Where does Paris Saint-Germain go from here? What will they do next? What will become of manager Unai Emery?
These are just some of the questions being asked in the aftermath of PSG’s shocking 6-1 loss to Barcelona in the second leg of their Round of 16 series, marking the biggest comeback in the history of the Champions League.
The French champions won the opening leg 4–0 in Paris last month, so Barcelona faced a Herculean task ahead of the return match at the Camp Nou. Up 3–0 at one point, Barca looked like it was going to pull off the miracle. Then Edinson Cavani scored for PSG, which meant the Catalans suddenly needed three goals. Game over — or so it seemed. Barca conjured three goals in the dying minutes, with Neymar emerging as the hero: the Brazilian scored in the 88th and 90th minutes, before setting up Sergio Roberto’s winner deep into injury time.
Three goals in roughly seven minutes. Miracles do, in fact, happen from time to time. The Camp Nou erupted at the final whistle, and Barcelona players swarmed onto the field, celebrating their improbable comeback. In the next morning’s Spanish papers, Barca were rightly feted as heroes for authoring one of the most amazing chapters in European club soccer history.
But what of PSG? What becomes of them now?
Post-game analysis is inevitable, especially after a loss like that. Fans and pundits are eager to offer their diagnosis, to uncover the reasons why a result like this happens, and then to offer solutions going forward. The temptation in this particular case is to prescribe changes at PSG, both on the field and on the touchline; to conclude that the French champions are missing that something extra that will allow them to finally break through the glass ceiling and win the Champions League.
PSG has long been accused of being frail and fragile when it comes to European club soccer’s most prestigious competition. Since the Qatari Sports Investment group took over the outfit in 2011 (thus making PSG one of the richest teams in the world), Les Rouge-et-Bleu have won four consecutive Ligue 1 titles, but have never progressed beyond the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Wednesday’s capitulation will only add further legitimacy to the narrative that PSG lack what it takes to win at that level.
But that’s rather unfair. The 6–1 loss at the Camp Nou should not overshadow PSG’s dominant performance vs. Barca in the first leg at the Parc des Princes. The French champions made the Catalans look like a Sunday pub league team on that day, no small feat considering Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez were in the starting line-up for the visitors.
Another accusation leveled at PSG is that they have lacked winners, and that’s why they haven’t won Europe’s biggest prize. Again, that’s unfair. Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and Emery are all accomplished and successful managers. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the centre-piece of Qatari’s takeover but now with Manchester United, won league titles with every team he’s ever played for (although that streak will end this season). Did Angel Di Maria not win a Champions League title at Real Madrid? Has he suddenly lost the will to win now that he’s at PSG?
A winning mentality is not their problem. Neither is the roster. Simply put, there is no need for PSG to retool. They are a quality side, boasting players the calibre of Di Maria, Cavani, Marco Veratti, Blaise Matuidi, Lucas Moura and Julian Draxler, to name but a few. Any club around the world would love to have the collection of stars currently on show at PSG.
How to explain, then, that shocking loss at the Camp Nou? It’s hardly an original thought, but that’s soccer sometimes. Crazy stuff happens.
Emery didn’t help his cause with his bunker tactics late in the match. PSG completed just four passes in the final 11 minutes, three of which were from the kick-offs after the Barcelona goals, which serves as the ultimate indictment of the Spanish manager’s “game management” in the later stages.
But Wednesday’s loss shouldn’t be taken as a sign of chronic weakness within PSG. Soccer is a game of slim margins. Had Neymar missed his penalty attempt, or if PSG had properly defended the Brazilian’s cross into the box for Roberto, we’d now be heralding the French champions for dispatching mighty Barca to advance to the quarterfinals.
Lest we forget, the only reason Barcelona’s comeback was so amazing in the first place was because PSG had been so brilliant in the opening leg.
Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast (featuring James Sharman, Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop and John Molinaro) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues.