Second synonymous with failure for PSG
By A. Scott
Never has there been a better runner-up in a Ligue 1 season than Paris Saint-Germain in 2016-17, but second place can never be good enough for the capital club, writes Andy Scott.
AS Monaco's brilliant title triumph is rendered all the more impressive given how far they were pushed by PSG. The principality side were already top of the table before going on to win their final 12 matches of the campaign, but only a 2-0 victory at home to AS Saint-Etienne in their penultimate outing guaranteed that the Hexagoal trophy would finally be leaving the Parc des Princes trophy cabinet.
That is where it had been for the last four years, but Paris could not make it five in a row, instead having to make do with second place, eight points behind Monaco and nine ahead of OGC Nice in third.
In many ways it is hard for the capital club to take - their tally of 87 points was four more than they managed in winning the title in both 2013 and 2015. Indeed, in the era of three points for a win such a tally would have been enough to be champions in every season but when they won the crown in 2014 and last season. Even the great Lyon side of the last decade never accumulated as many points in winning any of their seven straight titles.
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"It was the quality of Monaco's season that did not allow us to finish in first place despite a points total that generally corresponds to that of a champion," insisted PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, although PSG also set the bar too high for themselves with their incredible performance in 2015-16 under Laurent Blanc, when they had the league sewn up by early March.
This time around Unai Emery's men remained unbeaten at home over the whole campaign but drew six of their 19 outings at the Parc des Princes. They were also playing catch-up in the second half of the season after losing away at Toulouse FC, Montpellier Hérault SC and EA Guingamp before Christmas - all fixtures they won last season. Crucially, they also disappointed in the biggest games, taking just two points from a possible 12 in meetings with Monaco and Nice.
"We were not consistent enough. Normally with our points total we would be champions but there was a better team out there," admitted Emery.
There were many positives, with Emery's men boasting the best defensive record in the division and having the most prolific striker in the land in Edinson Cavani, whose 35 league goals earned him the country's player of the year gong and ensured that PSG did not miss Zlatan Ibrahimovic too much.
But the Uruguayan did not get enough support, with Lucas Moura their next highest goal-scorer on 12 followed by Ángel Di María on six. Further back, Emery was unable to settle on a first-choice goalkeeper between Alphonse Aréola and Kevin Trapp.
Paris gambled last year when they decided to sack Blanc after sweeping all the domestic honours in each of the previous two seasons. The club were desperate to progress in the UEFA Champions League after four consecutive quarter-final exits and Emery was seen as the man who could lead them further in Europe. But the humiliating 6-1 defeat in Barcelona that saw them exit in the last 16 despite having won 4-0 at home in the first leg will forever be a stain on Emery's reputation and the club will take a long time to recover.
A disastrous foray in the transfer market last summer caused huge damage. Of all those brought in only Thomas Meunier has been a success - Grzegorz Krychowiak and Hatem Ben Arfa have made no impact and Jesé Rodríguez left even less of a mark before being loaned to Las Palmas in January.
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They are looking for a new director of football to ensure the same mistakes are not made again, and in the meantime Emery can only try to accentuate the positives. A season that began with a Trophée des Champions victory over Olympique Lyonnais last August has at the very least seen PSG continue their remarkable dominance of the domestic Cups. Their outstanding 4-1 defeat of Monaco in the Coupe de la Ligue final allowed them to win that trophy for the fourth year running.
If they beat Angers SCO in next weekend's 100th Coupe de France final, they will lift that trophy for a record 11th time. But it is in Ligue 1 and in the Champions League that PSG are judged these days, and in those cases this season has not been good enough for a club with their ambitions and their financial power.