Soccer

How PSG’s Champions League first-leg letdown vs. Manchester City sums up their entire season

PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain have a mountain to climb in next week’s UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg against Manchester City. The French giants let a 1-0 halftime lead slip and lost 2-1 at Parc des Princes on Wednesday.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men took the lead through Marquinhos’ header after 15 minutes and could have gone 2-0 up early in the second half but they found themselves 2-1 down with 19 minutes to go after Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez both hit the back of the net.

As far as PSG performances go, it was the 2020-21 season in a microcosm: Forty-five minutes of collective and individual brilliance that could have seen them at least two-up at the break. Then an inexplicable second 45 that they were fortunate to only trail 2-1 at the final whistle.

This was the Ligue 1 champions’ current campaign in 90-minute form, and it illustrates why they remain in contention for the Championnat crown despite eight league defeats and how a team that came so close to dropping out of this UCL edition in the group stage are still within reach of the final.

It was very clear from kickoff that PSG were motivated for this clash and the front three of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria showed great purpose as they stretched City’s defense in a way that few have been able to do this term.

There was little surprise when Marquinhos rose to head home Di Maria’s perfectly flighted corner and Guardiola’s men struggled to assert themselves for the first half in the way that they eventually would the second with Keylor Navas’ save from Phil Foden the closest the Citizens came to scoring before the break.

The teams went in at the break with Les Parisiens good value for their lead and ruing Leandro Paredes’ inability to get his header on target while PSG were enjoying a set piece bombardment that City simply could not cope with.

Yet that was as good as it would get for the hosts and the scenario less than an hour later was a world away from what it was as the second half got underway in the French capital.

Guardiola and his players’ patience paid dividends as PSG coughed up two gift-wrapped goals in the form of De Bruyne’s deceptive ball into the box which eluded Keylor Navas and Mahrez’s free kick which made a mockery of the most expensive and illogically formed wall constructed since 2019.

Idrissa Gueye’s unnecessary red card, his second of this edition, made things even tougher for Pochettino’s troops as they fought to ensure that City did not put the tie to bed.

So, PSG now travel to Etihad Stadium in Manchester next week needing to score at least twice as a 1-0 win would see City through on away goals with a repeat of their attacking prowess in both Barcelona and Munich required to even stand a chance.

“Of course, we believe that we can do something special there,” Pochettino said post-match. “If we do not, then it will not happen. We want to start the return game in the same way that we did this one. We must believe. City are a very good team, but we can perform there.”

While the scoring of the goals does not appear far-fetched based on their Champions League and Ligue 1 performances this season, their ability to keep their hosts at bay over 90 minutes or more is majorly dubious.

PSG have already lost 12 times this season, a record worst tally under Qatar Sports Investments’ ownership, with eight of those defeats coming at home and three of their four Champions League setbacks occurring in their own backyard.

“We need character,” Marquinhos said. “Anybody who does not believe should not bother coming. A warrior mentality is needed to reach the next round. We are close and must not doubt ourselves. We have what it takes to turn this around. We just need to believe.”

This situation is nothing new for the French giants this campaign and if anything, they stand a better chance of getting back into the tie and reaching the final by playing the second leg away from home with an objective score required in order to progress.

With Ligue 1 surprise package RC Lens the visitors this weekend and a resurgent Stade Rennais away next week without the suspended Mbappe, the chances are that the domestic title race tension that appears to have aided Pochettino’s men to an extent will still be there.

However, there is no escaping the fact that while six of this season’s 12 losses came on Thomas Tuchel’s watch, another six have followed with Mauricio Pochettino and five of them have come at the team’s spiritual Parc des Princes home.

PSG’s destiny seems to be as a road team this term and that their chances of success will be far greater than when searching for results at home and that is their 20-21 predicament with just Lens and Stade de Reims to come in the capital.

Ligue 1 and Champions League success, should it come at all, will have to be earned elsewhere.


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