PSG 0 Bayern Munich 1
For the last few weeks Paris has been gripped by stories of superstar players wanting to leave this place. For an hour at the Parc des Princes it was easy to sympathise as a Paris Saint-Germain team with Neymar and Lionel Messi as a sedate front two produced a horribly constipated performance en route to a home defeat by Bayern Munich that threatens to dead-head their season before the end of February.
The emir of Qatar was in Paris to watch this last-16 first leg, and presumably will have woken up for the final half-hour, when the arrival of Kylian Mbappé injected life and pace into this blue-shirted star vehicle. Otherwise Paris looked like an imitation of a team here, outplayed for long periods by a neat and competent Bayern.
Le Parisien had billed this match as “Le Grand Soir”. And for Paris Saint-Germain this Champions League tie is basically the season, a world in a grain of sand, another year of the project, ready to do or die across 180 minutes of high-jeopardy knockout football.
The Parc des Princes was a thunderous place at kick-off, although as ever with a sense of a place that is en fête, of lots of people basically singing and dancing next to a football match. Bayern went with a back three from the start, an ambitious shape that meant Kingsley Coman taking a turn as an attacking left wing-back.
For PSG, Mbappé was, as promised (by Mbappé), on the bench despite a thigh injury. “I didn’t think he was going to train,” Christophe Galtier said the day before the game, which is probably just the kind of thing you get used to around here.
In his absence PSG began with a front two of Lionel Messi and Neymar, and with a 16-year-old from the banlieue, Warren Zaïre-Emery, for their biggest game of the year. The teenager is something even rarer, a prodigy who plays mainly as a deep midfielder, a position that requires total focus, maturity, the ability to grapple with battle-hardened German champions.
He looked the part early on. There was one nice exchange with Messi. But otherwise PSG just looked utterly flat, a collection of random parts trying to assume the shapes of a team. For a while Bayern dominated, not just taking the ball and keeping it, but looking so much more coherent as an entity. João Cancelo fizzed a cross through the six-yard box. Towards half-time Joshua Kimmich had a shot that whipped past the post.
As for Paris, well, they had Messi.There is an additional lustre to seeing him play now, the sense of a man who has in so many ways completed this thing. When he dropped deep and ran with the ball – PSG’s only noticeable attacking tactic – you felt a thrill of recognition, a flicker of all those other moments of Messi running, the energy field of this unmistakable presence, the great mobile brain. Is this how a team should work?
Neymar’s sole first-half contribution was to run into some undisclosed part of a Bayern player and just collapse, prone, unmoving for at least a minute on the turf until somebody noticed and he could get up looking hugely disappointed with the scales of cosmic injustice, but still, somehow clinging bravely to life.
Otherwise it was cautious stuff. Bayern tried to create patterns and pull wide and press in packs. Paris defended in two blocks and waited, in hope, for that walking-football front two to spark, to create an illusion of motion.
And before long Bayern struck a significant blow, one that was well deserved for at least resembling an actual football team. Alphonso Davies replaced Cancelo at half-time. It took him eight minutes to make the opening goal, whistling in a flat, hard outswinging cross from a strangely vacant left touchline. Coman was unmarked on the far edge of the six-yard box, and finished expertly on the volley, before engaging in a rather faux-humble non-celebration in front of his former supporters. The angle, the first-time finish, the colours brought to mind Coman’s winner in the Covid summer Champions League final of 2020.
As did the abrupt appearance of Mbappé, a little ahead of time, who might have won that game, but was here now to save this one and desperately needed given the essentially inanimate PSG performance to that point. Bayern should have added another. Jamal Musiala began to fizz and twirl in tight spaces. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting saw a close-range shot well saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
At the other end Mbappé provided a first glimpse of that thrillingly effortless speed in the inside-left channel, veering in on goal, feet barely grazing the turf and drawing a fine close-range save from Jann Sommer, the ball bouncing back off his face.
By now Mbappé and Messi had begun to combine on the left. Mbappé had the ball in the net but was offside, narrowly. Messi saw a shot deflected just over the bar. At the death Benjamin Pavard was sent off for a second yellow. Mbappé will be back to start in Munich. But that 1-0 lead already looks formidable. - Guardian