Champions League Recap: PSG fall early to Manchester United

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Paris-Saint Germaine's Neymar is challenged by Manchester United's Aaron Wan-Bissaka, right, and Scott McTominay during the Champions League group H soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

It was a busy week in the football world, with several Ligue 1 teams competing in the Champions League, which feature some of the strongest teams in the world as they fight to prove who is the best. We begin with Paris-Saint Germain, who suffered a gut-wrenching loss in the Champions League, falling to Manchester United at home 2-1.  

Parisian center back Abdou Diallo conceded a penalty when clipping center midfielder Bruno Fernandes from behind. Fernandes’s first penalty attempt was saved by goalkeeper Keylor Navas, making an excellent dive to keep the score 0-0. However, a subsequent video-assistant-referee (VAR) review determined that Navas did not keep at least one foot on the goal line. Fernandes took advantage of the second opportunity, smashing the ball into the bottom right corner to make it 1-0 United.  

Throughout the rest of the match, United lived up to its zebra third kit. Acting as a stampede, the team performed as a cohesive unit, something that was absent from Paris that night. The strategy manager Thomas Tuchel implemented was to give the ball to Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappé and let them do their magic. However, it’s simply illogical to think this can work every time; a true style of play is needed to succeed at the highest level, and Tuchel is continuing to get tactically outclassed in Europe’s premier competition.  

France’s Kylian Mbappe runs for the ball during the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Croatia and France at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, Croatia, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Although PSG would level it up thanks to forward Anthony Martial’s goal in the second half, which came off an unlucky header back towards his own goal off a Neymar corner. Ultimately, the goal was not deserved as Paris did not create anything before the equalizer, or after. The lazy, sluggish, unmotivated performance continued — something that would be taken advantage of by an alert Marcus Rashford, with the forward cutting in on a flat-footed Mitchel Bakker, smashing the ball into the bottom right corner in the 87th minute to give United all three points.  

Tuchel is no doubt on the hot seat now. Robin Bairner — freelance sports writer for the football media outlet, Goal — reported that sporting director Leonardo Araújo asked the board to replace the German manager with Mauricio Pochettino, Massimiliano Allegri, Thiago Motta or Laurent Blanc. 

A loss or draw to Dijon, their next matchup back in Ligue 1 play might spell the end for Tuchel, but it’s unlikely the squad will have a dip in form in Ligue 1 competition. Another defeat in European competition — which is far more likely — would spell the end for the German’s tenure in the French capital.  

Eduardo Camavinga’s debut in the Champions League was the main talking point in Stade Rennais FC’s match against Russian squad FC Krasnodar. Camavinga’s flair and creative prowess propelled Rennais to its first Champions League campaign in club history. Of course, the team has participated in the less prestigious Europa League, but never participated in Europe’s elite competition.  

An attendance of 4,973 Rennais supporters at Roazhon Park witnessed the future of the French national team, Eduardo Camavinga, direct his team like headsail on a boat, dribbling to the byline in the fourth minute and sending in a cross that was connected on by midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud, just barely going over the net.  

The 25th minute saw Camavinga take a shot at the top of the box, curving it with his left towards the top right corner, with Krasnodar goalkeeper Matvey Safonov just barely getting a hand to it. Another effort by Camavinga in the 33rd minute forced another save, with Safonov diving to his right to keep it out. 

However, Camavinga wasn’t the only player who had an impact on the game. Winger Romain Del Castillo had multiple shots on goal, causing havoc for the backline. The same can be said about fellow winger Martin Terrier, who ultimately drew the penalty that gave Rennais the 1-0 advantage in the 56th minute. Christian Ramírez immediately leveled it for the Russian side with a rocket to the top right corner in the 59th minute. The match ended 1-1 with many promising signs for a Rennais side whose creativity and explosive attack will certainly cause problems for fellow group rivals Sevilla and Chelsea.  

Rennes’ Romain Del Castillo, left, and Krasnodar’s Tonny Vilhena challenge for the ball during the Champions League, group E soccer match between Rennes and Krasnodar at the Roazhon Park stadium in Rennes, France, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

Rennais will look to continue this form on Friday, Oct. 23 when they host Angers SCO, with fans looking forward to a reenactment of the explosive attack they saw Tuesday. Rennais currently sits third in the table with 15 points, and will need to win if it wants to keep up with the likes of PSG and LOSC Lille. 

Olympique de Marseille will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing 1-0 loss to Greek side Olympiacos FC.  

The only French side to ever win the Champions League finally returned to the competition after seven years, thanks in large part to the work put in by manager André Villas Boas, finishing last season’s Ligue 1 campaign in second, guaranteeing the team a place in the group stage.  

Despite this, Marseille’s struggles this season have been well documented, only winning three out of its first eight matches played this season. Its inconsistent form followed the players to Greece, where they began their European campaign.  

It would be unfair to say the team did not perform well, as there were many times in which the attack was able to unsettle the opposition’s backline, with players such as forward Darío Benedetto, winger Florian Thauvin and attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet linking up in the final third. What ultimately offsets this positive outlook is the dreadful positional play by the midfield and awful defending from the back four.  

Attacking midfielder Mathieu Valbuena led the charge for the Super League Interwetten champions, slicing through the midfield and defense with ease, with center defensive midfielder Papa Gueye, left back Jordan Amavi and center backs Duje Ćaleta-Car and Álvaro González losing the ball in their own half, or getting caught out of position.  

Although they were forgiven once by VAR in the 52nd minute — after winger Giorgos Masouras scored off a Gueye loss of possession in his own half — they would not be forgiven twice. An Amavi loss of possession in the 91st minute led to a Valbuena cross from the right side of the pitch, headed into the back of the net by Ahmed Hassan to take all three points.  

Villas-Boas will be in a similar position to Tuchel, except Boas is not expected to win with this Marseille squad, unlike Tuchel, who has no excuse for not garnering wins with Neymar and Mbappé in his starting XI. Even so, Boas should not be losing to a lower-level team such as Olympiacos. Most importantly, he cannot continue dropping points in domestic play, as most of the competition is quite beatable. 

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