Real Madrid beat PSG 5-2 on aggregate
French club fall short of semifinals yet again
This season it was supposed to be different.
“In the summer we spent €400m and everyone was talking about how it was going to change things, but we have failed to get through this round again,” German forward Julian Draxler said.
PSG President Nasser Al-Khelaifi has made no secret of his desire for PSG to one day – and sooner rather than later – reign on the continent and lift the Champions League, Europe’s leading club competition.
But on Tuesday, in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 match against Real Madrid, it was a case of deja vu in Paris for Al-Khelaifi and the Ligue 1 club.
Despite spending since Qatar’s takeover exceeding the $1 billion mark, he has now watched the club he presides over fail to make the semifinals of the competition he so desperately wants to win for a sixth consecutive season.
Elimination at the hands of Real, crashing out meekly 5-2 on aggregate, means PSG now haven’t even reached the quarterfinals in each of the past two campaigns.
Perhaps last season’s incredible second leg capitulation against Barcelona continues to weigh heavily on the minds of everyone at the French powerhouse.
“I’m sad for the defeat, but much more more sad not to be on the pitch helping my teammates,” Neymar, who was the protagonist for Barcelona in that tie, tweeted after the game.
“What makes me proud is seeing everybody’s efforts. Congratulations my guys, allez Paris.”
The absence of Neymar, out of action following surgery on a broken foot, undoubtedly played a huge part in PSG’s inability to break down a battle-hardened Real Madrid, who are chasing a third consecutive Champions League title.
Reigning champions, the first ever back-to-back Champions League winners, Zinedine Zidane’s men are streetwise beyond compare in this competition, even if their domestic form leaves a lot to be desired.
Though it will be the manner of PSG’s limp exit which will really rankle with the club’s board and supporters alike.
Marco Verratti’s second-half red card – with the tie effectively over at 4-1 – ended the hopes of a comeback even for the most optimistic of PSG fans.
More than that, the Italian’s immaturity – chasing down the referee to remonstrate while already on a yellow card – served to highlight PSG’s lack of savvy and know-how in the Champions League.
This is a club without a rich history in the competition, their one and only semifinal appearance coming back in 1995.
Verratti’s sending off was the third time PSG have been reduced to 10 men in the knockout stages of the Champions League since 2012-13. Only two clubs, Porto and Bayern Munich, have received more.
Al-Khelaifi told reporters after the match that Verratti’s red card “killed the game.” In truth, it was over long before that.
Draxler was scathing in his criticism of the team and coach Unai Emery’s decision not to bring him off the bench when Edinson Cavani made it 1-1 after 71 minutes.
“It was insensitive, ” he told German broadcaster ZDF. “I didn’t know what was going on. I was surprised and angry.
“We lost a man and even though we got it to 1-1, the whole stadium knew the game would not turn around because we didn’t have the intensity on the pitch.”
But Al-Khelaifi, though visibly upset in the mixed zone after the match, was level-headed in his analysis, despite reports suggesting Emery could be replaced in the summer after another season of Champions League heartbreak.
“It’s a huge disappointment for Paris, for the club, for the players and for the fans,” he told reporters. “We need to calm ourselves and think about how we can improve the team.
“Winning the Champions League is a slow process, you can’t do it overnight. We’re on the right track. Today is not the best moment to talk about changes.
“We believe in our players. We are going to keep working.”
If the insipid display from PSG’s attacking all-stars against Real Madrid is anything to go by, they certainly have a lot of work to do to catch Europe’s elite.