PSG's collection of stars need to come together as a team to have any hope in Europe
In the away dressing room at Anfield on Tuesday, Kylian Mbappe sat quietly, his head in his hands. A few minutes earlier, the French prodigy gave the ball away on the edge of his own box, which led to Roberto Firmino's goal, which led to another Paris Saint-Germain loss away from home in a big game: a 3-2 defeat to Liverpool.
Mbappe is sat between Lassana Diarra and Christopher Nkunku. The room is silent. This is not the way PSG wanted to start a new Champions League campaign. Despite the defeat and despite the average performance by his team, however, Thomas Tuchel is not angry; he is actually quite content. The manager even highlights the fact that Paris came back from 2-0 down to draw level 2-2 and almost get a point. In the middle of the room, on the two tables of food left for the players is untouched for now. The PSG squad feels a bit like a beaten boxer, knocked out late in a very important fight.
When the Parisians arrived at the stadium, two hours before kickoff, they looked very relaxed -- probably too relaxed. Tuchel was the first one to get out of the coach while Mbappe and Neymar were last. Garissone Innocent, the 18-year-old goalkeeper who has just signed his first professional contract, and Gianluigi Buffon, who was suspended, travelled with the team as well, which could be seen as a sign of unity.
Inside the dressing room, it is a reflection of the cartography of the squad: the two Germans together (Thilo Kehrer and Julian Draxler), the Spanish speakers (Edinson Cavani next to Angel Di Maria and Juan Bernat), the youngsters from the academy (Sebastien Cibois, Moussa Diaby and Stanley Nsoki), the French clan (Diarra, Mbappe, Nkunku, Presnel Kimpembe, Adrien Rabiot and Alphonse Areola) all on the same line and then, on the other side of the room, the Brazilians (Thiago Silva and Marquinhos around Neymar).
One of the problems for PSG in Liverpool was that they did not play as a team, they were not united enough. And maybe that's reflected in how the dressing room is set up. At this level, against a team of the calibre of Liverpool, you cannot afford to be anything less than a cohesive unit. The difference could come from the team spirit and the collective hard work. There was not enough of that on the French side.
PSG largely defended with only seven players, as Neymar and Mbappe did not track back enough. They were dominated in midfield by the activity of Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner. Attacking wise, there was not enough movement, not enough triangles or combinations. Neymar was nonchalant (at best) and didn't look connected to the rest of the team. This is a big season for the Brazilian after his injury last year and a controversial World Cup, yet he doesn't look totally committed and motivated.
Tuchel's biggest task was exposed in Liverpool: making this team play as a team. Individually, he has a lot of talent at his disposal, but making them play together and for each other will not be easy.
The absence of Marco Verratti, who was suspended, was a big blow. PSG still managed to keep the ball quite well against Liverpool's press, but they missed the Italian's passing game going forward. There was not much linkup between the central midfielders and the front three.
Nevertheless, the main positive for the Parisians is that despite being far from their best on the night, they were still only 10 seconds away from getting a point against last season's finalist. Compared with the 3-1 defeat at Bayern Munich in the group stage last December, PSG have improved a little. Despite the loss, they showed character unlike in previous big away matches.
But the Champions League has been, and still is, a big learning curve for PSG since the Qataris took over the club in 2011. On Tuesday at Anfield, Mbappe made a big mistake that cost his team a goal and two points, and it's a lesson he has to learn from. On Wednesday, Tuchel watched the game again, a few times even, with his staff. He was still satisfied by a lot of his team's performance.
There is still a long way to go in the Champions League this season, and it might be a good thing for PSG that this disappointing result arrived so early. However, in the past, they didn't always show that they could learn from their mistakes. They have to this time if they want to improve as a team.