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Five decisions that cost PSG at Real Madrid in the Champions League

PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain are back in the French capital after losing the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie against Real Madrid 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

The hard work for Unai Emery and his players starts now, with three weeks to prepare for a mammoth showdown at Parc des Princes that will require a similarly epic performance to last season's home leg against Barcelona in order to advance.

Emery made some big calls on Wednesday and although his plan appeared to be working until Cristiano Ronaldo made it 2-1 in the 83rd minute, it ultimately backfired.

Here are five areas where things went wrong for Les Parisiens and the impact they might have moving forward.

Captain Silva dropped

Emery's unexpected move to replace captain Thiago Silva with Presnel Kimpembe in the starting XI was not as illogical as it might have seemed to many.

The captain has long been burdened by the issue of leadership and regardless of the difference in experience between them, the young Frenchman has shown that he has the ability and mentality to play at this level alongside either Silva or Marquinhos.

More importantly, Kimpembe possesses the composure that Silva has struggled to recover since his 2014 World Cup nightmare and it showed in Madrid in a performance of great maturity from the youth academy graduate.

Kimpembe was not a weak link, as many might have expected prematch, and he was not found lacking in any area where Silva, had he been on the pitch, might have made a difference.

If anything, central defensive partner and stand-in skipper Marquinhos, suffered more under the weight of the pressure placed on his shoulders because of Silva's non-involvement.

Dropping Silva was not the problem. Informing the 33-year-old hours before the match and allowing the French media to get wind of it well in advance of kickoff was.

It signaled that Emery was panicking and although PSG's first-half performance masked that, it was clear from the start of the second period onwards that the Basque tactician had frozen -- again.

Emery's decision to drop Silva in that manner will not only impact his relationship with the PSG captain.

Rightly or wrongly, it will also impact his relationship with most, if not all, of the Brazilian contingent and that does not bode well moving into the final few months of the season.

Silva and his wife's reactions via social media certainly suggest that the former AC Milan man has not taken this well.

Lo Celso over Diarra

Once it became clear that Giovani Lo Celso was to start over Lassana Diarra in Thiago Motta's usual deep-lying midfield role, the Argentine international's full Champions League debut became a sink or swim moment.

Unfortunately, Lo Celso sank and although a case can be made to say that Diarra should have started in Madrid, there is an equally strong case that states Emery made the right choice, as there was no obvious answer.

Starting Giovani Lo Celso out of position was a tough decision which backfired against Real Madrid.
The decision to start Giovani Lo Celso over Lassana Diarra backfired for Unai Emery at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If starting the inexperienced 21-year-old in an unnatural role was not the error, then keeping him on the pitch for 84 minutes was -- especially as the penalty he conceded shortly before half-time made it clear that he was out of his depth.

It is a shame because Lo Celso's poor performance could have been avoided with better planning.

It's long been clear that Motta would struggle to be fit for the first leg, so why did sporting director Antero Henrique wait until late January to sign Diarra when he could have brought him in as soon as the January transfer window opened?

Emery said in the build-up to the game that PSG had been "working towards" this match all season, but it did not look like it and none more so than in the messy defensive midfield situation, which could have been avoided had Diarra been drafted in earlier and brought up to speed.

Also, as a former Real player, he knew what to expect from the Santiago Bernabeu atmosphere, while Lo Celso was sent out by Emery to do his best in a role that is not his own and looked, predictably, like a startled rabbit in headlights.

Unused Di Maria

Since the start of 2018, Angel Di Maria has been on fire.

Pre-Bernabeu, the Argentine international was one of Emery's most used players since the start of the new year.

Although Di Maria being benched in favour of reuniting Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar -- MCN -- was largely expected, El Fideo not even being introduced as a substitute was a big surprise.

How could a player of Di Maria's quality and good form not even get 15, 20 or 25 minutes towards the end, when PSG clearly lacked something going forward?

Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar produced a decent number of chances and should have done better with some of their opportunities but at the same time, no member of that attacking trio truly impressed.

As another former Real player and somebody with a big-game appetite, Di Maria was the perfect figure to reinvigorate PSG midway through the second half.

It is unsurprising that Di Maria's wife joined Silva's in expressing her fury towards the Basque tactician postmatch and it remains to be seen how the player will react to this latest snub.

Emery's substitutions

Emery's decisions to send on Thomas Meunier and Julian Draxler, as well as the timing of those two moves, were bizarre and his refusal to haul Lo Celso off before 84 minutes was borderline criminal.

Dani Alves lost all impetus when he was moved forward as part of the Meunier switch, when Di Maria for Cavani would have been a more understandable move as Mbappe could have moved inside to accommodate the Argentine wide on the right.

Based on everything Emery has shown so far in his time with PSG, he has a massive problem with substitutions.

Unai Emery had nothing to smile about after PSG's 3-1 loss at Real Madrid.
Unai Emery's in-game substitutions have been a repeated point of criticism throughout his PSG tenure.

The 46-year-old simply does not know how to make game-altering changes and he is holding the team back in this respect.

PSG remain mentally fragile

The warning signs were there in Munich back in December and again in Lyon earlier this year and once again, PSG lacked composure and cracked late against a team with more experience when a positive result was in sight.

"They are very intense games," Alves said postmatch. "You must battle right to the end. We learned a little something. We also know that we have the second leg at home, and that we will have to put in a great display."

Real were not outstanding on Wednesday and all three goals could have been avoided from a PSG point of view but like in Barcelona last campaign, superior self-confidence enabled PSG's opponents to snatch a win without playing brilliantly well.

Credit to Zinedine Zidane and his players for such mental fortitude but it is also right to point out that PSG once again showed too much respect for an opponent in Europe.

It is not good enough to blame the referee like Emery, as well as Chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi did, as collective mentality and experience were problems before the Spaniard and will probably be a problem once he is gone, too...

All of this said, it is not over yet for PSG.

The return leg against Real will evoke poignant memories of the 1992-93 UEFA Cup campaign for PSG reporters.

Back then, PSG returned to Paris on the back of a 3-1 quarterfinal first-leg defeat in Madrid and went on to win 4-1 at home to reach the semifinals (where they ultimately went out to Juventus) with Antoine Kombouare scoring a heroic late header to complete a 5-4 aggregate victory.

Time for a modern Parisien Remontada.

Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.

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