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PSG under pressure to keep Champions League project on track

French club have invested heavily but are close to their 4th successive last-16 exit

Nothing ever seems to go to plan in the Champions League for Paris Saint-Germain, whose bid to avoid yet another exit in the first knockout round against Borussia Dortmund will be played out before an empty stadium tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

After Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Co lost 2-1 to an Erling Haaland-inspired Dortmund before a crowd of 80,000 in Germany last month, PSG discovered on Monday the second leg of their last-16 tie must be played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Estimates put the financial hit to the Qatar-owned PSG of playing the game without nearly 50,000 fans at the Parc des Princes in the region of six million euros (S$9.5m), while the president of the club's Ultras fans group has called on supporters to gather outside the stadium instead.

  • Dortmund lead 2-1 from first leg

However, it is still possible the strange atmosphere will work in the home team's favour, removing some of the immense pressure on them.

Agitated supporters are restless at the thought of their team - despite all the Qatari investment - going out of the Champions League in the last 16 for the fourth year running.

Following the first-leg defeat, one banner targeted captain Thiago Silva and their two superstar forwards, asking: "Silva, Mbappe, Neymar, afraid of winning? Show some ...."

While PSG's record in France, where they are on course for a seventh Ligue 1 title in eight seasons, is excellent, it is also almost irrelevant.

PSG are judged on their performance in Europe. They are the fifth-richest club in the world in the most recent Deloitte Football Money League, with 636m euros in revenue last season, behind only Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.


However, they have fallen at this hurdle in each of the last three seasons, often in farcical fashion.

In 2017, there was the capitulation in Barcelona, a 6-1 defeat following a 4-0 first-leg win. They then spent over 400m euros to make Neymar and Mbappe the two most expensive signings in the world, but the Brazilian missed the second leg of the 2018 defeat by Real due to injury and then sat out both legs of an improbable exit to Man United last year.

In eight years since the Qatari takeover, PSG have beaten just three teams in Champions League knockout ties: Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea (twice).

If they do reach a first quarter-final since 2016, the weight off their shoulders will be huge and might well be replaced by a realisation that winning the trophy for the first time is possible.

Coach Thomas Tuchel is under contract until 2021 but, just like Unai Emery and Laurent Blanc before him, it is hard to see how he would survive another disappointing European showing.

Tuchel is also under pressure after a decision to radically change his team's formation for the first leg backfired badly.

He needs a big performance from Neymar, who wanted to leave last summer rather than stick around for a third season in Paris but was poor in Dortmund.

Tuchel also needs Mbappe, scorer of 30 goals this season, to shake off an illness.

Mbappe has been suffering from a sore throat and has missed training for the last two days, said Tuchel, who is also sweating over the condition of captain Thiago Silva.

The Brazilian is back in training after being sidelined by a hamstring injury late last month. - AFP