Sportswashing billions can’t stop circus act PSG slipping into farce

Despite Kingsley Coman winning yet another big Champions League game for Bayern Munich against Paris Saint-Germain, this wasn’t really history repeating itself but the latest round of farce.

A 1-0 win for the German champions in this last-16 first leg certainly didn’t feel like the grand football match it had been billed as. It was instead an actual team gradually realising they had more to them than a sportswashing project that looked more like a circus act. PSG certainly look very far off the team that lost a Champions League final to Coman and Bayern in 2020. It meant many of their stars had to go right up to their ultras section at the end of the game, as if in apology.

It was, bar a late flurry inspired by Kylian Mbappe’s introduction, a sorry performance.

The stultifying nature of this display was all the more striking given everything football has been talking about for the last few months. If December saw Qatar make great political capital of a grand football exhibition they paid for, the after-effects probably played their part in making this other sportswashing project look so poor. Lionel Messi wasn’t on it, as if pining for an Argentina team that are obviously superior, in a strange reverse of his entire career. Neymar just looked unfit, and Mbappe’s injuries meant he started on the bench.

This is not what Qatar paid for. Little wonder, perhaps, there is so much chatter about buying Manchester United.

If this all seems like there isn’t sufficient focus on Bayern for their victory, it was only because it felt like they simply had to turn up and resemble a team.

Christophe Galtier’s rabble had so little.

If the one usual expectation from a “project” like PSG is moments of magic, so much of this game was almost a bizarre reverse alchemy. There has been so much expense on this team… for this? “Team” is of course stretching it. It was just a collection of players, with even less discernible tactics than at any point in the last decade. It said much that the selection of a mere 16-year-old in Warren Zaire Emery seemed to be one of the more rational decisions, because he was one of the more tactically disciplined players.

The other side of that was that it made the call to bring off the young midfielder – of all people – for Mbappe all the more irrational. This is what happens when you are a team so weighted towards “stars”, even when they are dead weights. To think Neymar was once one of the most exciting talents in the game. He was here just another expensively paid PSG player lost in a ludicrous form of un-total football.

PSG players were frequently going to unfamiliar positions, not out of some system or idea but because it seemed like they had little other option. With the team totally devoid of any kind of pace in the first half with Mbappe, Sergio Ramos regularly charged up the pitch. Messi meanwhile did the opposite and often dropped into defensive midfield, if only to try and just get on the ball.

It was a mess.

Against that, Bayern were initially just organised. It was like the fame of PSG ensured they set up with sufficient respect and were content to come away with a draw… until it became apparent they could have much more.

A Joshua Kimmich volley just before half-time was almost the signal for Bayern to just go and play, because they could, and there wasn’t that much risk.

You only had to consider the nature of the goal, which will draw so many references to the 2020 Champions League final.

Whereas that winning strike had come from an exacting game involving the finest margins, as evidenced by how close Coman was when he headed it in, this was all so much looser. The forward didn’t even finish that well, as his guided shot went under Gigi Donnarumma with little defending around him.

The cross from Alphonso Davies was admittedly devastating, in how it just opened PSG’s defence in an instant. It wasn’t to be the last time that happened. Donnarumma did at least make some amends for the goal with good saves thereafter.

Galtier, however, felt he had little choice but to bring on Mbappe. That did pin Bayern back a little more because of the threat of the French star stretching them. One break saw Yann Sommer forced into a fine save. Mbappe’s willingness to just go, meanwhile, saw him go offside – to very different lengths – for two times he did have the ball in the net.

Both were ruled out, and it was like those calls finally made PSG feel something. They at least looked like there was some substance, when the distinctive chemistry of the game meant all of their players could just go with it. It at last brought some desperate defending from Bayern, and a second yellow card for Benjamin Pavard.

The ending lent something of a lie to the game, though. This wasn’t a tie befitting the status of the stage, and it certainly wasn’t anything like a Champions League final – no matter how it was settled.

Kingsley Coman notched the only goal of the game

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