- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

PARIS (AP) - Spanish coach Unai Emery was hired to turn Paris Saint-Germain into a European force, yet the team looks considerably weaker than last season.

When PSG won a second straight French treble last season, coach Laurent Blanc was nevertheless fired for again failing to get past the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

The club’s Qatari owners, eager to fast-track PSG into the top bracket of Europe alongside Barcelona and Bayern Munich, saw Emery as the coach to do it.

Last season, he guided modest Spanish side Sevilla to a third straight Europa League title, with an aggressive style based on hard pressing and rapid counterattacks.

Although there was nothing remarkable about his tactics, what stood out was a seemingly unbreakable bond between coach and players, a sense of sacrifice and teamwork chronically absent in PSG sides reliant on the individual brilliance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Angel Di Maria.

Shortly before Blanc was fired in late June, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi gave a newspaper interview where he spoke glowingly of Sevilla’s performance in the Europa League final against Liverpool. When he said changes were quickly needed, Blanc’s days were numbered.

But Emery has struggled to make an impact, and his methods seem to be confusing his players, who are adapting to a rigid approach after years of playing attack-minded, expansive football under Blanc and his predecessor Carlo Ancelotti.

Key players like midfielder Blaise Matuidi are playing below their best under Emery, whose summer signings have also yet to make an impact.

Winger Hatem Ben Arfa, holding midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, former Real Madrid forward Jese, and right back Thomas Meunier were on the bench against Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday, raising the question as to why Emery signed them.

Krychowiak was one of Emery’s key players at Sevilla, while the fleet-footed Ben Arfa was outstanding for Nice last season, scoring 17 league goals.

Considering PSG won the league by a record 31 points last season, domestic dominance was supposed to be a given for Emery. Even though Ibrahimovic left to join Manchester United, PSG retained the likes of Di Maria, striker Edinson Cavani, and Italy midfielder Marco Verratti.

Plenty more talent than other teams in Ligue 1.

But after two early league defeats - as many as last season - PSG is four points behind surprise leader Nice heading into Sunday’s showdown with bitter rival Marseille. Last weekend, PSG held on to win 2-1 at Nancy, a promoted team at the bottom the league.

Add in some mediocre performances in the Champions League, and it looks so far that PSG is going backward rather than forward.

Emery needs a good result and a strong performance on Sunday to reassure fans.

PSG’s 3-0 win against Basel looks a comfortable one given the result, but Basel missed four clear chances before PSG’s first goal, and hit the post three times.

PSG’s passing was scrappy and the transition from midfield to attack stunted.

The defense looked hugely vulnerable, despite featuring the vastly experienced Thiago Silva - Brazil’s former captain - and Marquinhos, who stood out for Brazil when it won the Olympic gold medal in August.

The midfield was easily overrun at times by an average Basel which did nothing more than up the tempo of its passing.

These are alarming defects, and there is a clear lack of identity in Emery’s side.

While it may not cost PSG a league title, the European success so craved by its impatient ownership seems a very long shot at best.


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