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.
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