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Big spenders PSG seem to be going backward under Luis Enrique

Alex Dodd - CameraSport / CameraSport / Getty

PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain seems to be going backward under new coach Luis Enrique.

Nine games into his tenure, the former Barcelona and Spain coach has won four games, drawn three and lost two. Wednesday night's 4-1 hammering by Newcastle in the Champions League exposed chronic defensive errors, panic under pressure and a lack of teamwork.

These flaws have been common to PSG in recent years, and Enrique should know. He was Barcelona's coach when it routed PSG 6-1 in the Champions League in 2017.

Yet he's not worried, or at least he said so after Wednesday's debacle, just as he wasn't worried after last Saturday's 0-0 draw against a Clermont side that was bottom of the French league.

Defending champion PSG is fifth in the league and Enrique has much to think about before Sunday's trip to sixth-place Rennes — which beat PSG home and away last season.

PSG's back four was ripped apart by Newcastle and the midfield completely swamped. As soon as Newcastle pressed high up, PSG's defenders dropped so deep that Newcastle had oceans of space to attack.

In July, PSG signed highly-rated center back Milan Skriniar from Inter Milan and marauding left back Lucas Hernandez from Bayern Munich. They joined the vastly experienced captain Marquinhos, skilful right back Achraf Hakimi and European Championship-winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Surely a defense of that stature should have dealt with Newcastle's attacks?

Instead, they were statuesque.

Skriniar made an amateurish error on one goal where he failed to realise a player was running in behind him to follow up a shot saved by Donnarumma. On another goal, Marquinhos dallied so long on the ball that he ended up haplessly attempting a pass with his wrong foot and it went straight to an opponent.

For all of his shot-stopping ability, Donnarumma does not command his area with authority like Keylor Navas used to when he was PSG's No. 1. Worse, there appeared to be no verbal communication between Donnarumma and his central defenders.

Yet this was not defending champion Manchester City, or a powerhouse like Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or AC Milan — which faces PSG twice in the group stage — but a Newcastle side which, on paper at least, appeared weaker than PSG.

"We need to improve certain things in the future," Enrique said.

The way Newcastle bashed PSG should have sent alarm bells ringing all the way to Qatar, which has bankrolled PSG since investors QSI took over in 2011 and invested billions into a project designed to deliver Champions League success. PSG has been knocked out in the last 16 in the past two seasons, and is in a group which also features Borussia Dortmund.

PSG indulged star striker Kylian Mbappe with a new contract and a massive salary raise, then buckled under pressure to bring him back into the squad amid a summer transfer standoff.

With Neymar and Lionel Messi no longer at PSG, Mbappe is the undisputed No. 1 player in a side built around him. But against Newcastle he was powerless and also failed to lift his teammates as they sank in silence, hands on hips and with heads down.

"There was no problem with the attitude of my players," Enrique offered as a thin line of defense. "I am the first person responsible for the defeat."

Enrique is the eighth PSG coach in 12 years of QSI's hire-and-fire approach.

Like others before him, he was also given big funds.

Winger Ousmane Dembele has not scored since joining from Barcelona for 50.4 million euros ($55.2 million) but continues to shoot wildly at goal. He also systematically took the corners from the right against Newcastle, sending flat deliveries to the front post.

Forward Randal Kolo Muani arrived in the final hours of the transfer window for 95 million euros ($101 million) — the third-most expensive signing in PSG history. He has yet to make an impact and was anonymous against Newcastle.

After that game, Marquinhos and Mbappe did not answer questions from match broadcaster Canal Plus.

It was left to Hernandez, who at least acknowledged PSG had fallen way short, and then 17-year-old midfielder Warren Zaire-Emery, who should have been protected from the media glare rather than thrust into it.

"I don't know where the problems lie, but we"ll take a look and get better," the teenager said.


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