This was not the first time PSG have done their best impression of a crumple zone under pressure. And one wonders, this certainly won’t be the last.
Wounds fester, and wounds rot. This trauma is not even buried. It lays bare and open for all to see, like grief, it’s writ large all over their collective actions. Once you get at them, keep up systemic pressure in all phases, they start to doubt.
Fine, fine players forget how to play football, especially in defence. This was the worst Champions League collapse since, well, since PSG against Barca five years ago. They have turned it into an art form. It was worse than schoolboy football – it wasn’t even football. Where do their minds go?
There seemed like an eternity of PSG keep ball, beautifully woven intricate triangles all over the pitch to make Pythagoras proud. They were in control, totally. 0-1 up after a Mbappé opener, just one of many clear chances. Real harried, but with no real zest for it. They felt beaten. Until they weren’t.
On 70 minutes, Modric was plugged in, and someone found the switch for the electric Vinícius Junior. Ancelotti bought on Camavinga, his bite, zip and energy allowing more freedom for Modric to roam. It all fell apart so quickly, an operatic collapse as the glossy sheen crumbled. Underneath, there are no foundations, frankly, there never have been.
PSG have picked at the label marked ‘bottlers’ too much, and too badly. They’ve removed the corner, but can’t get that stubborn sticky undercoating to budge, the collective will to think outside the box and soak it off just doesn’t compute.
They have too many players unable to execute under pressure. Football can be bought, of course it can. The irony of the underdogs supporting Real Madrid is not lost. This shows, also, that it can’t. You cannot buy immunity from mental pressure, from the resulting chosen actions that don’t benefit the team.
Neymar is a prime example of this. He tends to fall back on his individual talent to make a play, rather than play simple. When this comes off, it’s spectacular, but the point is, it rarely does.
Paris, the City of fading light. 11 years of buying the best players money can buy, and yet they are still no closer to building a team. Comparisons with Manchester United are bound to surface. A moribund institution clinging on to relevance; just with much better players.
“A club that has 13 European Cups doesn’t win by chance; it’s something deep in their guts,” Mauricio Pochettino had said. The latest in a long line of managers unable to find any in this squad, unable to cajole the big egos to contribute to a team ethos.
Paris, left with another Champions League failure to contemplate. A failure that, for all its irrefutable logic, had been unthinkable until the last 20 minutes of a match that Mbappé graced, probably for the final time in these colours.