Society as we know it is finally returning to something approaching normalcy: Restaurants are opening back up; passersby are smiling at each other on the street with their whole faces; family members who haven’t seen each other in a year are getting together; and Paris Saint-Germain is on the verge of another hilarious exit from the Champions League following a vintage meltdown in a 2-1 home loss to Manchester City.
One year after nearly accomplishing the goal of a decade-long project and reaching the final, PSG looked set to return for another crack at the title this year. For a club so weighed down by a truly impressive history of imploding at the worst moments, getting past defending champs Bayern Munich in the quarterfinal, particularly in the way they did, really did feel like the crossing of a meaningful line. PSG is not typically the team that runs all the way to the final, or muscles past Bayern on away goals despite numerous significant hurdles (snow, for one). They are supposed to be the team that, say, gets humiliated 5-1 to Barcelona in 2015, or blows a 4-0 first leg lead to Barcelona by losing 6-1 at home in the second leg in 2017, or repeats that catastrophe at half the scale against Manchester United in 2019.
Bruising past Bayern Munich this year set them up to complete the ultimate redemption arc, as did their presence as the only final-four team who didn’t try to leap to the Super League (don’t give them too much credit though). All they had to do was beat fellow Gulf monarchy–owned strivers Manchester City, and they’d surely be the favorites against either Real Madrid, deadly yet not as convincing as in years prior, or Chelsea, who has a slight “scoring the ball” issue. We might not ever know how’d they fare against those latter teams, since they managed to cram an outstanding amount of collapse into the final 45 minutes of Wednesday’s embarrassing 2-1 loss to City.
PSG’s first 45 were dominant. Neymar looked deadly, forcing a big save and generally rampaging through the City midfield. PSG pressured City relentlessly and broke through with a Marquinhos header off a corner minutes after Neymar put on a little clinic.
It seemed they’d build on their lead, with City appearing unable to work the ball through to Kevin De Bruyne in any dangerous areas. But once the halftime whistle blew, PSG really turned back into a pumpkin. City began controlling the midfield space, dictating the pace of the game, and keeping Neymar and Kylian Mbappé from running onto anything. Perhaps if you looked at the alignment of the planets at this point, consulted your set of scrying bones, or looked at the letters “P,” “S,” and “G” on the front of PSG’s kits, you would have seen the signs that a collapse was coming.
In the 63rd minute, Kyle Walker helped set up a corner with a truly heroic run into the PSG box. The ball bonked around a bit, leaving De Bruyne with the space to curl a nasty little ball into the danger zone from well outside the box. The pass didn’t connect with any of his teammates but it didn’t need to, as Keylor Navas just sort of watched as it went by him into the goal.
Surely PSG, once again on the precipice of Champions League glory, would buck up and manufacture a moment of brilliance, as they did so reliably in that classic snowy game against Bayern. Instead, minutes later, they built a real shoddy wall and let Riyad Mahrez rock one through it into the far corner.
At this point, the collapse was undeniably on, with City reversing all the odd nerves of their first half. PSG spotting two away goals and a 2-1 aggregate lead to City was bad, though not completely disastrous. As they know, far bigger leads aren’t even safe in two-legged competitions. They will get a chance to push for the final in Manchester next week, though they will have to do so without midfield rock Idrissa Gueye, since he slid into Ilkay Gündoğan’s Achilles heel for some reason, earning an easy straight red. Gueye is a very important player for PSG, starting both games against Barcelona in the round of 16 and playing all 180 minutes of the tense triumph over Bayern. Not smart, this play.
One of PSG’s supposed institutional advantages in grueling continental competition, especially over English opposition, is that they are set up to win Ligue 1 by double digit points every year. The French top flight isn’t nearly as competitive as other top European leagues, and PSG stands in a financial tier of its own. They’ve won Ligue 1 three years running, by a combined total of 41 points, and in most seasons, they could at least rest everyone ahead of the second leg over the weekend. This year, however, they have no such luxury. PSG sits one point behind Lille in the table, while City’s Premier League title is all but mathematically ensured. They will need some magic to return to the final, and while they’re as capable of producing moments of perfection as any team in the world, PSG is also the connoisseur of the collapse.