiven. But Tuchel was sacked just four months after leading PSG to their first Champions League final, which shows where the as far as club owners are concerned, even continental performance is no guarantee of immunity. “
View from France: PSG gets Mbappe dilemma
Recent reports in France claim that Neymar has reached a pre-contract agreement with PSG until 2026, with the club now focused on guaranteeing a similar agreement with Mbappe.
As Williams explains, however, the Brazilian forward seems to remain in the Parc des Princes, the long term of his strike partner seems less secure.
“It seems likely that Neymar will commit his future to PSG in the near future,” he said. “Mbappe’s situation looks a little less clear.
The French international admitted in January that he was “reflecting” on his future and with his contract expiring in 2022, PSG could choose between losing or earning him for free for years – as best they can, in the current financial climate – this summer. “
Follow both legs of the Champions League quarter-final between Bayern Munich and PSG via our dedicated live blog on Sky Sports digital platforms