Football Features

How PSG have evolved from their first-ever Champions League XI under the current owners

By Mohamed Moallim

PSG Champions League final XI

Published: 11:22, 22 August 2020 | Updated: 14:12, 5 December 2022

The summer of 2011 witnessed a seismic shift in the landscape of European football change when Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) purchased underachieving French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

Since their acquisition they’ve spent heavily on players, most notably making Neymar the world’s most expensive footballer. A two-time Ligue 1 champion before the aforementioned takeover, PSG have since been first among equals in France while winning seven of the last eight championships.

But the powers that be crave the club’s first-ever European Cup win and, until now, to say they’ve not come anywhere close before this season is an understatement.

A season-by-season guide to PSG’s Champions League shortcomings so far:

  • 2012/13: QF (eliminated by Barcelona)
  • 2013:14: QF (eliminated by Chelsea)
  • 2014/15: QF (eliminated by Barcelona)
  • 2015/16: QF (eliminated by Man City)
  • 2016/17: R16 (eliminated by Barcelona)
  • 2017/18: R16 (eliminated by Real Madrid)
  • 2018/19: R16 (eliminated by Manchester United)
  • 2019/20: TBD (PSG 6/4 to win the 2019/20 Champions League outright with William Hill | 18+ only, Be Gamble Aware)

That could all soon change this Sunday, of course, eight years since their quest for the Champions League began with Carlo Ancelotti’s team taking on Dynamo Kyiv.

The starting formation is roughly the same but, as you’d expect, the players presently occupying PSG’s predominant lineup under Thomas Tuchel (the majority of whom featured in the recent semi-final against RB Leipzig) are much changed. So read on for a recap on how each position has evolved since their 2012 Champions League debut under the current owners.

Goalkeepers: Salvatore Sirigu to Keylor Navas

Salvatore Sirigu was part of the first batch of QSI signings in 2011 and would ultimately go on to keep 84 clean sheets in 190 appearances. He is the only PSG goalkeeper to make 30+ league appearances in multiple seasons this decade.

Since his 2016 departure, PSG have flitted between Kevin Trapp, Alphonse Areola and Gianluigi Buffon (albeit briefly) before settling on three-time European Cup winner Keylor Navas. He lacks Buffon’s renown, but the 33-year-old Costa Rican ‘keeper is nonetheless a true good-luck charm in the Champions League. Five of his 19 clean sheets this season were achieved in his eight Champions League games. Also, having won it in three of his last four seasons with Real Madrid, Navas is one win from making it 4/5.

Right-backs: Christophe Jallet to Thilo Kehrer

PSG jumped on the trend of using full-backs as auxiliary wingers soon after parting with pre-takeover mainstay Christophe Jallet, who could be described as a solid hand. The mild-mannered Frenchman wasn’t as progressive as those who followed him: Serge Aurier, Gregory van der Wiel, Thomas Meunier and Dani Alves.

And yet, with Meunier having left to join Borussia Dortmund, these days they’re playing a true all-round defender there: Thilo Kehrer, who has previously performed at centre-back, wing-back and defensive midfield.

Having joined the Parisians from boyhood club Schalke 04 in 2018 for a hefty fee, the jury is still out regarding the German international. He has needed to bide his time with competition for places understandably strong, but Tuchel now entrusts him to staff the right-flank.

Centre-backs: Alex to Presnel Kimpembe

It was during his three seasons on loan at Dutch giants PSV where Alex truly announced himself as one of the best centre-backs around. His performances in Eindhoven were enough to convince parent club Chelsea that he deserved a place in their first-team.

PSG signed Alex after five seasons at Stamford Bridge, less than a year into new ownership, and the 15-time Brazil international would soon forge a partnership with compatriot Thiago Silva.

That relationship didn’t last long and in the forthcoming years Silva would be paired alongside fellow countrymen Marquinhos and David Luiz as well Zoumana Camara before, finally, Presnel Kimpembe, who undoubtedly has the world at his feet.

The 25-year-old native of Beaumont-sur-Oise is another who had to be patient but is now arguably one of the first names on Tuchel’s teamsheet. For all the criticism he’s been receiving in recent years, David Luiz was pretty solid during his spell in Paris. Kimpembe is yet to reach that level, but he’s not that far off.

Centre-back: Thiago Silva

All good things must come to an end. In 2012, Thiago Silva was prised away from AC Milan, where many had him earmarked as Franco Baresi’s spiritual successor. As soon as he departed, the Rossoneri entered the wilderness and have yet to emerge, but reports suggest the classy Brazilian centre-back is considering a return.

This Sunday should be Thiago Silva’s 315th and final competitive appearance in a PSG jersey and, whatever the outcome, he’ll bow out as club legend.

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Left-backs: Maxwell to Juan Bernat

At the backend of the 2000s, there were few left-backs you’d put in front of Maxwell. Not the most flash (though he enjoyed getting forward at every opportunity), Maxwell was a 7/10 footballer who seldom let his teammates down and doesn’t always get the props he deserves. This was perfect in Ancelotti’s workmanlike set-up. However, in time, age would catch up with the Brazilian, so PSG started looking for a successor.

Lucas Digne, Layvin Kurzawa and Yuri Berchiche all came in and more or less met expectations. But the jersey now belongs to 27-year-old Juan Bernat and could be in his possession for a while.

Defensive midfielders: Clément Chantôme to Marquinhos

Having come through PSG’s ranks, Clément Chantôme couldn’t have foreseen his boyhood club’s transformation from a regional power to being on the verge of conquering Europe. His limited skill-set compared to those in his position among the continent’s other super-teams meant he wasn’t going to be there for the ride.

Chantôme wasn’t immediately cut by the new administration and so collected a league title before leaving for pastures new. In his place came a plethora of deep-lying midfielders such as Thiago Motta, Franck Bambock, Sessi D’Almeida, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Lassana Diarra.

Of that quintet, it’s not controversial to suggest Motta left the best impression while Krychowiak was the most disappointing. Known for thinking outside the box, Tuchel has since placed Brazilian centre-back Marquinhos in front of his backline to great success. He was exceptional in their win away to Manchester United last season and given the persistence of selection, having played the majority of his games this present campaign in defensive midfield, the 26-year-old may end up doing a reverse Frank Rijkaard.

Central midfielders: Blaise Matuidi to Leandro Paredes

Possibly the most underrated figure in PSG’s re-emergence as France’s number one club, Blaise Matuidi was the selfless cog in their midfield that made everyone better. During his brief loan stay, David Beckham commented how the Frenchman was essentially his legs.

Reduced playing time saw him leave for Juventus and since that goodbye a number of personnel have been utilised in the position Matuidi vacated. Adrien Rabiot, Giovani Lo Celso and Ander Herrera are just three names. Idrissa Gueye and Leandro Paredes, though, have done better than expected. Gueye in particular has screening ability, stamina and precise passing that typified Matuidi. Meanwhile, only Neymar has played more passes into the final third for PSG per 90 minutes than Paredes in this season’s Champions League (9.7).

Central midfielder: Marco Verratti

It cost PSG just €12m to sign Marco Verratti from Pescara in the summer of 2012. He’s not quite lived up to his lofty ‘new Pirlo’ tag but it would be foolish to suggest the Italian deep-lying playmaker hasn’t represented great value for money.

The Italian midfielder made his Champions League debut in the aforementioned game against Dynamo Kyiv and has shown a degree of loyalty in amassing over 310 appearances to date. He even supposedly rejected a move to Barcelona. Questions regarding his long-term future are not going away. But then, transfer talk is nothing new regarding Verratti at PSG and nothing has come of it yet.

Right-wingers: Jérémy Ménez to Ángel Di María

There was so much promise surrounding Jérémy Ménez when he broke through at Sochaux, resulting in big moves to Monaco and AS Roma, the latter of which sold him to PSG in 2011.

Ménez spent three years in Paris before continuing his journeyman career elsewhere. If there’s one area of the field PSG have been blessed, however, it’s across the forward line. Lucas Moura would take up the reins, but Tottenham’s cult hero saw the writing on the wall when Ángel Di María joined following a disappointing spell at Manchester United.

He may not be the most glamorous name in PSG’s present team, but no one can deny when the lights shine brightest and the heat is on, Di María comes to play. The former Real Madrid forward has reached a new level in their historic Champions League run. In the semis against upstarts RB Leipzig, he’d score his third of the campaign as well as helping himself to two assists.

On the subject of which, Di Maria is the second-highest assist-provider in the club history according to video and media analysis by Histoire du PSG. In the Champions League specifically, only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have more assists than Di Maria since the competition was rebranded in 1992. Such output only makes life more easy for the club’s two marquee names.

Centre-forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimović to Neymar

That undisputed MVP at PSG was once Zlatan Ibrahimović, who came, saw and conquered.

It didn’t take long before the charismatic Swede started to write history. No one has scored more goals (38) in a single Ligue 1 season for the club or in all competitions (50). To this day he holds the record for most Ligue 1 Player of the Year wins (3).

Anyone following that act would be intimidated. Edinson Cavani is not just anyone, though, and has been prolific in his own right. The recently departed Uruguayan marksman broke Ibrahimović’s record for most goals at the club and it might be a while before his 200 tally is smashed.

Neymar, who can play across the front line, is 130 strikes away. Yet, if he decides to see out the rest his professional career in Paris, Cavani may start to break a sweat. His time in Paris has been marred with injuries though on his day Neymar lives up to Ibrahimović’s standard.

Left-wingers: Javier Pastore to Kylian Mbappé

Another who left Italy for the fashion capital of the world, Pastore constantly threatened to become world-class at Palermo. At the time, some saw him as a big fish in a small pond, so joining PSG was Argentine’s chance to prove such sceptics wrong. He’d enjoy seven long years but never really set the beautiful game alight. Injuries and inconsistency saw Pastore moved around the lineup and later fade into the background.

Ezequiel Lavezzi arrived a year after Pastore in the summer of 2012 and took the left-wing role, in which he became PSG’s top-scorer in their first-ever Champions League campaign under QSI with five goals.

A number of left-wingers including Jesé and Gonçalo Guedes were later given opportunities on the left at PSG. But these days in their slick attack where Neymar takes centre stage, this spot is reserved for France’s Kylian Mbappé.

Mbappé, like his more experienced teammate, can play on either flank or in the centre. PSG also happens to be his hometown club so any success means that little bit more. Mbappé has scored 90 goals across 123 appearances while assisting a further 51 to date and is going to take over the world of football before long.