Kingsley Coman returns to haunt PSG and give Bayern Munich the edge

Champions League

For the past few weeks, Paris has been plagued by stories of superstar players wanting to leave this place. For an hour at the Parc des Princes, it was easy to sympathize as a Paris Saint-Germain side with Neymar and Lionel Messi installed as second-rate running footballers choked up a horrific en route to a 1-0 defeat by Bayern Munich A performance showed that threatens to kill their season before the end of February.

The Emir of Qatar was in Paris to watch that round of 16 first leg, doing so from Rome and perhaps, who knows, with a glimpse of chances in north-west England. There was some uneasiness in Paris about the interest in Manchester United. Elon Musk babble, Saudi chat may all sound a little far-fetched. But the Emir, well, he definitely likes to buy stuff.

Presumably he will have woken up for at least the last half hour as the arrival of Kylian Mbappé breathed life and pace into this blue clad star car. Otherwise, PSG looked like an imitation of a team that was outplayed by a well-groomed and competent FC Bayern for a long time.

PSG – Bayern Munich 0: 1: Champions League round of 16 first leg – how it happened

Le Parisien had billed this match as “Le Grand Soir”. And it’s basically the season for PSG, a year of the project, ready to do it all or die again in 180 minutes of knockout football. The Parc des Princes was a roaring place at kick-off, albeit with a feeling of being en fête as always, with lots of people basically singing and dancing alongside a football game.

Bayern started with a back three from the start, an ambitious form that led to Kingsley Coman taking the turn as attacking left-back. For PSG, Mbappé sat on the bench, as promised (by the man himself), despite a hamstring injury. Warren Zaïre-Emery, a 16-year-old from the banlieues, started the biggest game of the year in midfield.

It says a lot about this club that Zaïre-Emery was their best player – before giving way to Mbappé – rather than the mummified entity that still bears the Neymar name. And from the start, PSG just looked completely flat, a collection of random pieces trying in vain to take on the shapes of a team. Bayern dominated for a while, not only taking the ball and holding it but looking so much more cohesive as a unit. João Cancelo hissed a cross through the six-yard box. At half-time, Joshua Kimmich had a shot that went wide of the post.

Kylian Mbappé celebrates after scoring but his goal was ruled out due to a very close offside position against the striker. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

As for Paris, well they had Messi. And even here, as he dropped low and ran with the ball – PSG’s only perceptible attacking tactic – you could still feel that thrill of recognition, that energy field of that unmistakable presence, that big moving brain.

Otherwise it was cautious stuff. Bayern tried to create patterns, press packs and find overloads. Paris defended in two blocks, waiting for her superstar front two to create an illusion of movement.

Bayern needed eight minutes of the second half to score the only goal of the game. Alphonso Davies had replaced Cancelo at half-time and he managed it, whistling a hard, flat, swinging cross from an oddly unkempt left touchline, left vacant when Danilo ran again from injury. Coman expertly finished with the volley before engaging in a rather faux-humiliating non-celebration in front of his former supporters. The angle, the first finish, the colors were reminiscent of his winner in the Covid 2020 Champions League summer final.

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As was the abrupt emergence of Mbappé, who might have won that game but was here to save it – and was badly needed given PSG’s entropy up to this point. FC Bayern should have gone one better. Jamal Musiala began hissing and whirling in a confined space. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting saw a close-range shot that was well parried by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

On the other hand, Mbappé gave a first glimpse of that excitingly effortless speed as he swung on goal, feet barely touching the turf and saved Yann Sommer from a fine close-range save, the ball bouncing off his face.

PSG were better in those last 20 minutes, enlivened by some angry drives from Mbappé. He had the ball in the net but was just about offside. Messi saw a shot deflected just over the bar. In the death, Benjamin Pavard was sent off for a second yellow card.

But that was really thin mush for a team of such riches that just seems to have too many room temperature parts, too little internal structure and a forward plan that’s still based on getting its starting parts in place and hoping for ignition. Even without the away goals rule, Bayern’s 1-0 lead looks impressive.

For PSG, halfway out of elite competition for another year, there is a sense of dissonance, of key parts aging and starting to unravel. A lot depends on the second leg in Munich.


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