Pitchside Europe

Leonardo comments pile pressure on PSG

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Leonardo and Beckham

After being deservedly beaten by struggling Reims, bizarre comments by sporting director Leonardo have increased the pressure on Paris Saint-Germain going into their Champions League last-16 second leg against Valencia on Wednesday.

PSG appeared in good shape as they travelled to Reims on Saturday, with victories against bitter rivals Marseille in both league and cup over the last week meaning they had won 14 and drawn one of their last 16 matches in all competitions. In contrast, Reims had won just one of their last 19 and started the day just a point clear of the relegation zone.

If that doesn't underline the gulf that exists on paper between the two clubs, then how about this: Reims had scored just 22 league goals all season coming into the game, as many as Zlatan Ibrahimovic on his own. But despite that, former European Cup finalists Reims beat their illustrious opponents 1-0 to claim one of their most famous victories since their glory days ended half a century ago. In the home of champagne, corks would most definitely have been popping on Saturday night.

In some ways, it must be said that PSG were unlucky - Ibrahimovic had what would have been a fine opening goal wrongly disallowed for offside just after half-time. Had it stood, it is hard to imagine Reims recovering. But largely they were to blame for their own downfall. Ezequiel Lavezzi missed a glorious chance when through with just the goalkeeper to beat in the first half, and the capital club played the final half an hour with an extra man after Reims' right-back Christopher Glombard had been sent off.

Shortly after the dismissal, David Beckham - back on the bench at kick-off with Marco Verratti taking his place in midfield - was preparing to come on in place of the young Italian when Reims took the lead, a ball-watching Alex allowing Grzegorz Krychowiak to finish from close range following a corner.

Reims were not outplayed, far from it. They had more shots on goal, more shots on target too. Ibrahimovic gave the ball away time after time and rarely looked in the mood. Beckham saw plenty of the ball in his cameo appearance, but he couldn't turn the tide. After his impressive showing on his full debut against Marseille in midweek, this was a reality check. But if what had happened on the pitch was shocking, then so were the comments made by PSG's sporting director Leonardo afterwards.

"Maybe we are not made to play in games like these," claimed the Brazilian. "Perhaps we have a team designed more for Europe than the league."

Since Saturday's match, these comments have been the focus of most of the attention, with Damien Dégorre in L'Equipe speculating that the Brazilian's relationship with president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has been irreparably damaged and that his days in Paris are numbered.

Meanwhile, PSG's opponents took offence, with Reims defender Mohamed Fofana indicating that the Ligue 1 leaders have a long way to go before they can be considered in the same bracket as the continent's most established names.

"To say that they are not made for these games is bizarre," he said. "Clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid or Barcelona don't complain about having to play against smaller teams. When they lose, they have the elegance to congratulate the winners."

With Paris still two points clear at the top of the table after Lyon were held at Brest on Sunday, the acid test will come against Valencia at the Parc des Princes.

If they really are made first and foremost for Europe, then surely they will be able to press home a 2-1 advantage from the first leg in Spain, even if Valencia have lost just one of their last 10 games in La Liga, and that against Real Madrid.

"We never think that we are better than our opponents," said the always dignified Beckham. "These things happen. We need to move on."

Ibrahimovic will be missing against Valencia as he begins a two-match suspension handed down for his first-leg sending-off and, while performances have at times been better when the giant Swede has been sidelined this season, results have not.

In addition, the absence of Verratti, also due to a ban, means that Beckham could be thrown back in at the Champions League deep end. If that is the case, then he will again need to prove that he can still cut it in the wake of a forgettable weekend.

Andrew Scott

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