Paris Saint-Germain are on the brink of qualification to the Champions League’s round of 16 after their 2-1 defeat of Liverpool in Group C left the Premier League side’s own hopes hanging by a thread.
A magnificent first-half performance from the Parisians saw them surge into a two-goal lead thanks to Juan Bernat’s 13th-minute opener, before the deeply impressive Neymar doubled their advantage in the 37th minute with a simple finish.
James Milner pulled one back from the spot before the break after Sadio Mane was clumsily brought down by Angel Di Maria. But despite their best efforts in the second half, last season’s finalists were sent home with a damaging defeat.
Naturally, a myriad of fascinating talking points emerged from the Parc des Princes and we examine three of the most prominent.
GOOD AND BAD SIDE OF VERRATTI
In so many ways Marco Verratti is the image of this PSG team. His class is illustrated by the finer details, from the little body feints to popping off the ball just as he draws a man in.
On his game, he’s a master of tempo, measured whether it’s long or short, quick or slow. Everything he does is very deliberate and controlled. Yet, that’s also why sickening challenges like his needlessly studs-up tackle on Joe Gomez are so deplorable.
He was booked, but should have been hooked because the Italian left the deck and launched himself into the Liverpool defender with Gomez fortunate to escape injury and Verratti further punishment.
That’s the side of his game which contrasts the nature of PSG. But it’s also the reason why the Parisians wrestled such early control against their English counterparts.
He was tenacious and determined, epitomised midway through the first half as hurtled back to prevent a corner when team-mates had given up.
A one-man midfield, Thomas Tuchel placed a tremendous amount of responsibility on his diminutive shoulders with the front four of Di Maria, Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar deployed. But he stood up tall, demonstrating why he is one of the best number sixes on the planet.
Like a starved pitbull he ravenously hunted for the ball, then when on it chomped up space before delicately releasing to his gluttony of attacking options.
It was a joy to behold seeing such an exquisite midfielder so fired up and fierce. Still, he could do without the ugly challenges as we truly saw the best and the worst side of his game.
Neymar makes it oh so difficult to like him. With his expansive skillset, and with what he can do on the ball – you’ll no doubt have seen his rainbow flick all over social media by now – he ought to be a collective favourite in the ilk of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Brazilian has the ability to make you smile with the absurd nature of his talent, but then also quickly turn that upside down.
Indeed, he draws censure for the theatrics, and that charmless trait will always smudge his reputation.
However, the dives and exaggerated contact can’t veil the pure entertainment he does provide when collapsing opponents rather than to the ground.
Jordan Henderson was left dizzy trying to swivel his head and feet in fruitless attempts to stop the maverick attacker.
His link up in the first half with Mbappe was joyful and seeing those two elite talents combine as if the battle was them against the rest was delightful.
Neymar is legitimately one of the best players on the planet when zeroed in and he reminded the wider world of that with this performance, one which saw him comprise a stat sheet containing PSG’s most dribbles, touches, shots, shots on target, key passes, free-kicks won plus a goal.
His tap-in and eventual winner ensured he became the highest scoring Brazilian in the Champions League with 31 strikes, ahead of Kaka and Rivaldo no less, evidence of his pedigree.
He even did a job defensively, tracking back to strain the influence of the enterprising Andy Robertson as PSG transitioned into an effective 4-4-2 from their attacking 4-3-3 shape.
Liverpool have a monumental task ahead of them when Napoli visit Anfield in the final round of fixtures.
They require at least a two-goal margin of victory to definitely qualify for the last-16 – a 1-0 victory would also suffice – when the Italians travel to Merseyside and with what they’ve displayed so far in the competition, it looks beyond Jurgen Klopp’s men.
One thing is for certain, the midfield trio of Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Milner cannot be deployed if they hope to run through the Serie A side.
Granted, that midfield was fundamental in Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final last term. But the energy and dynamism has been siphoned over the summer.
They lacked intensity and intelligence, caught out of position and run ragged by the youthful axis of Verratti, Neymar and Mbappe.
A change of rhythm from the disjointed and pedestrian pace set in Paris is required against Napoli and for that one or both of Naby Keita and/or Fabinho have to start.
Keita when he arrived off the bench for Wijnaldum after the break impressed in pockets with his trickery and agility. One of few bright marks.
Gareth Bale helped Real Madrid beat Roma on Tuesday to ensure they will go through top of their Champions League group despite a chaotic start to the season.
Bale scored one and then provided the cross that led to another as Lucas Vazquez wrapped up a clinical 2-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico.
Roma squandered several chances in the first half, the best of them falling to Cengiz Under, who was guilty of a shocking miss from six yards, with the goal gaping.
Here, though, we analyse the performance of Roma’s other precocious young star Justin Kluivert.
Stephan El Shaarawy had softened up Dani Carvajal with a series of touch-and-go runs on Roma’s left, but when he went off injured in the 22nd minute, Kluivert was unable to land a killer blow when introduced.
The young Dutchman is just as direct, yet Roma curiously opted for long diagonals over the top and the passes were often awkwardly caught between being over or under hit.
With El Shaarawy, his starting position was much deeper and the midfield found him earlier, allowing the Italian to run at Carvajal. When Kluivert entered, they went longer and his influence suffered as a result.
He did manage one glimpse of what he can offer with a neat shift and strike in the second half, but his effort was comfortably smothered by Thibaut Courtois. That was actually his second effort on goal, he had an opportunity soon after rising from the bench, only to blaze over when a loose ball arrived at his feet inside the box.
From an attacking sense, there’s not much to write home about, although he may lament Patrik Schick for not anticipating his clever pass across the face of goal after bursting into the box. Defensively, the teenager can be commended because he was diligent and hard working in that regard, filling in for the enterprising Aleksandar Kolarov whenever the full-back ventured forward.
This, though, was not the best game to dissect the true potential of Kluivert.
Work rate – It’s easy to be frustrated on a night when the delivery isn’t quite what’s required but credit to Kluivert for remaining disciplined on both sides of the ball. He continued to try and make intelligent runs in behind and never shied away from his defensive responsibility either.
Shot accuracy – The 19-year-old had two attempts at goal he really should have done better with. The first was immediately after being introduced so perhaps he was caught cold, the second was following the break. On both occasions he had space and his accuracy let him down.
Failed to really make any kind of discernible impression and that after El Shaarawy had looked like he could create real problems for the visitors.
Kluivert is still very young, though, and being exposed to quality duels with the likes of Carvajal will help his development massively.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com
Big-spending Paris St Germain face the unthinkable prospect of failing to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages as they host Liverpool in the French capital.
We take a closer look at the Ligue 1 champions.
Group C is the tightest of them all with all four clubs separated by just two points. PSG are third on five points, one behind leaders Liverpool and Napoli, which means if they were to lose against Jurgen Klopp’s side and their Serie A rivals were to beat Red Star Belgrade they would not be able to progress to the knockout phase. Liverpool will go through if they win and Red Star do not beat Napoli.
PSG are expected to win Ligue 1 every season but even by their standards the current campaign has been impressive. They broke their own record with a 14th successive league victory from the start of the season against Toulouse at the weekend – without the injured Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. They have conceded just seven goals in that time and scored 46, already leading the table by 15 points. They have scored in every match this season and have found the net at least three times in 13 of their 19 games.
PSG are seeking to reach the knockout phase for the seventh time. In four of those previous seasons they have lost in the quarter-finals but in the last two campaigns exited in the last 16. In the last seven seasons they have played 40 group games, winning 26, drawing eight and losing six. They have not lost at home in that time, winning 15 with five draws. Only once in those 20 games have they failed to score – against Real Madrid in 2015 – while they have scored 56 and conceded 14. In their last seven Champions League games at home they have scored 28 times.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
It is not difficult to highlight the forward line of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani. The former two trained on Monday and Tuesday and manager Thomas Tuchel said they have recovered from injuries sustained on international duty and both will feature. The trio have scored 36 league goals between them already, sharing six in four Champions League fixtures to date. Midfielder Marco Veratti will give Liverpool something else to think about, having missed the defeat at Anfield through injury.
Provided by Press Association Sport