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Paris Saint-Germain must find a way to eradicate the sloppy errors that keep resurfacing to stand any chance of winning the Champions League.
Tuesday’s scrappy 2-2 home draw with unheralded Ludogorets meant that PSG qualified in second place in Group A – two points behind Arsenal, which won 4-1 away to Swiss side Basel.
To guarantee top spot, PSG needed to beat a team that had not won any of its previous five group games. Instead, the French club needed an equalizer from winger Angel Di Maria in the second minute of injury time to avoid a hugely embarrassing defeat.
Within moments, club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi made it clear his players are falling well short of expectations.
“First place was our target (and) we were first before the match,” he said on beIN Sports television. “We’re very disappointed with the result and the quality of our performance. I was expecting more from the players.”
It was Al-Khelaifi who took the shock decision to fire coach Laurent Blanc in the summer, despite Blanc winning back-to-back domestic trebles. Al-Khelaifi’s reasoning was that Blanc fell short in Europe, with PSG going out in the quarterfinals for the fourth straight season.
He replaced Blanc with Unai Emery, who guided Sevilla to three straight Europa League titles. Yet PSG is no better in attack than last season, and defending has got worse.
“Of course I am worried,” Emery said. “The team is conceding a lot of goals at the moment.”
Dutch forward Virgil Misidjan scored in the 15th minute and Brazilian forward Wanderson made it 2-1 in the 68th, shortly after Edinson Cavani had leveled for PSG.
PSG’s shortcomings at the back are too glaring for a team hoping to win Europe’s biggest club trophy.
Following a mistake by midfielder Thiago Motta, Misidjan headed the Bulgarian league leaders in front and PSG’s players were jeered off at halftime.
Cavani equalized in the 61st with an overhead kick from close range after Ludogorets had failed to clear Di Maria’s cross from the right. It was Cavani’s sixth goal of the campaign so far and the Uruguay striker appears full of confidence.
The defense is not, having leaked goals in a 3-0 loss away to Montpellier in the French league last weekend.
Brazil defender Marquinhos clumsily lost possession when receiving a throw-in. He turned his back on play, allowing Brazilian Jonathan Cafu to steal the ball off him and burst down the left, before pulling it back to Wanderson to finish with a low drive.
PSG beat Basel 3-0 in its previous home game but it was far more difficult than the result suggested, with Basel missing several chances.
This time, Ludogorets punished PSG’s mistakes to secure third place – a point above Basel – and a spot in the Europa League.
“Nobody should underestimate us in the Europa League,” Ludogorets midfielder Svetoslav Dyakov said.
There was no excuse for the sloppiness that led to Ludogorets’ opener from a player of Motta’s experience.
The 34-year-old Italy international, who has played for Barcelona and Inter Milan, committed the most basic of errors when he failed to look up properly as he passed out from the edge of the penalty area, hoping to find winger Hatem Ben Arfa.
The pass was easily intercepted and the ball quickly fed to left back Natanael, who scored when Ludogorets lost 3-1 at home to PSG in September. Natanael’s curling cross from the left found Misidjan’s downward header. At least PSG was still creating chances.
Center back Thiago Silva headed against the post in the 35th following a corner, and moments later Di Maria’s shot from 25 meters out drew a leaping save from goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov.
Silva hit the woodwork again in the second half before Di Maria’s goal, which was set up by left back Layvin Kurzawa – one of three substitutes introduced in the last 10 minutes. By then, Emery had left it too late.
Considering the gulf in funding between the sides – PSG has invested heavily in players since Qatari investors QSI took charge in June 2011 – PSG’s performance was way below par.
“There are no excuses,” midfielder Blaise Matuidi said. “We must be aware that we need to do better.”