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Football Reporting


Mauricio Pochettino is embracing PSG’s natural chaos factor to make them a Champions League force

Having just seen his Paris Saint-Germain team score a third goal to go 3-2 up in a Champions League quarter final first leg at the Allianz Arena, Mauricio Pochettino surely felt the urge to protect what he already had. After all, Bayern Munich hadn’t suffered a European defeat at home for over two years.
Rather than introducing defender Thilo Kehrer or even midfielder Rafinha to shore things up, though, Pochettino saw an opportunity to go for even more, replacing Angel di Maria with Moise Kean just three minutes after Kylian Mbappe had netted his second, and PSG’s third, of the night.

Kean ultimately had little impact on the final stages of the match, but that the on-loan Everton forward was used at this stage of a potentially season-defining encounter revealed a lot about how Pochettino views the group of players he has inherited and what he sees as the route to Champions League glory.

The inherent chaos at the Parc des Princes has engulfed almost every manager who has had the audacity to walk through the door in the Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) era. This is a club where only one prize, the Champions League trophy, represents fulfilment and this blinkered pursuit of a single objective has resulted in an unbalanced squad and culture at the club.

Thomas Tuchel, a combustible character in his own right, attempted to tame PSG and achieved some success in leading the club to their first ever Champions League final last season, but the German followed Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and Unai Emery by ultimately bursting into flames.

Pochettino, however, has embraced the chaos, at least in terms of the way he has set up PSG in the Champions League. The Argentine knows his defence will be exposed if relied upon too heavily. He has recognised the shortcomings of his squad and the strength of his attack, leaning into the latter. This was evident in the exhilarating performance against Bayern Munich.

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Mbappe and Neymar were unleashed, exploiting the space in behind Bayern Munich’s high defensive line time and time again. It helped that both players came equipped with their final ball and sharpest decision-making, but there were no limitations applied to either player in Pochettino’s system.

Things may have been slightly different had Pochettino been able to select Marco Verratti, the one PSG player who could have given Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich a run for their money in the centre of the pitch. There was plenty of talk about Robert Lewandowski’s absence, but Verratti’s was arguably just as big a factor for PSG.

Verratti, however, did play at the Camp Nou when PSG produced a similarly energetic performance to beat Barcelona 4-1 in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16. Even when Pochettino has had the option of control and measure, he has chosen to harness PSG’s wild side.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of Pochettino’s early days as Tottenham Hotspur manager, when he knew he didn’t have the squad to play a complete game. Instead, he focused on the areas where Spurs were strongest and played to those strengths. This is essentially what Pochettino is currently doing in the French capital.

PSG’s start to life under their new manager has been an uneven one, with the away win over Bayern Munich preceded by a home defeat to Lille just a few days earlier. The Parisians are currently second in a one-horse race at the top of Ligue 1, so not everything is as rosy for Pochettino as Wednesday night’s performance and result made out.

But victories at the Camp Nou and Allianz Arena hint at important realisation made by Pochettino. Rather than pushing against PSG’s chaos factor, he is using it to their benefit. There’s no point in holding back the likes of Mbappe and Neymar. Wind them up and let them go, possibly even all the way to the Champions League title.

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