‘It can take a year for a coach’s ideas to come across on the pitch’ – Is Pochettino finally taming the PSG circus?

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 15: Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino speaks to Kylian Mbappe during the UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg One match between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid at Parc des Princes on February 15, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier - PSG/PSG via Getty Images)
By Jack Pitt-Brooke Feb 16, 2022 48
Where there is Kylian Mbappe, there is hope for Paris Saint Germain and Mauricio Pochettino.

Mbappe showed why he is maybe Pochettino’s favourite PSG player by winning this game in the final minute of stoppage time, saving them from needing to win in the Bernabeu on March 9 to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

There is no one else quite like Mbappe with that same combination of speed, relentless aggression, courage and skill. And even though his PSG contract is ticking down, amid the expectation he will be at Real Madrid next season, he remains the most important player in his team. He is the one man — even more than Neymar or Lionel Messi — who gives Pochettino the hope of making his ideas come alive at PSG.

All night at the Parc des Princes, Mbappe was the only cutting edge that PSG had to offer. He made their first real chance, which Angel Di Maria put over the bar, and then had their second saved by Thibaut Courtois after running in behind. He forced another good save from Courtois early in the second half, and won the penalty (from Dani Carvajal) that Messi failed to convert. He was the best player on the pitch by a distance, even before his winning goal.

As dangerous as Mbappe was when PSG had the ball, he also set the tone for how Pochettino wanted PSG to play without it. Sometimes this team struggles to defend from the front in the way Pochettino wants. But here, with Neymar not ready to start, they effectively had Mbappe and Di Maria up front in a 4-3-1-2. And those two, with help from their energetic midfield, were able to pin Real Madrid back from the start as PSG seized control of the game.

There were moments here when it did feel as if PSG were playing football with Pochettino’s imprint.