Paris Saint-Germain’s German coach Thomas Tuchel reacts during the UEFA Champions League Group C football match between Paris Saint-Germain and SSC Napoli at the Parc des Princes stadium, in Paris, on October 24, 2018. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)
Thomas Tuchel’s position of strength in charge of Paris Saint-Germain was reinforced on Sunday after the German’s decision to leave Kylian Mbappe on the bench against bitter rivals Marseille paid off.
The teenage France World Cup star was omitted from PSG’s starting line-up for disciplinary reasons but came on as a second-half substitute and within three minutes of his introduction had scored the opening goal.
PSG went on to win 2-0 in ‘Le Classique’ at the Velodrome, with Julian Draxler scoring in stoppage time to secure the points.
The result stretched their unbeaten run in French football’s biggest fixture to 18 games in all competitions going back seven years.
“It was a surprise for us too but it was a disciplinary issue,” said Tuchel, who also raised eyebrows by leaving out midfielder Adrien Rabiot.
“We decided before the match in the hotel that they would not start. It was a shame because I don’t like to play without Kylian and Adrien, but it was necessary.”
Broadcaster Canal Plus said the decision was taken because Mbappe and Rabiot arrived late for the pre-match team talk, and the intimation was that it was not the first time the duo had been guilty.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, the giant Cameroon striker who was a surprise summer signing, was given the first start up front in Mbappe’s absence. But he made way for Mbappe in the 62nd minute and the opening goal came just three minutes later.
– ‘A very difficult decision’ –
It may have appeared a brave call, especially with the likes of Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani missing through injury.
However, it was a clear sign of the German’s authority, a different side of his management, notable at PSG so far for granting extra holidays and showing affection to his players.
In contrast, his predecessor Unai Emery struggled to stamp his mark on the dressing room following the arrivals of Neymar and Mbappe at the beginning of last season for the two largest transfer fees in history.
“I don’t know if I want to comment,” said Tuchel when asked about the reasons for dropping one of his biggest stars.
“These are internal matters. It was a very difficult decision to take before a match like this.
“We have reasons but I don’t particularly want to explain them. For me, it’s fine, it’s finished.”
He added: “I hate playing without Kylian and Adrien. We had plans prepared for several days and that we had to change. I don’t like that.”
While Mbappe spent part of the warm-up before the game listening intently to words of advice from veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Rabiot did not come out to warm up.
It was Draxler who replaced Rabiot, a player who previously refused to accept a berth on France’s standby list for the World Cup after being left out of their main squad.
While they remain in a delicate position in the Champions League, PSG have won all 11 Ligue 1 games this season under Tuchel, who was appointed in the summer to succeed Emery.
French media have been keen to highlight that PSG’s record equals the best start to a season in any of Europe’s so-called big five leagues, established by the double-winning Tottenham Hotspur team of 1960-61.
If they win at home to second-placed Lille on Friday, they will be 11 points clear already at the top of the table.
It is little wonder that former Borussia Dortmund boss Tuchel has so much credit in the bank just now, although an early elimination in Europe would raise questions.
“The coach showed that the club is more important than any individuals,” was how Draxler put it after the game.