Paris Saint-Germain’s 13-point lead at mid-season is much less comfortable than it looks.
Despite a strong summer recruiting campaign, PSG were lucky enough to lose only once in the French league and relied heavily on individual talents and a solid bench to win victories and late draws, without talk about two of the softer penalties.
Without Kylian Mbappe’s nine goals and eight assists, the picture could be tighter.
PSG have fallen behind in eight of 19 games, establishing the theme of the former by trailing the promoted Troyes early.
The most controversial penalty came in a 2-1 home win over Angers, which followed PSG’s botched 2-0 loss to Rennes where they conceded goals on either side of half-time.
Angers awarded a late penalty for handball and the prolific Mbappe scored a game-winning goal in the 87th minute.
Although Romain Thomas alerted referee Bastien Dechepy to verify Mauro Icardi had fouled him before the penalty kick, VAR apparently only recovered Pierrick Capelle’s handball. Icardi’s head wasn’t even tied to goal and cut Capelle’s arm as he turned away.
Five days later, French league chief referee Pascal Garibian admitted a mistake had been made, saying the penalty should have been ruled out for Icardi’s foul on Thomas.
After 10 games, PSG had scored six goals in the last 15 minutes – more than any other club – and showing a tendency to need late goals in close matches.
After 19 matches, PSG scored 12 times after the 80th minute to further emphasize how individual talent – especially with such a solid bench – made the difference on several occasions, rather than teamwork or strength mental side of the coach Mauricio Pochettino.
The fact that PSG have scored four equalizing or winning goals in added time illustrates a team playing in a much less dominant manner than they should be, given their vast array of talent.
Against Lyon at home and modest Metz away, PSG won with goals in the 93rd and 94th minutes.
Beating Lyon proved particularly difficult, with PSG trailing behind the goal of midfielder Lucas Paqueta until Neymar got a soft penalty midway through the second half.
It was given against 18-year-old Malo Gusto, although Neymar clearly appeared to remove the shirt from the inexperienced right-back and then throw himself to the ground.
Neymar hid the penalty and Icardi led the winner seconds from the end of the stoppage time.
Failed to beat or score against defending champion Lille last season, PSG were down 1-0 until Angel Di Maria equalized in the 74th minute and scored a game-winning goal in the 88th minute .
Yet another late goal, like the 86th minute effort to make it 4-2 against Strasbourg or the 90th minute goal for the 4-2 in Brest or both in the last 10 minutes to beat Nantes 3-1. PSG also conceded goals late in the game, allowing Bordeaux to come back to 3-2.
PSG have only won two of their last five games before the winter break and played unconvincingly, except when Mbappe scored both goals in a 2-0 home win over Monaco.
It was the manner of performances, especially given the opposition involved, that was of most concern and there was increasing pressure on Pochettino.
PSG were led 1-0 in Saint-Etienne, last place, and needed two goals late in the game, including another in added time, to win 3-1 against 10 players. Pochettino’s side went on to achieve a 0-0 draw at home in Nice, were dominated for long stretches in a 1-1 draw at Lens – escaping defeat thanks to Georginio Wijnaldum’s goal in the additional time.
Alarming signs of PSG’s struggles were magnified when they drew 1-1 at 19th Lorient in the 19th round. Lorient managed 11 shots in the first half as the PSG midfielder was passed.
Icardi’s excellent header in the 91st minute saved a draw and Pochettino again defended his side against criticism by claiming French media underestimated Lorient – who had just lost seven straight games.
The closest he could have criticized his team was acknowledging that the players were struggling to cope with the transition game.
“We know they are struggling to manage the counterattacks, which is why we played deep,” said Lorient striker Thomas Monconduit.
This is because the team lacks cohesion and seems to be divided in two.
He has a very heavy attack where Neymar, Mbappe and the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi have yet to freeze and a midfielder who is fighting without the job of injury-prone Marco Verratti. Too often this leaves the defense exposed and PSG once again relied too much on the superb shot-stopping ability of goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
With the arrival of Spanish leader Real Madrid in Paris on February 15 in the Champions League, there is little time to improve.
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