Just like last year, Paris Saint-Germain came into a big Champions League tie against one of the giants of Spain excited and confident. Also like last year, they dominated for long stretches of the match and probably should’ve won. Unfortunately, just like last year, they blew it in humiliating fashion.
This time around it was Real Madrid, not Barcelona, who administered PSG’s painful Champions League defeat. And while this loss isn’t the world-historic disgrace that the iconic 6-1 Barcelona comeback was, nor does it technically eliminate their chances of making it to the next round, today’s 3-1 result will be tough to overcome from a practical and a psychic point of view.
PSG actually opened the scoring in the 33rd minute through a neatly worked counter attack that Timothée Chalamet doppelgänger Adrian Rabiot swiped into the net. Threatening counters were a common theme of the evening, as both team’s best chances tended to originate from the wide open spaces the two defenses regularly welcomed the opposition into in transition. Suffice to say, this was not a particularly well-played match. And yet, PSG felt in control for the bulk of the match. Had they scored one of the handful of really good chances they crafted when charging into the open field Real’s sorry defense allowed them, PSG would probably be sitting pretty right now.
But you can never count out the luck of the Spanish, nor the self-inflicted misfortune of these Parisians. It was heartening to see that, despite Father Time’s erosive effects on his slowly dwindling skills, Cristiano Ronaldo is still capable of pulling off his patented “do mostly nothing for the majority of a match but wind up deciding it by lucking into a couple big moments” act. Ronaldo scored twice: once from his beloved penalty spot to tie things up at the end of the first half, the other the result of some savvy positioning and, uh, deft knee control when he blundered in a parried Marco Asensio cross to give Real the lead with under ten minutes remaining:
At 1-1, PSG were in the driver’s seat and looked the more likely team to score. Once Real made it 2-1, PSG began evincing the tell-tale signs of lemon booty, but still wouldn’t have been all that poorly served by a one-goal loss with a critical away goal. As if on cue, Real nabbed a massive third goal just minutes after Ronaldo’s scruffy finish, and that really sunk PSG’s odds of going through.
The second leg of this tasty matchup is a little less than a month away. In that time, PSG will need to fight through the crushing confidence blow this loss dealt their already fragile egos, especially in light of the disgraceful exit in this competition a season ago. While on paper being a tantalizing matchup between arguably the two deepest squads in Europe, this PSG-Real Madrid tie was actually a contest between two teams whose faltering starts to the season put them both on the precipice of disaster. The loser of this round will almost certainly see their manager axed, and both teams are probably due for some serious roster overhaul in the summer.
Real are already dead in La Liga thanks to a series of consistent, bafflingly inept performances in domestic play. They’ve also already been bounced from the Copa del Rey. The Champions League is their only hope to avert a season of disaster, and you figure that unless they really turn things around and at least make it to the semifinals of this, their favorite competition, next year’s Real Madrid team will look a whole hell of a lot different than this one.
For their part, PSG are locks to win the French league, which means nothing since a combination of the rivers of blood- and oil-stained money the club’s Qatari ownership regularly sloshes into the squad, and the other French clubs’ inability to keep their heads above water in competition with PSG’s riches, has turned Ligue 1 into a joke. After spending such unfathomable sums in the summer to bring in Neymar and Kylian Mbappé—the former the very player who helped deal PSG their death blow in last year’s Champions League—on top of the even more insane money they’ve stumped up to assemble this squad of stars over the years, this had to be the season second-year manager Unai Emery made some serious noise in the Champions League. The trophy with the big ears is the one glittering jewel Qatar has yet to buy for its precious soccer team/PR vehicle to distract the world from the country’s despicable human rights record, and that record cannot be allowed to stand.
If PSG can’t turn things around in the second leg, Emery is definitely gone, and probably only hours after their seemingly impending exit is finalized. At that point, a club that looked set for world domination after the transfer moves of last summer will suddenly have serious questions to answer about its future. Emery is a very good coach who nevertheless is probably out of his depth with such an expensive club that needs more attacking strategizing than he knows how to implement, and Neymar and Mbappé and Cavani and Verratti make for the core of what should be an unbelievable attacking team. There’s no joy in seeing any of those players fail. But as a whole, entire club? It feels great to watch PSG shit their pants one more time.