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PSG look to go one better in Champions League but doubts remain

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Paris Saint-Germain’s Spanish midfielder Pablo Sarabia celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Nimes (NO) and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) at the Costieres Stadium in Nimes, southern France, on October 16, 2020. (Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP)

Paris Saint-Germain came so close to winning the prize they crave more than anything in last season’s Champions League and are hoping to go one better this time, but there are concerns that the Qatar-owned club might actually have gone backwards in recent months.

Bayern Munich’s greater experience told in Lisbon in August, and there were tears at the end for Neymar as the French champions agonisingly lost 1-0 in their first-ever Champions League final.

Two months on, Thomas Tuchel’s side begins their latest bid for European success at home to Manchester United on Tuesday, in a rematch of the last-16 tie in 2019 which PSG lost to a controversial late penalty.

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It, therefore, brings back memories of just one of several painful defeats in the Champions League in recent years, but the reality is that Paris should be considered favourites against the Old Trafford side and to win a group also containing RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir.

Yet whether this will be the season that they do go all the way remains to be seen.

Tuchel has been the first to complain that his squad is weaker than it was last season as PSG — having already seen several key players depart over the summer — have started the new campaign hamstrung by injuries, suspensions and coronavirus cases.

‘Clumsy and rushed’
Right-back Thomas Meunier and all-time record goal-scorer Edinson Cavani left when their contracts ended, not even sticking around for the latter stages of the Champions League in August — Cavani is now at United and so could come back to haunt his old side this week.

Skipper Thiago Silva did stay for the ‘Final Eight’ in Lisbon but has since joined Chelsea and complained that sporting director Leonardo had been “clumsy and rushed” in refusing to offer him a deal to stay.

“Not only with me,” the Brazilian told France Football. “Cavani is the top scorer in PSG’s history. I am saying this so that the club progresses and doesn’t make the same mistakes in future.”

Tuchel would appear to agree with that view, with his apparently difficult relationship with the man who makes the signings producing regular headlines in France.

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“We will do everything we possibly can and we will never accept excuses but we have to face up to the reality and that is that we have lost players,” the German, who is in the final year of his contract, said earlier this month as he indicated PSG could not win the Champions League without major strengthening.

“We didn’t like what he said. The club didn’t like it and I didn’t like it either,” said Leonardo.

“If you decide to stay, you have to respect the club’s sporting policy, the internal rules and the situation at the club.”

New signings late in coming
But if there was no love lost just a few weeks ago, Tuchel would have been pleased to see several new signings arrive just before the transfer window closed on October 5.

PSG signed two new midfielders, with Portuguese international Danilo Pereira arriving on loan from Porto and Rafinha joining on a three-year deal from Barcelona.

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Italy striker Moise Kean was also captured on loan from Everton to strengthen the attack.

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are still there of course, and so is Angel di Maria, but they still look light in defence.

Friday’s 4-0 win over Nimes was their fifth in a row in Ligue 1 after starting the campaign with two straight defeats, yet question marks remain about their longer-term prospects this season.

Meanwhile in the short term PSG are still missing a host of players for the start of their European campaign.

Influential left-back Juan Bernat is out with a knee injury, while midfield duo Marco Verratti and Leandro Paredes are expected to miss Tuesday’s game and Mauro Icardi is absent too.

Di Maria, at least, can play here while he serves a ban domestically.

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