While the eye-popping investments from their Qatari owners continue to raise questions about Financial Fair Play, the reality is that Paris Saint-Germain are in genuine danger of early elimination from the Champions League before taking on Napoli on Tuesday.
New coach Thomas Tuchel has overseen a record-breaking start to the French season with 12 wins from 12 games in Ligue 1 after Kylian Mbappe and Neymar scored in a 2-1 victory over Lille on Friday.
But the situation in Europe is very different.
The two most expensive players in the world did not distinguish themselves when PSG lost 3-2 at Liverpool in September, and two weeks ago it took an Angel di Maria goal in injury time to earn the French side a 2-2 draw at home to Napoli.
Tuchel’s team currently sit third in Champions League Group C, two points behind Liverpool and one adrift of Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli, with Red Star Belgrade the whipping boys in the section.
A defeat in the heated atmosphere of the San Paolo on Tuesday, then, and Paris could find themselves four points behind the top two with two games to play, including a home clash with Liverpool later this month.
Tuchel needs a big performance from his star players, but he will also need cool heads in Naples.
That is why the German is expected to start with veteran Italian Gianluigi Buffon in goal, with the 40-year-old no stranger to the atmosphere at Napoli’s home ground — he is available after being suspended for the first three group games.
“Gigi (Buffon) will help us, he already knows the stadium and the atmosphere and he’ll be a big help in the dressing room,” said Tuchel at Monday’s press conference.
“We have confidence in (Alphonse) Areola too, but Gigi is coming back from a ban and he deserves to play in Italy against a team he knows.”
PSG will also hope that Edinson Cavani can shake off a muscle problem in time to feature at the stadium where he used to be idolised before moving to France in 2013.
“Cavani is with us and he’s trained, we’ll see later,” Tuchel added.
“I had three fantastic years at Napoli. I have lots of memories from my time at the club,” the Uruguayan striker told PSG’s website. “It will be difficult, but not impossible.”
– Going backwards? –
PSG last week denied having negotiated a “secret agreement” with European football’s governing body in 2014 to avoid a more severe punishment for breaches of Financial Fair Play.
Meanwhile, over the weekend they confirmed they had recently gone to the Court of Arbitration for Sport out of exasperation at the time taken by UEFA with their latest investigation into the club.
That was opened after PSG spent over 400 million euros ($456 million) on Neymar and Mbappe in August 2017.
Such an investment was meant to accelerate PSG’s rise to the status of uncontested European superpower, and yet the fear is that they are going backwards on the continental stage.
After four successive runs to the Champions League quarter-finals, they were knocked out in the last 16 in each of the last two years, by Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Now they might not even make it that far, and that could be seriously damaging to their reputation. It would also bring back the doubts over how long Neymar will hang around.
“It will be a great challenge, we’ll have to play at our maximum, but we’re confident because we played very well in Marseille (2-0 win) with a lot of personality and against Lille (2-1 win) with quality when it was difficult,” said the PSG coach.
“Napoli have a very strong and compact team who have been playing together for a number of years, and have dangerous players in attack,” he said.
Ancelotti, meanwhile, knows all about PSG’s obsession with the Champions League having coached the club to the last eight in 2013.
“Paris have paid for their lack of experience in big Champions League matches, but now they have a stronger team than last year because they have more confidence,” Ancelotti told French TV station TF1 at the weekend.