(Image via: Guardian UK) (Image via: Guardian UK)

Early Exit for PSG Once Again and the Inquest Begins: UEFA Champions League; Last 16

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And amidst the fog and mist, it was gone. Paris Saint-Germain’s assault at another Champions League season has suffered another premature exit. Like the previous campaigns,  the exit was early, signalled the French big-spenders as still behind the European elite, and casts the future of their manager right into question. But unlike most of the past seasons, this was less of a valiant effort, and more like a tame surrender.

Last season’s incredible exit at the hands of Barcelona at this stage, as jaw-dropping and eye-widening as it was, still witnessed a fair amount of fight from Le Parisiens, their first leg win was an indication of how good they could now be. This term, however, against Real Madrid, it was a bit of a let-down. French paper L’Equipe’s headline on Wednesday morning translated as ‘All that, for that?’. For all the money spent, the transfer records shattered, the acquisition of arguably a Ballon D’Or winner in the waiting, and the world’s most sought-after teenager, the thrashing of Bayern Munich in September, this was the best they could produce? 

For the most part of the first leg, PSG were the better side, but a rather bizarre substitution midway through the second half seemingly cost them, leaving them with a 3-1 deficit to overturn in Paris. There were messages to the crowd, and messages from the crowd ahead of the return fixture, PSG were going to be without their star man in Neymar, but they still had a top quality side, Angel Di Maria was Neymar’s replacement, Giovani Lo Celso was dropped for Thiago Motta, and skipper Thiago Silva came back into the side for Presnel Kimpembe, all changes from the first leg.

They did try to put Real in the back foot in the first period, but the best they could muster was a few good-looking Di Maria crosses that were dealt with by Raphael Varane. Unai Emery and his side were perhaps lucky not to have conceded in the opening 35 minutes, Alphonse Areola denying Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema on separate occasions, even if at the other end Keylor Navas was called upon to foil Kylian Mbappe and Di Maria.

Goalless it finished in the first half, PSG still needed two, and demonstrated their urgency early in the second half, when Thiago Silva appealed to the fans to ease on the flares, which caused referee Felix Brych to abruptly halt proceedings. PSG knew the work they had to do up front, but if they had forgotten that there was also work to do at the back, they were reminded when Cristiano Ronaldo flashed a header wide. It wasn’t a warning they seemed to take note of, though, as when Dani Alves played them into trouble in the 57th minute, Marco Asensio found Lucas Vazquez. A cross, a Ronaldo header and a knee slide followed, the Portuguese captain’s 12th Champions League goal of the season had broken the deadlock.

Now PSG needed three goals to just about force extra time, but they were making little inroads, and only the post prevented Asensio from putting them further behind. Still, for a side with such quality and having scored 104 goals this season, three might not such a hard ask, if only Marco Verratti didn’t go and get himself sent off for dissent, which was exactly what he did.

Now Mission Impossible looked like Mission as Good as Dead, but they would pull a goal back, Edinson Cavani deflecting home after Casemiro had deflected Javier Pastore’s header. Now it was only two more that was needed, on came Julian Draxler, but to little effect.

With 11 minutes left, Vazquez crossed into the box, Adrien Rabiot made a poor clearance, Casemiro’s follow up shot hit Marquinhos, wrong footed Areola, and bounced in. Real Madrid were through; with some ease. Los Blancos showed themselves to be at the kind of level that PSG strive to be. As Emery shook hands with opposite number Zinedine Zidane, he surely feared his time at the French Capital has been numbered.

Elsewhere:

  • 1-0 up on the night, 3-2 on aggregate, with the opposition needing to score twice and you well in control. Then suddenly, it all went South for Spurs, quickly too. First Stephane Lichtsteiner found the head of Sami Khedira, whose header was turned home by Gonzalo Higuain. Then Higuain turned provider, as Paulo Dybala raced past the Spurs defence and finished past Hugo Lloris with aplomb. All that was left for Juve to defend a lead, a job they do so well, as one they did here. Tottenham have claimed scalps over Dortmund and Real Madrid this season, but this is where their European journey ends.
  • It was a case of salvaging some pride for Basel, and that they did, as after fallen behind to Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus opener, goals from Mohamed Elyounoussi and Michael Lang secured a 2-1 win. A well-reshuffled City side suffered their first loss at home this season, not that it mattered much in context, but is still likely to bring some dressing room ire from Pep.

Results:

PSG 1(2)-(5)2 Real Madrid 

Manchester City 1(5)-(2)2 Basel

Tottenham 1(3)-(4)2 Juventus 

Liverpool 0(5)-(0)0 Porto

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