I was in the French capital last night as Paris Saint-Germain blew away 13-time champions of Europe, Real Madrid, 3-0 in front of a sizzling atmosphere at Parc des Princes. Here are five things we learned from the game.
1 | Squad Depth
Whilst PSG have struggled in the last eight months with an ongoing plethora of injuries, last night’s game showed just how well PSG conducted their business during the summer transfer window.
Any team in world football would feel the loss of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani but how many teams could replace them like for like, with the quality of Pablo Sarabia, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi?
PSG’s midfield now looks ‘fuller’ with Thomas Tuchel able to utilise the likes of Idrissa Gana Gueye who provides the perfect foil for Marco Verratti. Two tenacious tough tackling midfielders providing a double dose of ‘bite’ to what was previously at times, a flimsy looking midline. To be able to call upon experienced internationals such as Ander Herrera and Leandro Paredes from the bench, with Julian Draxler soon to return from injury… options Thomas Tuchel could only dream of particularly towards the end of last season.
2 | Marquinhos
Once again, Tuchel put his trust in the Brazilian to play a pivotal role in a huge European tie and yet again Marquinhos came up with another flawless performance in a position that he has only recently adopted.
It was a captain’s performance, awash with leadership, discipline and organisation and it was only because of cramp that he was replaced with 20 minutes to go.
As good as he was playing in this makeshift role, Marquinhos is still much more beneficial to the team playing as a centre back and we can expect him to return to his favoured position for Sunday’s crunch trip to Lyon.
It was no surprise to see the ex-Roma man made the subject of a TIFO to promote the new third kit before last Saturday’s game with Strasbourg, despite being less of a media darling than some of his teammates. It was very much a symbolic gesture and further proof that PSG could be set to make him their leader next season in the post Thiago Silva era.
3 | Parc des Princes Crowd
I was intrigued to see how the supporters at Parc des Princes would take to this season’s Champions’ League campaign. With so much pain and disappointment associated with the competition in recent seasons, there might have been some pessimism in the lead up to last night’s game. On the contrary, the mood was upbeat and optimistic. PSG’s Ultras were in fine voice and the TIFO’s on display were mesmerising. If truth be told, it was the best atmosphere I’ve witnessed in Paris for some time.
With this fervent support behind them, Thomas Tuchel’s men will fancy their chances against any team at the Parc. There is still a quiet confidence in regard to European success but after recent cataclysmic European exits, no player or supporter in rouge et bleu will be getting carried away with last night’s victory. Maybe, that is the key to PSG‘s chances of European progression?
4 | Keylor Navas
Finally, PSG have a goalkeeper that matches the level of quality in other areas of the pitch. Keylor Navas has arrived in Paris instantly looking like a perfect fit and the difference really is staggering. Not only has the ex-Real Madrid man brought a wealth of experience at the highest level, he has more crucially provided his PSG team-mates with a calmness and reassurance; something that the squad, rightly or wrongly, haven’t felt in recent times with Alphonse Areola between the sticks.
Those attributes are not just portrayed on the pitch, it has transcended to the stands and it has created an air of confidence amongst PSG’s support.
Immediately, PSG’s back four appear more settled and assured, although not yet perfect. But there is no doubt that PSG have bolstered their goalkeeping options with the acquisition on the Costa Rican. With a clear hierarchy now seemingly in place, hopefully Thomas Tuchel can manage his goalkeeping situation better than he did last season.
5 | Neymar
Neymar was unavailable last night but he cannot be ignored. Whether you love him or loathe him, his importance to Paris Saint-Germain is paramount. Last night, PSG were efficient in their attacking play but at times there were missed opportunities to link midfield to attack with more pace and further threaten Real Madrid’s suspect back-line. The creativity he provides cannot be matched by anybody else.
His mere presence elevates PSG to a whole new level, strikes fear into opposition and is a constant attacking threat. PSG will encounter tougher games than last night and will rely on a moment of brilliance from Neymar to unlock a tight defence, particularly away from home. He is the one player capable of doing this better than anyone.
If PSG have any ambitions of breaking the last 16 curse or indeed going deep into this year’s competition, then Neymar will need to provide PSG with something he is yet to do since moving to the French capital in 2017.
He will need to stay fit during the business end of the season and embrace the talismanic role he was brought in to fulfil, regardless of his frosty relationship with PSG’s ultras.
It was good to see television pictures of him smiling and enjoying the team’s performance from the stands, in a sign that he is ready to focus on his football and give his all for what could be his final season in Paris.
If PSG can keep Neymar fit, there will always be a chance…