Paris (AFP) – Masters of their own downfall once more, Paris Saint-Germain’s latest Champions League collapse is likely to set in motion sweeping changes after the club again fell short of its ultimate goal.
For the fourth time in six seasons PSG crashed out in the last 16 of a competition they cherish most, finding more ways to lose a tie they dominated against the 13-time European champions Real Madrid.
While less spectacular than the 2017 implosion against Barcelona at Camp Nou, Wednesday’s meek disintegration from a position of strength underlined the enduring fragility of a squad scarred by repeated failures.
Crucially, it was also a defeat that could spell the end of Kylian Mbappe’s time in Paris, with his contract up in July and an expected dream move to Madrid appearing all the more probable.
The France star scored in both legs, and another Mbappe masterclass in Spain had Madrid trailing 2-0 on aggregate before Karim Benzema’s 17-minute hat-trick floored PSG.
Beaten by one of their own, Paris-born Kingsley Coman, in the 2020 final against Bayern Munich, the trumpeted signing of Lionel Messi was supposed to be the missing piece of the jigsaw.
But it simply hasn’t happened for the Argentine, proudly paraded by PSG in December after winning a seventh Ballon d’Or but who has looked a shadow of the player that reigned in Barcelona.
His missed penalty in the first leg ought to have been rendered insignificant, but the nature in which Mbappe, Messi and Neymar were effectively taken out of the game once Madrid equalised on the night at the Santiago Bernabeu ensured it won’t be forgotten.
– ‘Really disappointed and upset’ –
With only the league to focus on for the remainder of the campaign, the next few months will be a time for soul-searching after another season of unfulfilled ambitions.
“It’s going to be tough because the objective for Paris Saint-Germain is chasing the Champions League. It has been for many years,” said PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino.
“We’re really disappointed and upset. It’s not going to be easy to change this feeling in the next few days.”
Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and sporting director Leonardo launched an angry tirade in the referee’s dressing room, but Pochettino is the one most likely to pay the price.
“You can lose against Real Madrid because they’re one of the best teams in the world but the way it happened is difficult to accept,” said the former Tottenham boss.
The hope was that PSG could persuade Mbappe, a generational talent, to sign a new contract with victory over Madrid.
Instead PSG wilted in all too familiar fashion, almost resigned to their fate, and Mbappe was forced to watch his friend Benzema soak up the adulation of the Madrid fans.
Renewed speculation over the potential appointment of Zinedine Zidane is sure to follow, but the departure of Mbappe would leave the club drifting further away from European glory than ever in recent times.
Mbappe’s arrival in 2017 coincided with the world-record signing of Neymar, whose run of injuries in the capital have often come at the least opportune moments.
But after a busy summer of recruitment, in which Messi, Achraf Hakimi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and Georginio Wijnaldum were brought in, and with Neymar back fit, PSG were widely tipped to seriously challenge for the Champions League.
It wasn’t to be though as Donnarumma, who has alternated starts with Keylor Navas, was pressured into the error which precipitated PSG’s downfall as key players were found wanting when it mattered most.
The usually dependable Marquinhos inadvertently teed up Benzema for his third goal, a mere 11 seconds after PSG had kicked off again, as the visitors folded with alarming ease.
“We were well placed to advance in the Champions League, and with this squad, we believed we could win it,” said Leonardo.
“We must always analyse and look at why things happen this way. But we need time to reflect and move forward.”
Only time will tell if PSG are afforded the same chance next year.
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