PARIS (AP) — Although Paris Saint-Germain can seal a record-equaling 10th French league crown on Wednesday, the fans are in no mood for celebration and a tense atmosphere hangs over the club.
PSG can join Marseille and Saint-Etienne on 10 titles if it wins at Angers and second-place Marseille fails to win at home to Nantes. A draw is enough if Marseille loses.
But PSG supporters have not yet forgiven the players for their latest humiliating exit from the Champions League, against Real Madrid last month, and there was very little vocal support at home against bitter rival Marseille last Sunday. It was their way of making a point to the players that the throwaway manner of the Madrid defeat was unacceptable.
The players seemed shaken after the Marseille game.
“I wasn’t expecting this atmosphere. It wasn’t the right time to do this,” PSG captain Marquinhos said. “We understand they have their reasons, maybe they’re not getting answers. But as a player I don’t agree.”
Yet following a calamitous 6-1 defeat against Barcelona in 2017, a 5-2 aggregate loss to Real Madrid the next year and a historic home loss to Manchester United in 2019, last month's defeat in Madrid — with three goals conceded in 17 minutes — felt like one humiliation too many.
PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino sounded more understanding about the fans venting their frustrations.
“I must respect everyone's opinion,” he said Tuesday in his pre-match news conference.
But expectations have lowered among supporters that PSG has what it takes to succeed outside of France.
“The objective was the Champions League, and not to achieve that is a disappointment,” Pochettino acknowledged. “For now, our common goal is to win the (French) title. But, yes, the (club’s) directors are working on the outlines for next season.”
Even though his side holds a huge 15-point lead over Marseille, the gap should be much less.
PSG scraped late draws and wins in the first half of the season, has often been bailed out by Kylian Mbappe's individual brilliance, and its rivals are far too inconsistent to sustain a serious challenge.
So PSG's alarming shortcomings, ruthlessly exposed by Madrid, have been unpunished in the French league.
In the seasons where PSG did have a serious challenger — Monaco in 2017 and Lille last year — it lost the title despite having a star-studded squad bankrolled by cash-rich Qatari owner QSI.
PSG has a far superior goal difference to Marseille, so if both sides win on Wednesday PSG would need a draw at home to Lens on Saturday to guarantee the title. But such is the rift with fans that the atmosphere at Parc des Princes will be frosty.
Pochettino looked sad when asked whether it was actually better to win the title at Angers rather than at home, given the tension.
“For the future of the club, we hope there can be a good understanding (with the fans)," he said.
PSG will be without several players against an Angers side in 14th place, and needing points to secure top-flight status next season.
Record seven-time Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi has a swollen Achilles tendon on his famed left foot, while midfielder Marco Verratti (swollen left knee) and central defender Presnel Kimpembe (sore right knee) are sidelined, and Neymar is suspended.
Mbappe looks to add to his league-leading 21 goals as he bids for another top scorer’s award. He is vying with Monaco striker Ben Yedder and Rennes forward Martin Terrier, who have 19.
Third-place Rennes, meanwhile, is three points behind Marseille in the race for automatic entry into the Champions League.
But it has a tough trip to face fifth-place Strasbourg, which is chasing automatic Europa League entry.
Nice is fourth, two points behind Rennes and one ahead of Strasbourg and sixth-place Monaco.
The standings could be shaken up on Wednesday, with Monaco hosting Nice in the Riviera derby.
Match jerseys from that game will be auctioned and proceeds given to help Ukrainians fleeing their country following Russia's invasion.
Monaco said club president Dmitry Rybolovlev, who is Russian, requested that part of the ticket revenue go to the Secours Populaire des Alpes-Maritimes association, which helps fleeing Ukrainians.
In the relegation battle, 19th-place Bordeaux desperately needs a home win against 17th-place Saint-Etienne with both sides leaking goals.
Saint-Etienne has conceded 11 in the past three games and six-time champion Bordeaux has allowed a league-high 77 this season.
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Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press