There will be no welcome committee on hand when Thomas Tuchel returns as Paris Saint-Germain boss to take on his former side, Borussia Dortmund, in the Champions League on Tuesday evening.
‘It’s not Jurgen Klopp coming back,’ said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke curtly when asked about meeting his former employee again.
He added: ‘We worked well together for two years, and in the end things got a bit tough. We will certainly not become great friends in life any more. But that was three years ago.’
Tuchel was Klopp’s heir apparent at Dortmund, but it ended in tears as rumours of a bust up with then-chief scout Sven Mislintat and suggestions of a rift with his players began appearing in the press.
Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto celebrates his late winner against PSG in the last-16 in 2017
But the manager’s return to his former side is just one facet of a fascinating tie. The big question being asked of Tuchel and around Paris ahead of the game is simply – just when will PSG finally crack the Champions League?
Since the arrival of Qatari investment in 2011, the fortunes of the Parisians in Europe’s premier club competition have lurched from one failure to another.
They’ve had devastating last-minute exits (three of them in fact), near-misses and a peculiarly consistent trait of under-performing in the knockout stages. This is the return on the owner’s £800million spent on transfers since they took over.
PSG’s star players Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are hoping history doesn’t repeat itself
But given their annihilation of 13-time winners Real Madrid on matchday one, and their comfortable surge to top-spot in Group A, could this be the year it all changes?
With undoubtedly one of the most star-studded squads in the competition, littered with attacking stars, sturdy midfielders and uncompromising defenders, Thomas Tuchel has assembled a group of players more than capable of a deep European run.
First up is Borussia Dortmund, with the first leg at Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday followed by the reverse fixture on March 11 – yet who are those responsible for PSG’s aspirations this season, and what does history tell us will happen?
Among the plethora of stars, skipper Thiago Silva is the player who has experienced PSG’s European heartache the most.
Having arrived from AC Milan in 2012, the Brazilian has been a mainstay at the back amid players coming and going around him.
PSG captain Thiago Silva is still a crucial player for the Ligue 1 champions at the age of 35
PSG’S RECORD SIGNINGS
- Neymar – Barcelona, 2017: £199m
- Kylian Mbappe – Monaco, 2018: £133m
- Edinson Cavani – Napoli, 2013: £58m
- Angel Di Maria – Man Utd, 2015: £56m
- David Luiz – Chelsea, 2014: £44.5m
Figures according to Transfermarkt
Still an integral presence at the age of 35, his defensive partnership with Frenchman Presnel Kimpembe will need to stand firm, particularly up against some dazzling young Dortmund attackers.
In fact, the most successful European winner in the squad is goalkeeper Keylor Navas. The Costa Rican won three Champions League trophies on the spin at Real Madrid. No doubt a primary reason as to why PSG opted to sign him on deadline-day in the summer.
Flanked at the back by the dependable Thomas Meunier and Juan Bernat, traditional centre back Marquinhos has played a crucial role this season as the pivot in-between defence and midfield.
The 25-year-old is one of PSG’s most important players, and will likely play a role alongside either former Everton man Idrissa Gueye or box-to-box Italian Marco Verratti in the engine room.
However, it is in attack where the Ligue 1 champions are at their most dangerous.
Judge for yourselves – how does an attacking quartet of Neymar, Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and Mauro Icardi sound?
PSG’s Angel Di Maria scored twice against his former club Real Madrid in the group-stages
Quick, clinical and frighteningly skillful certainly come to mind. PSG have scored 114 goals in all competitions already this season, and in Neymar and Mbappe they have two of the most fearsome forwards in world football.
Verdict: Definitely one of the top five squads left in the competition. The firepower has been there for the last two years, but can this insanely talented group of players finally produce the goods when it matters?
After last season’s mishap against Manchester United in the last-16, man at the helm Thomas Tuchel cannot afford a similar collapse this time round.
Brought in to replace Unai Emery in the summer of 2018 after the Spaniard’s own attempts at Champions League glory never even reached the quarter-final stage, the German returns to his own stomping ground this week in Borussia Dortmund.
The 46-year-old replaced Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund in 2015, and spent two years at the Bundesliga club, winning a solitary German Cup in 2017.
The pressure is on coach Thomas Tuchel to guide PSG to the latter stages of the competition
After a year away from the game, he was taken on by PSG with the number one aim incontrovertibly clear: European success.
What does constitute success? At minimum a semi-final, and that alone would put Tuchel ahead of Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and Emery at PSG. But ultimately, a spot in the Istanbul final on May 30 is the holy grail.
The fixation is so palpable that Tuchel opted to rest Mbappe from the entire matchday squad for Saturday’s 4-4 draw at Amiens, with a 10-point lead in Ligue 1 looking insurmountable.
Tuchel attempts to calm Mbappe down after substituting him in a game on February 1
Tuesday night in Germany, and the return leg in the French capital, is something of a season-definer for Tuchel, and perhaps even for his reign at the club.
Verdict: Tuchel is under no illusions as to the job he was brought in to do, and he knows his job is on the line depending on his results in Europe. Perhaps just below the top bracket of coaches, but still an excellent operator nonetheless.
Pretty faultless this season. Three defeats all season, 16 points from 18 available in the Champions League group-stage and 19 wins in their last 22 matches in all competitions.
However, we’ve been here before. PSG often stroll through their domestic season, and often find themselves undercooked when it comes to the Champions League knockout-stages, in contrast to their opponents in elite European divisions.
PSG are 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 and are still in both domestic cup competitions
Ultimately, there is no solution for this, other than for Tuchel to keep the focus and intensity at its optimum levels and not let complacency creep in.
Verdict: Form is near-perfect, but against vastly inferior opponents in French football – an unchangeable fact which could work against them in Europe.
RECENT EUROPEAN HISTORY
PSG’S EXITS IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SINCE 2012
2012-13: QF’s – Barcelona, 3-3 (agg.), lost on away goals
2013-14: QF’s – Chelsea, 3-3 (agg.), lost on away goals
2014-15: QF’s – Barcelona, 5-1 (agg.)
2015-16: QF’s – Manchester City, 3-2 (agg.)
2016-17: R16 – Barcelona, 6-5 (agg.)
2017-18: R16 – Real Madrid, 5-2 (agg.)
2018-19: R16 – Manchester United, 3-3 (agg.), lost on away goals
And herein lies PSG’s obvious hoodoo.
Since the beginning of the last decade, a deep run in the knockout stages of the Champions League simply hasn’t materialised.
Hefty first-leg leads have been blown, unforgivable lapses of concentration have cost them and moments of bad luck have twisted against them at crucial moments.
The latter feature was no more evident than last season, when a contentious handball decision went against them in the dying moments against Manchester United, via VAR.
Marcus Rashford powered in the subsequent penalty and PSG were out. That being said, after winning 2-0 at Old Trafford in the first-leg, it should never have got to that point anyway.
Man Utd’s Marcus Rashford rifles in the match-winning penalty to break PSG hearts last season
The year before, in Neymar and Mbappe’s first season at the club, they were outplayed and outmanoeuvred by reigning champions Real Madrid, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, who would go on to win the competition.
In 2017 came one of the most dramatic and unexpected comebacks in Champions League history, as Barcelona came back from a 4-0 first-leg deficit to beat PSG 6-1 in the Camp Nou, courtesy of a last-minute Sergi Roberto winner put on a plate by none other than Neymar.
That was the third time Barca eliminated the Parisians, after quarter-final exits in 2013 and 2015.
Either side of those came defeats to Premier League outfits Chelsea – inexplicably after blowing a two-goal first-leg lead – and Manchester City, in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
In 2014, Demba Ba was the Chelsea hero with his late goal which eliminated PSG from Europe
It’s been a sorry state of affairs for all too long. Will 2020 be the year their fortune changes?
Verdict: So many years of disappointment and heartache is a burden, and is definitely their heaviest mental obstacle this time round.
As mentioned, it’s Borussia Dortmund in the last-16 this year. Undoubtedly, one of the ties of the round.
Borussia Dortmund are dangerous in attack with Jadon Sancho and Erling Braut Haaland
Dortmund are on excellent form themselves and following the January acquisition of teenage marksman Erling Braut Haaland, with Englishman Jadon Sancho in support, it is a dangerous two-legged affair for PSG at this stage.
However, given their dismantlement of Real Madrid 3-0 in the group-stages, as well as a commendable 2-2 draw in the Bernabeu, a trip to Dortmund shouldn’t hold any genuine fear for PSG’s squad of stars. It’s sure to be two fascinating encounters.
Verdict: A tough last-16 opponent, but PSG are the favourites and they should progress to the quarter-finals.