Soccer-PSG's below-par defence a cause for concern in Champions League

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League - Group H - Benfica v Paris St Germain - Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal - October 5, 2022 Paris St Germain's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris St Germain remain unbeaten this season but after an electric start the French champions have slowed down with a defence that has been showing worrying weaknesses.

PSG drew 1-1 at Benfica in Champions League Group H on Tuesday courtesy of a first-half goal by Lionel Messi, but also thanks to an outstanding performance by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who made up for his back three's dismal showing.

While 36-year-old Sergio Ramos has handled opponents well in Ligue 1, the Spanish veteran suffers on the European stage, being often outpaced and leaving too much space behind him.

PSG's Danilo Pereira, who scored the own goal that gave Benfica a well-deserved equaliser, is clearly not playing in his best position on the left side of a three-man central defence.

Marquinhos is making up for his partners' shortcomings and consequently suffering physically as the performance of the defence is in marked contrast with that of the front three -Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Messi and Mbappe still need to defend more as their lack of aggression when PSG lose the ball high up the pitch leaves midfielders Marco Verratti and Vitinha with too much work to do to protect the back three.

Italian Verratti has been doing a terrific job of bossing the midfield but at the risk of his fitness and he was lucky to escape serious injury after a rough tackle from Enzo Fernandez.

Without the 'Gufetto' (little owl), PSG would not be the same and the back three would be more exposed.

PSG coach Christophe Galtier was fuming after the Benfica game, realising he could have lost his key player for weeks.

"The referee was not helped by his assistants and the VAR. He (Verratti) could have had his leg broken," he said.

PSG struggled to handle Benfica's pressing game and their full backs were rarely in a position to threaten - something the Parisians will have to work on to manage tough games better.

"Our team was well positioned but struggled to cope without opponents' pressing. I have mixed feelings because we had been talking out how to handle that with short passes between the lines but it did not work that well," said Galtier.

He added that fullback Nuno Mendes would be out of action for "a few games" with a muscle problem.

PSG, who host the return fixture against Benfica next Tuesday, top the group on seven points ahead of the Portuguese team on goals scored. Juventus are third with three points.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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