Mauricio Pochettino’s Paris Saint-Germain tenure started with a 1-1 draw away at Saint-Etienne on Wednesday, which moves the champions into second place but saw the gap behind leaders Olympique Lyonnais widen to three points.
Romain Hamouma gave the hosts the lead at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard after 19 minutes due to some slapstick defending from the visitors, but Moise Kean had PSG level just three minutes later after he was teed up by Marco Verratti.
That was the extent of the scoring in Saint-Etienne, but Pochettino will have seen enough from his side to know that there is serious work to be done over the next few weeks as the UEFA Champions League round of 16 clash with Barcelona comes into view.
If anybody thought that replacing Thomas Tuchel as coach would magically rid PSG of their problems this season, this result and performance will have shown them otherwise. The same sluggishness and sloppy mistakes are still there and although Pochettino was missing a host of regular starters, including superstar Neymar, there was still enough quality on the pitch to get a better result.
Facing Stade Brestois 29 at home this weekend gives the Argentine the chance to recover some of those players and to make some changes as he gets to know his players, but the evidence here is that a lot of work lies ahead of him and his team of staff.
One challenge will be getting the best out of Kylian Mbappe again after another subdued performance, despite playing a role in the build-up to Kean’s equaliser.
“Kylian needs to improve, like everybody else,” said Pochettino during the post-match press conference. “He should feel disappointed as we did not win and he can always do better. However, his attitude was good. I am happy with what he did.”
Back in late November, Saint-Etienne lost a seventh consecutive Ligue 1 match and it looked as if Claude Puel would soon be out of work.
Instead, Les Verts have responded with seven games without defeat and are now a lot harder to beat — especially at home. While one win and six draws is hardly title-winning form, it is an impressive turn in fortunes that Puel deserves great credit for as he tries to rid the club of overpaid, underachieving characters.
One of the more interesting experiments in Pochettino’s first outing as PSG was the decision to deploy the Italy international further forward in something of a No. 10 role.
While Verratti did not always look comfortable in such an advanced position, he did still contribute the assist for Kean after combining with Mbappe.
Do not expect the 28-year-old to make the switch full-time just yet, but Pochettino’s use of him there could open the door to a new formation that might require him to be more forward-thinking in time.
“Marco is a leader, a playmaker,” said the 48-year-old. “He has the quality to play in multiple positions and I am happy with what he showed.”
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Results elsewhere actually pushed PSG up into second place in the Ligue 1 table despite the draw as Lyon opened up a three-point lead with their 3-2 home win over RC Lens but Lille OSC went down 2-1 at home to Angers SCO to drop down.
Olympique de Marseille’s two games in hand could still put them ahead of the capital club by one point so Pochettino and his men are not going to get it easy anytime soon.
The new head coach was realistic about the result when peaking after the final whistle at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and admitted that while it was not what PSG wanted because of their quality of squad and expectations, that their hosts deserved a point and three days was not sufficient to put major changes in place with a depleted squad.
“I am disappointed,” Pochettino told Telefoot. “We are PSG and we want to win. That said, we only had three days to prepare — not much. There is lots to improve and work on. This was not the result that we wanted. However, Saint-Etienne deserved the draw.”
The South American will have a few more days to prepare before the clash with Brest at the weekend and then it is on to the Trophee des Champions and bitter rivals Marseille for a first potential piece of silverware together and of his career.