PARIS: Runaway Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain find themselves under pressure for the first time this season after Thursday’s Champions League defeat at Real Madrid.
Unai Emery’s men have blown away all before them domestically this term, but with world-record signing Neymar failing to fire and captain Thiago Silva left to sulk on the Santiago Bernabeu bench, Cristiano Ronaldo led struggling Real to a 3-1, first-leg win.
That leaves PSG needing an unlikely comeback to reach the quarterfinals, having fallen at the last-16 stage in dramatic fashion to Barcelona last season.
Failure to reach the final this season, even if a domestic treble of Ligue 1, French Cup and League Cup titles is won, could see Emery’s job in danger and the rumors of a Neymar exit intensify.
Neymar’s fellow Brazilian and Real left-back Marcelo said before the match that he thinks “Neymar will play for Real Madrid one day”.
But the Spanish press was not impressed with the 25-year-old as Ronaldo stole the show, with Marca writing on Thursday: “His match was not that of a Ballon d’Or (winner). The real Ballon d’Or was at the other end of the pitch, with the No. 7 on his back.”
The French capital-city side return to action on Saturday with what looks to be a straightforward league game against Strasbourg at the Parc des Princes, despite losing for the first time this season at the newly-promoted outfit in December.
‘Tactics, what tactics?’
Spaniard Emery has some tricky decisions to make ahead of the weekend and, more importantly, the second leg in two weeks’ time, after dropping Silva just hours before the Real match and replacing the Brazilian with 22-year-old Presnel Kimpembe.
“It was the choice of the coach,” said Silva’s usual center-back partner Marquinhos.
“He had all the players available and, (Silva) is our captain, a very important player who kept a positive attitude in the dressing room.”
Silva’s wife wasn’t so positive, though, criticizing Emery on social media saying: “Tactics, tactics, what tactics?”
The fact that PSG are coming under so much fire for losing what was a tight contest at the defending European and Spanish champions shows how high expectations have risen, and Strasbourg can expect to face a backlash on Saturday, whoever Emery selects.
Elsewhere in Ligue 1 this weekend, champions Monaco host Dijon on Friday bidding to strengthen their grip on a Champions League place after taking second from Marseille last time out.
Stevan Jovetic stepped up with two goals in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao in the 4-0 thrashing of Angers, while Keita Balde has also started to hit form.
When Lyon stunned PSG to move to within eight points of the leaders last month an unlikely title challenge looked possible, but three straight defeats have left them four points adrift of Marseille in the third and final Champions League spot.
Bruno Genesio’s men visit relegation-threatened Lille on Sunday, while Marseille host Bordeaux.