By every statistical measure and every iteration of the eye test, Paris Saint-Germain got absolutely worked by Bayern Munich on Wednesday. Underneath a snowy Bavarian sky, Ligue 1’s second-place team faced relentless German pressure for 90-plus minutes, as Bayern laid siege on the PSG box. The Parisian side could barely get anything going on the other end to relieve some of that pressure, and more often than not, its attacks sputtered out in the midfield.
It had all the signs of a typical Bayern beatdown, except one: at the end of the day, thanks to magic from its star players and another superhuman performance from its goalie, PSG wrapped up the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals tie with a 3–2 away victory that has them in prime position to advance past the reigning champions.
It all started, as it usually does, with Neymar. The Brazilian No. 10 was the architect of PSG’s first two goals, when the game still seemed somewhat even. The first wasn’t all that incredible—Neymar received the ball, ran at a backtracking Niklas Süle, then laid it off to Kylian Mbappé for the near-post finish—but that’s not the point. If PSG was going to score on Wednesday, it was likely to come from something built up by its star man. Plus, if you want style points, then the second PSG goal is the one for you.
Neymar’s line-breaking pass was so perfect that even a center back like Marquinhos couldn’t flub the resulting one-on-one chance against Manuel Neuer. It’s a good thing he scored it, too, because Mbappé would have probably had a rage aneurysm if Marquinhos had missed, given that the Frenchman was wide open for a cutback pass.
Speaking of Mbappé, Wednesday was another first leg standout performance for the 22-year-old. After brutalizing Barcelona with Neymar sidelined last round, PSG’s No. 7 showed up and showed off again, converting the first chance he got for PSG’s opener inside three minutes, and then completely bamboozling Jérôme Boateng for the Parisian game-winner in the 68th minute, at a time when it looked like Bayern had recaptured all the momentum:
Those three moments of individual brilliance tell the story of the scoreline, but the 22 minutes and change after Mbappé’s second goal probably tell the story of the match more accurately. On the night, Bayern ended up firing 31 shots at the PSG goal, 12 of which were on target. For comparison’s sake, PSG was clinical but not prolific, putting five shots on target on six attempts. The possession battle was similarly uneven: 64 percent for Bayern, and it often felt like more than that. Hell, the Bavarians took 15 corners to PSG’s one. It was a rout in every way, except where it matters.
The furious rush and the end of the game saw Bayern camped out in PSG’s end of the pitch trying and often succeeding at getting close enough to goal to create danger, while PSG did a weak impersonation of a workable defense. And really, PSG’s defenders had little to do with limiting Bayern to just two goals. That result was a combination of bad Bayern shooting and yet another sterling outing from Navas, who has made a career pulling off similar Herculean efforts in the Champions League.
The Polish elephant in the room is that Bayern probably wins this game comfortably, or at least as comfortably as the stats suggested that it could have, if Robert Lewandowski hadn’t been out with a knee injury that will also keep him out of the second leg. It’s hard to overstate how poorly Bayern shot in this game, even as the law of probability seemed to will them into two goals, both from wide-open headers that left Navas no shot at saving them. Going without one of the world’s best strikers will have that effect—despite scoring, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is not an adequate substitute—and Bayern will have a tough time making up the scoreline difference in Paris next week without him.
PSG might have a little injury worry of its own, as Mbappé limped off the field after the match, though the striker said afterwards that he’ll be fine. If that’s the case, it’s hard to bet against the French side right now. When Neymar and Mbappé are both healthy and on the pitch, PSG has a chance in every game, because those two players can dictate outcomes in ways that few others in the world can. Bayern threw everything it had at a weak PSG defense, and two goals should normally be enough to secure a strong position heading into a second leg. As the snow cascaded down on Wednesday, though, the more representative image was that of Boateng on the second goal, as Bayern is now backtracking at full speed to figure out how to stop PSG’s fast and furious duo.