It’s difficult to think that this is what Paris Saint-Germain envisioned when they hired Unai Emery.
The former Sevilla man, fresh of a third straight Europa League title, was brought in to replace Laurent Blanc after another failed European campaign. Success on the domestic front would have been expected given the clubs resources and the talent in the squad. Progress in Europe was the main goal. Emery is failing on all accounts as things stand.
PSG are second in the table, three points a Monaco side with a game in hand and only three remaining. This is the same Monaco side that went further in the Champions League knockout stages and announced their domestic intentions by fielding a weakened side in their recent French Cup semi-finals matchup.
A cup double and a return the Champions League is likely but that is a step back from what Blanc achieved in his final season. Had there been signs of progress on the pitch despite the lack of silverware then Emery’s situation may be less precarious he still has work to do in terms of moulding the squad in his image. It was a surprise that he was chosen, despite his success, to lead a club with PSG’s ambition and resources, and the Spaniard has certainly had his ups and downs.
PSG started off the season in Emery’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, while playing in his more direct and energetic style. As noted in this space earlier this season, via the Bleacher Report, a request from senior members of the squad saw the club revert to the 4-3-3 possession based style that the Spaniard preferred.
While Emery’s decision to listen to his players showed a good touch of man-management in a delicate situation, the discussion should have continued from there. A season-long transformation could still have transpired but instead we have seen Emery’s style of display in fits and starts while the manager has been forced to deal with various injuries, changes in form, and so forth.
The major victory in his season, so far, has been the rebirth of Edinson Cavani as the leading man up top. The Uruguayan, no longer in the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has revelled in being the man leading the line again to the tune of 45 goals in 45 games. Emery’s words and training throughout the season surely played a role getting the best from the frontman, but the cynics can argue that any new manager could have achieved similar results with Zlatan gone.
Unfortunately for Emery, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives.
While he also reinvigorated Angel Di Maria and has overseen good performances from youngsters like Presnel Kimpembe, his additions have been a mixed bag. The addition of Julian Draxler in the January transfer window brought about a mid-season surge, but that was to be expected.
Aside from the German, only Thomas Meunier, the least unfancied of his recruits, acquitted himself well. Jese Rodriguez was sent back on loan to Las Palmas in La Liga, Grzegorz Krychowiak has hardly stepped on the pitch and Hatem Ben Arfa’s form has come and gone throughout the campaign.
While it’s not all his fault – one can certainly cannot compare relative novice Patrick Kluivert to former Sevilla director of football, Monchi – where transfers are concerned, the manager certainly had his say in these matters.
The lack of change led to a continued reliance on a player like Thiago Motta, who is much more suitable to Blanc’s system, and casts doubts as to whether Emery really has control of the dressing room. The tactics and decision-making that led to the worst performance of the season, that 6-1 loss to Barcelona, surely wouldn’t have helped.
Various poor results on the domestic front, including losses to fellow title challengers Monaco and Nice, have decreased PSG’s aura of invincibility. That, and the club’s European disappointment, might have key players questioning the club’s ability to reach the top of Europe.
While its unlikely that Cavani or Di Maria will leave, nor the recently arrived Draxler, Marco Veratti has been the subject of fluttering eyelids across Europe for a few seasons now. The Italian midfielder is a fantastic fit for Emery’s system and a major part of the PSG’s project. Convincing him to stay will be a major task in the summer while other potential departures, like Serge Aurier, must be replaced adequately. Whether Emery’s bosses think they can do the same with him is another matter.
While the failure in Europe certainly has those in charge at PSG questioning their decision it may be hasty to get rid of Emery now. The Spaniard has proven himself in La Liga before and while his Champions League record isn’t the greatest, he is in a different situation now. If he can work together with Kluivert to mold the team in his image this summer then there will be plenty of cause for optimism heading into the 2017/18 season. There won’t be many, if any, big-name managers available for PSG to look at in any case and, as they would’ve seen with Manchester City and Pep Guardiola this season, European success does not come overnight.
Emery still has title-winning experience and PSG have a good squad. One trophy has entered the cabinet this season and they are strong favorites for the French Cup as well. The Spaniard was chosen by the PSG hierarchy last summer and, title or not, it makes sense to stay the course. Should that be the case, the manager will know that the hook will be out quickly if there is no progress next season.
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