The Swede had a habit of getting his side out of tricky positions, and without him on hand they suffered a first setback of the new season
Unai Emery was left an idea of the scale of the task facing him at Zlatan Ibrahimovic-less Paris Saint-Germain over the coming months. It took PSG until the penultimate day of February to lose in Ligue 1 during 2015-16; this time around they did not even survive August’s three fixtures.
Tasked with the challenge of guiding the club into the final four of the Champions League, the Spaniard saw his 100 per cent competitive record come to an end when presented with their first major hurdle. Away to Monaco at Stade Louis II, they suffered a chastening 3-1 reverse.
The opening period saw the hosts dominate the game tactically, and they profited thanks to a tidy Joao Moutinho finish then a Fabinho penalty on the stroke of half-time. While the Monegasques were dynamic offensively and astute at the other end of the park, their opponents looked dreadfully laboured and could have few complaints about the scoreline.
There were obvious failures all over the field for the champions. The starkest of these was once again Edinson Cavani, though at least his persistence paid off in the second half as he guided a header into the net to bring PSG back into a match that had, until that point, been drifting away from them.
For much of the 20 minutes that followed, the hosts were on the ropes until Djibril Sidibe’s cross cannoned into the PSG net via the unfortunate Serge Aurier.
Although his side ultimately went down to defeat, Emery showed a willingness to make dramatic changes to his side, the type of which was unimaginable last season under Laurent Blanc.
With PSG toiling aimlessly, the coach made a bold alteration by withdrawing David Luiz, who had conceded the first-half penalty and deploying Thomas Meunier on the right of the back four with Serge Aurier shuffling inside. The Brazilian did not appear to be suffering from injury and so his withdrawal was a sign that the former Sevilla boss will not be a prisoner to the price tag of his top stars.
It was a watershed moment in the match. For the first hour, the home side had asphyxiated their opponents with intelligent pressing, which preyed upon the tendency of Angel Di Maria and Lucas Moura – ostensibly the visitors’ wide players – to drift inside. This tempted the PSG full-backs to push forward, thereby creating space for Monaco to profit from when they won possession in the middle of the field, as they did so often.
Ultimately, Emery’s big change came too late, as the game had drifted too far away from his side. However, such was the manner in which the visitors roared back into the game, there was still a sense that with a great leader such as Ibrahimovic to spearhead their attack, they might well have got out of jail.
Monaco have already proved they are no mugs by beating Villarreal twice to qualify for the Champions League, so defeat is no disgrace. Yet with victory on Sunday, Jardim’s men can now even harbour quiet thoughts of perhaps challenging PSG’s domestic dominance – after all, their victory was achieved despite the absence of Radamel Falcao.
As the teams went out for the start of the second half, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the PSG president, gave Emery a high five in the bowels of the stadium. It was a sign of unity, but also symbolic for a coach whose performance will be as closely scrutinised from within the club as it will be in the media.
Leeway for now is required. This is a squad in a state of evolution – not only from one coach to another, but away from the age of Zlatan, after all, this is exactly the type of fixture that big Swede had a propensity to steal something for his team from.