If anything can be said about Paris Saint-Germain’s performance in its Ligue 1 match last week, it’s that the team showed grit and perseverance in the most challenging of situations. More so than the victory itself, manager Mauricio Pochettino will be glad to have seen the toughness and perseverance his team in grinding out a crucial victory.
PSG’s first matter of business came on Wednesday, March 3 when they traveled to the Matmut Atlantique to take on a FC Girondins de Bordeaux club that was desperate for a win. Bordeaux would be massively aided in this pursuit, as Neymar Jr. out continues to recover from the abductor injury he sustained less than a month ago, and winger Kylian Mbappe — who is expected to take up Neymar’s role when the Brazilian is absent — also could not participate, as he was suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards in Ligue 1 competition.
As a result, this forced Pochettino to have to make some changes to his starting 11. Keylor Navas was in goal, while the backline consisted of the center back partnership of Presnel Kimpembe and Marquinhos, along with the fullback partnership of Layvin Kurzawa and Colin Dagba. The midfield saw some change as well, with Rafinha Alcantara and Danilo Pereira starting the match alongside Idrissa Gana Gueye. Finally, the forward partnership consisted of Mauro Icardi, right winger Pablo Sarabia and left winger Julian Draxler.
Without question, this was one of the weakest sides Paris has put out all season. Although it was accomplished in a sloppy manner, they found a way to get over the line.
Bordeaux knew that they would have more free range in attack due to the absence of PSG’s main attacking threats in Neymar and Mbappe, so it came to no one’s surprise when Bordeaux came out with an aggressiveness and fearlessness to get into the final third. However, their all-guns-blazing mentality proved costly, as a giveaway when attempting to play out from the back gifted the ball to Kurzawa, who was able to find Rafinha. The Brazilian played a through ball to Gueye on the left side of the pitch. Gueye dribbled towards the 18-yard box before spotting a near post run by Sarabia, who received the ball with his right before slotting into the bottom corner with his left to give Paris the 1-0 advantage.
Not only would this breakthrough be the only one in the contest, it would also be the only positive outcome to come out of the match for the Parisians. Sure, the perseverance displayed by the squad will bring great joy to Pochettino. However, this does not mean that the performance was great by any stretch of the imagination.
Paris was lucky that Bordeaux lacked the quality to take advantage of the careless mistakes that were common throughout the contest. On one occasion, Rafinha Alcantara carelessly gave the ball away in his own half, which allowed Bordeaux forward Hwang Ji-Yo to run at the unorganized defense before taking a shot that nearly went into Navas’ far post. Another incident saw Dagba fail to read a ball that was coming towards him, which gave the ball away in a dangerous area of the pitch; Bordeaux forward Remi Oudin received the ball and played a low-driven cross into the box that just nearly missed Hwang’s outstretched right foot.
Aside from individual lapses in concentration, the whole team seemed flat. Bordeaux found it easy to open up a Parisian side that lacked the aggression seen in previous matches, and whose pressing was average at best, which allowed the opposition to consistently switch the ball from left to right, and create a multitude of opportunities in the final third.
One of the great chances that Bordeaux created came in the 69th minute, when Adli found attacking midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa in the box. Ben Arfa took a touch and smashed it towards the bottom corner, just barely missing the back of the net. Now, the best chance created by the home side came in second half stoppage time, when a ball lifted into the box found the head of winger Jimmy Briand. Briand seemed destined to score, had it not been for a heroic effort by Navas in goal to keep PSG on top.
The Parisians expressed a massive sigh of relief when the final whistle blew, as they’d managed to sneak by to attain a necessary victory, as a draw would have seen them fall to third in the table, one point behind Olympique Lyonnais in second, and four points behind league leaders LOSC Lille. To everyone’s surprise, Ligue 1 has provided one of the most exciting title races this season, along with the German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A.
Now, Paris has only one thing on its mind, and that is its second leg bout against FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. They currently have a 4-1 advantage on aggregate, and will welcome the Catalan club to the Parc Des Princes on Wednesday, March 10. Barcelona will need four goals if they are to complete a second “remontada.” Of course, Barcelona already did this in 2017, when it came back from 4-0 down to defeat PSG 6-5 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Although the Parisians would not like to be reminded of that nightmarish night at the Camp Nou, it must be brought up because Paris’s complacency when it comes to second leg bouts has been a common occurrence. In 2019, they blew a 2-0 first leg lead against Manchester United, as they fell 3-3 at the Parc Des Princes in the second leg, with United advancing to the quarterfinals of the Champions League on away goals.
Reaching the Champions League final last year most definitely helped Paris get over their demons in Europe’s elite competition. However, the 2020 Champions League saw a multitude of changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as playing on neutral grounds without any fans and having the knockout stages of the competition consist of only one leg instead of the usual two. Moreover, we cannot forget to mention that if it wasn’t for late game heroics against Atalanta B.C. in the quarterfinals, Paris would have suffered a massive upset against a much more inferior side, once again proven to the footballing world that they still weren’t ready to achieve continental success.
With all that said, the only thing that should be intensely analyzed is the game plan for Wednesday’s bout. According to French media outlet Le Parisien, Neymar will not be in the starting lineup, but will be on the bench and may possibly be introduced at some point during the contest.
Ultimately, Paris’s two second leg collapses in the Champions League has taught them that, no matter how big the lead, there are no guarantees in football. Believing you have won before the 180 minutes are up is a mistake that will only lead to elimination.