Wasteful PSG fluff their lines as Mbappe’s supporting cast struggle to step up

Luis Enrique swivelled on his heels, extended his arms wide, puffed out his cheeks and grimaced. His expression, and subsequent shrug of the shoulders, spoke for him. What more could he do?

It was clear the ball was not going to find the back of Borussia Dortmund’s net. Not while the Yellow Wall watched on.

The Paris Saint-Germain head coach had just witnessed Gregor Kobel’s excellent reflex stop to deny Ousmane Dembele 18 minutes from the end, the goalkeeper whipping out his left hand to deflect the shot away from close range and preserve Dortmund’s slender advantage.

It was just one of the many big chances passed up by PSG in the first leg of their semi-final tie at Signal Iduna Park. Fabian Ruiz spurned another golden opportunity in the second half, mistiming his header from a perfect cross from Marquinhos. He would misdirect another header late on, adding to Dembele’s profligacy from an Achraf Hakimi cut back and Kylian Mbappe and Hakimi both striking the woodwork in the 51st minute.

“We had a lot of chances in the second half that we can’t afford to miss if we want to reach the UCL final,” Marquinhos told Canal +. “We need to capitalise on those chances at home.”

A frustrated Luis Enrique as PSG miss their chances (Federico Gambarini/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Such wastefulness has been rare at PSG this season, with the exception of their extraordinary 1-1 draw with Newcastle in the group stage of the tournament. It may be remiss to suggest that this is anything more than just an off-night in front of goal, a first leg to put out of mind and rectify next week in Paris.

But it does draw the focus to one nagging concern at PSG beyond the outcome of this tie. Goalscoring.

It is not that PSG have trouble scoring goals. They have managed 76 in the league this season and 19 in the Champions League. It is just that, in this aspect of their play, they are particularly reliant on one man. And when he has a quiet game, as Mbappe did against Barcelona in the first leg of the quarter-final, that can be problematic.

It becomes even more of an issue when that player has forecast his departure for the coming weeks ahead.

Luis Enrique has made a point of suggesting PSG need to adapt to life without Mbappe in recent weeks and, while tactically that may open more avenues and opportunities, the unanswered question is still how PSG replace his goals.

Mbappe is PSG’s top goalscorer by a sizeable margin; in 45 appearances he has 43 goals, 32 more than PSG’s next top scorer, Goncalo Ramos. He has scored 42 per cent of their goals in the Champions League this season, the highest proportion of any team in the knockout phase.

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Mbappe and Ramos at the end (Xavier Laine/Getty Images)

Naturally, PSG are still very much geared to exploit Mbappe’s brilliance but the drop off to the rest is a concern.

It is not like PSG have not invested in strikers. Last summer, as part of their big revamp, the club committed up to €170million (£145.4m; $182.2m) on Ramos (loan then obligation to buy for €80m from Benfica) and Randal Kolo Muani (in a deal that could potentially reach €90m from Frankfurt). Neither have set the world alight yet and their PSG journeys to date were partially encapsulated by Wednesday’s events.

Kolo Muani, who has struggled for form, provided an ineffective cameo, lacking sharpness after his 65th minute introduction. Surprisingly, Ramos was not introduced at all. “We coaches always make our decisions based on what we consider to be best for our team,” said Luis Enrique afterwards.

Of the two, Ramos has looked the most likely to seize the goalscoring mantle and his recent form suggested he may even have had a shot at starting Wednesday’s game, an impression strengthened by his upbeat appearance at Tuesday’s press conference. He has scored seven in his last nine appearances, including key goals against rivals Marseille, Clermont Foot late on and an impactful cameo against Le Havre over the weekend.

He is averaging a goal every 119 minutes, which is shy of Mbappe’s 82 minutes but well clear of Kolo Muani, who manages one every 210 minutes.

Both are young players with their best years ahead of them, so they may yet fill the void, but it is on nights like Wednesday, when the ball refuses to find the net, that the challenge of replacing Mbappe’s goalscoring feels all the more daunting. The France captain was not particularly poor, but nor was he eye-catching. In those moments, PSG need another solution.

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Muani was ineffective in Dortmund (Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Getty Images)

That is not to say this game hinged entirely on PSG’s impotence.

Dortmund merited their result and created more chances, inspired by an untameable Jadon Sancho. Ultimately, PSG were undone by a familiar foe though; a long ball. Niclas Fullkrug caught the defence flat-footed with his goal conceived after some poor pressing from the front. Long balls were the bane of PSG’s quarter-final with Barcelona, where they struggled to handle with Robert Lewandowski. Similar fears forced Luis Enrique to change his off-ball set up for this tie.

“Our objective was to press,” he said. “Dortmund have two ways of playing with the ball: via short passes, but also by playing longer towards Fullkrug, who is powerful and tall. We tried to protect ourselves on the left, with two-on-ones for Bradley Barcola to manage. The idea was to always have either our full-back or our winger in a position to help on each long ball.”

Despite their difficulties against Barcelona, PSG were able to turn that tie on its head and they will have to repeat the trick next week.

To reach Wembley, though, they will need a more ruthless touch. And while Mbappe may well provide it, on what will be his final Champions League appearance for PSG at the Parc des Princes, he is not going to be an option for long.

(Top photo: Christian Liewig – Corbis/Getty Images)

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