Deja vu for PSG in Europe
PSG have been here before. Two goals ahead against Manchester United after the first leg in 2019, four goals ahead of Barcelona in 2017. This time it was half an hour, two goals clear against Real Madrid.
Wednesday’s draw in the round of 16 was the fourth out of nine times they have been knocked out of the Champions League in the first leg victory – only Real Madrid have done so more often (six times).
Their star-studded side’s mentality was weak – perhaps marred by past mistakes – and they failed to recover after Gianluigi Donnarumma’s howler handed Karim Benzema his opener.
The PSG players barely had time to recover after Benzema’s second before he made it 3-1 on the night and gave Real the crucial goal to take them through.
The Qatari owners’ quest for a Champions League trophy continues. Even the addition of Lionel Messi this summer couldn’t take them beyond the last 16, with the former Barcelona man anonymized upon his return to Spain.
What awaits PSG remains unclear, with big question marks over head coach Mauricio Pochettino’s future.
Sporting director Leonardo insists Pochettino remains in the project, but the failure to lift the Champions League has only resulted in one result for PSG managers under current owners. Ask Thomas Tuchel, Unai Emery, Laurent Blanc and Carlo Ancelotti.
Benzema’s record saves Real
With just 30 minutes to go, Real Madrid’s fate seemed sealed and it looked inevitable for PSG to progress.
That all changed, however, with a moment of persistence from 34-year-old Karim Benzema, whose pressure forced Donnarumma into making a mistake that proved to be the catalyst for an epic Champions League comeback.
His tenacity continued to drive Real forward as he put the ball into the net twice with just 10 seconds of open play separating the two goals.
It was a talismanic performance from the Frenchman, who took his place among Real Madrid royalty by overtaking Alfredo Di Stefano as the club’s third top scorer, behind only Raul and Cristiano Ronaldo.
He also leads Raul (66) as Real’s second top scorer in the Champions League with 67 goals, with only Ronaldo ahead (105).
Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, 33, scored an 11-minute hat-trick against RB Salzburg on Tuesday night. A day later, Benzema scored his hat-trick in 17 minutes against PSG. Who said number 9 was dead?
Man City youngsters take center stage
Manchester City’s goalless draw with Sporting won’t be long remembered by those who watched it, but it was certainly special for academy graduates CJ Egan-Riley, James McAtee and Luke Mbete.
Egan-Riley’s only previous appearance for City came in the Carabao Cup against Wycombe Wanderers in September, but here he was starting a Champions League knockout tie.
The 19-year-old acquitted himself well as a right-back, completing 58 of his 60 pass attempts – giving him a 97 per cent success rate – while defending confidently when needed.
“CJ played very well,” Guardiola said afterwards. “He didn’t miss a single ball. He’s a guy who’s seven years old – there’s nothing exceptional about anything, but that’s a good sign as a defender. He doesn’t make no mistakes.”
McAtee, however, was the choice of the young trio after his half-time introduction, with the 19-year-old looking immediately at ease in City’s attack and combining cleverly with Gabriel Jesus in particular.
City have high hopes for McAtee, who has already made two Premier League appearances this season, and a spirited performance on his Champions League bow offers further encouragement.
Defender Mbete, 18, didn’t have as much time to impress, replacing Aymeric Laporte with just six minutes of regulation time remaining, but his introduction capped off a satisfying night for the club’s academy.
Egan-Riley, McAtee and Mbete may not be involved when the quarter-finals roll around, but City are hoping they will have an important role to play in their future. This experience should serve them well.
Liverpool defeat is of the best kind
“If there’s one game we can lose, it’s this one,” Jurgen Klopp said afterwards. He was right. His Liverpool players left the field after being beaten overnight by Inter’s 10 men but without incident until the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
It was not Liverpool at their best. “I didn’t like our counter-press,” Klopp said of how his side started the game and Mohamed Salah also seemed to acknowledge the possibility that the mindset might not have not quite right from the start.
“Maybe in the back of our minds we were feeling too confident right now,” Salah said. BT Sports asked about the reasons for the knockdown after going unbeaten since the start of the year. “We are losing a game. Maybe that will give us a little boost.”
Seeing Salah smile throughout his interview, there is no hint of that heartbreaking momentum. Twice he had touched the foot of the post but he knows that the margins are small. Next time, maybe when it counts a little more, the odds might come in.
“We didn’t use our chances,” Klopp added. But his players were given a reminder of their own fallibility, a review to underscore the need to keep working. Losses are no more useful. “We are rightly in the quarter-finals and that’s all I care about.”