PARIS — First, the negatives: Paris Saint-Germain lost their third game in a row Tuesday night, a 1-0 Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich. The losing sequence is a rarity; it has happened only twice since the Qataris took over the club 11 years ago. They have now been defeated five times already in 11 games in 2023, which is more than in the whole of 2022 (four losses).
Another negative was that Christophe Galtier’s side were thoroughly outplayed in the first half, when the Germans had a lot of the ball, although the Bundesliga giants also lacked ideas in their 3-1-6 formation in possession. On the other hand, PSG, in their flat 4-4-2 with Neymar and Lionel Messi on their own up front (not a good plan), had no ideas at all.
– Hamilton: Bayern Munich game plan neutralizes Messi, Neymar
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (US)
With just one blocked shot in the first 45 minutes (a first since 2015), the hosts’ defensive display was perhaps disciplined, but the tactics were also embarrassing for a club so used to attacking play and scoring loads of goals.
Eventually, PSG conceded after a mistake by Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal and some poor marking from Nuno Mendes, who was still PSG’s best player in the game. Their efforts can’t be questioned but, in possession, the lack of a plan, cohesion and flair was striking. PSG played not to lose, and that is not acceptable. Manager Galtier was outsmarted by his counterpart, Julian Nagelsmann, which is not a surprise, but the Bayern coach also highlighted the Frenchman’s limitations tactically. This was Galtier’s first Champions League knockout game, and it showed.
There was one team, in red, against a number of individuals, in blue. On Tuesday, PSG could have done with some of the powers of Luffy, the hero of the One Piece manga displayed by the PSG ultras before the start of the game; they could also have probably done with a bit of Cupid’s magic on this Valentine’s Day and maybe as well some magic potion from Asterix, the Gaul comic hero who beats up the Romans with his mate Obelix.
What Paris actually needed the most, though, was Kylian Mbappe fully fit from the start. Because when the Paris born-and-bred prodigy came on, just before the hour and just after Kingsley Coman’s goal (who didn’t celebrate out of respect for his former club and his boyhood team), the game changed massively.
That’s where the positives emerge for the French. As expected, PSG are much stronger with Mbappe. He brought so much to the game with his runs and his pace. He had a goal disallowed for a tiny Mendes offside and, with him causing trouble for the Bayern defense, PSG created some danger and should have leveled the score late. Would it have been deserved? Maybe, maybe not. But it shows that with Mbappe, anything is possible in the second leg in Munich on March 8.
We can expect pretty much the same scenario in three weeks. Bayern will have more of the ball, but PSG will believe they can turn things around if Mbappe is fully fit. When he entered the game on Tuesday, you could feel the fear in Bayern’s ranks as much as the hope in the eyes of his teammates and the added energy from the fans all over the stadium. Mbappe holds the key to this tie and he will relish the challenge.
Because there is still a good chance for PSG to go through. Despite a terrible first hour, there was a feeling at the Parc des Princes that Bayern let PSG off on Tuesday night. That the Bundesliga champions could have buried this tie already with a bit more urgency and ambition. The hosts were there for the taking and yet the Germans almost didn’t win the game. As Mbappe said after the game: “There is room to qualify.”
There are a lot of things to sort out first, starting with the form of Neymar and Messi, and three weeks is a short time to do it in, but it is not impossible.
On what we saw in the last 20 minutes of the first leg, Mbappe is right. Bayern might improve at the Allianz Arena, but Paris will be better there too. Only once have PSG advanced in the Champions League knockout stage after losing the first leg. And it was against a German club, Borussia Dortmund in 2020. The Parisians will hope for a repeat three years later.