- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

PARIS (AP) - Paris Saint-Germain’s disappointing season is heading toward a grim conclusion: the club is going backward under coach Unai Emery.

Emery was hired to replace Laurent Blanc, who was fired despite leading PSG to a domestic treble and the quarterfinals of the Champions League last season.

PSG has won the League Cup and also reached the French Cup final, but these are not the trophies that matter the most to the club’s cash-rich Qatari investors, QSI.

The French title is almost lost to Monaco and PSG failed to get past the last 16 of the Champions League, having reached the last eight of the competition in the previous four seasons.

In other words, PSG is doing worse than last year - and at a costly sum considering it paid more than 20 million euros ($22 million) to terminate Blanc’s contract just months after extending it.

Here is a look at what’s going wrong at PSG.

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POOR SIGNINGS

Talk about unsuccessful signings.

Winger Hatem Ben Arfa’s dream move has fizzled out; defensive midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak has been playing in the reserves; Spanish forward Jese was loaned back to Spain after only a few months; and 20-year-old Portuguese winger Goncalo Guedes is on the bench.

Anyone seen Argentina’s rising midfield star Giovani Lo Celso? He’s only made one substitute appearance in the league.

Ben Arfa joined with high hopes after scoring a career-high 17 league goals for Nice and breaking back in the France national team last season, while Jese hoped to relaunch his career after failing to hold down a place in the Real Madrid side.

By January, Jese was back in Spain, farmed out to Osasuna.

Ben Arfa, meanwhile, posted a video on social media last month to express his frustration at not playing enough.

Guedes cost PSG about 25 million euros ($27 million) from Benfica, while Krychowiak cost 30 million euros ($33 million) from Sevilla - where he played under Emery.

Neither of them fitted into Emery’s plans, either.

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CHANGE OF METHODS

While Blanc liked to play a patient and elaborate passing game, Emery prefers a high-octane approach based on hard work and incessant closing down.

Although it has worked at times, such as when PSG crushed Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of the Champions League’s last 16, some of PSG’s players have struggled to adapt. In the return leg, PSG lost 6-1 and went out.

Angel Di Maria, for example, has only found his best form in recent weeks and was a peripheral figure for the first half of the season - having been PSG’s best player last season along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

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BAFFLING CHOICES

Four days before the trip to Nice - a match PSG simply had to win to realistically stay in title contention - PSG hosted Monaco in the League Cup semifinals.

In the days before the game, Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim made it clear he would be sending a largely reserve side full of young players, because his priority was winning the league and the Champions League.

Yet despite knowing this, Emery picked a full-strength side, choosing not to give fringe players like Ben Arfa and Guedes a game and - crucially - missing an easy chance to rest key players like top scorer Edinson Cavani, center half Thiago Silva, winger Julian Draxler and Di Maria.

Nor did he take them off at halftime, either, with PSG leading 2-0.

Di Maria played 55 minutes, Cavani played 68 minutes, while Silva and Draxler stayed on for 90 minutes. Sure, PSG won 5-0, but even a second-string PSG side would have been favored.

Four days later, PSG lost at Nice, which played with a ferocious intensity PSG struggled to match.

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OVERBEARING PRESENCE

Win or lose, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is very often seen talking at length to the media shortly after games.

Nothing wrong with that in itself.

But he has no background in soccer like a sporting director usually does and - in this sense - is not a commanding voice to discuss team performances, especially following heated matches where there may have been controversial decisions.

Yet he often discusses team issues and, not for the first time, vehemently complained about the standard of French refereeing following the 3-1 loss at Nice.

His continual interjections are excessive and they indirectly place his coach under extra pressure. It sometimes seems he is speaking on the behalf of everyone - including his own coach.

Last season, Al-Khelaifi reportedly intervened against Blanc’s wishes when the coach wanted a more severe punishment for defender Serge Aurier, following the right back’s expletive-laced rant against his own teammates on a social media platform.

PSG has not had a sporting director since Leonardo resigned in July 2013 after repeatedly clashing with authorities and allegedly shoving a referee after one match.

As a former PSG and Brazil star, Leonardo had a pedigree Al-Khelaifi does not have. The respect Leonardo earned through his playing career helped PSG to lure big names like Ibrahimovic, Silva and Cavani.

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