PSG loss to Bayern is a sign of a greater sense of unease not helped by Man Utd takeover talk

PSG have been doing PSG things in the Champions League again, but while we’ve definitely all been here before, these are somewhat uneasy times in Paris.


Is this how it all ends again? With another whimper rather than a bang? Paris Saint-Germain have an uphill battle to make it through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League after a home defeat against Bayern Munich in their round of 16 first leg left them with a lot of work to do in the return game at the Allianz Arena.

But the story of this match wasn’t just about two titans of European football clashing with one of them having to come out on top because one of them had to. This was a performance that seemed to sum up a state of uncertainty that has come to cloud PSG since the start of 2023.

When the financial gulf between one club and the rest in a division is as great as it is between PSG and the rest in Ligue Un, the parameters of what constitutes ‘success’ shift in the sand. PSG are five points clear at the top of the table, comfortably clear of second-placed Marseille, but that isn’t how achivements at the Parc des Princes have been judged for several years. With the lavish array of resources at their disposal, PSG are simply expected to win their domestic league title. No PSG head coach is going to be particularly feted for doing that. Not these days.

But the Champions League is a different matter, and this isn’t just about dominance. PSG have been a culturally dominant club within UEFA for some time now. Chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi is the chair of the European Club Association and has a seat on UEFA’s executive committee as a result. As the years have passed, PSG’s annual capitulation in this tournament has felt increasingly like a psychodrama that the club is destined to lose every year at the point that they meet opponents built on old money who have the innate arrogance that this small number of teams seem to carry in their DNA.

That sense of nervousness has started to manifest itself in a far more fundamental way at PSG since the start of the new year. Upon their return from the World Cup interregnum, they looked slightly out of sorts in their first match back against a Racing Strasbourg team that is labouring just above the relegation places in Ligue Un. Needing a Kylian Mbappe penalty five minutes into stoppage-time to edge that match 2-1 with Neymar, a player who isn’t quite at the level of being a ‘liability’ yet but who is increasingly looking like a luxury no team can afford, getting himself sent off after picking up two yellow cards, is not ideal.

That match turned out to be something of a canary in the coalmine for the months to follow. PSG have played seven league games since the start of 2023, but have won only won three, losing as many and drawing the other one. Their preparation for returning to Champions League action was marred by losing their last game 3-1 to Monaco before Bayern turned up. That lead at the top of the league table may still be a comfortable five points, but if anything it is shrinking; three days prior to the Monaco game they were also bumped out of the Coupe de France by Marseille.

And this sense of unease extends further than this handful of indifferent results and performances. Since Manchester United were put up for sale the Qataris have been making coquettish glances in the direction of Old Trafford, and while the club have released statements confirming the owners’ ongoing commitment to PSG, there has been talk of separate legal entities which would allow both clubs to swerve UEFA ownership rules. Even the possibility of the owners buying a minority stake either at United or elsewhere in the Premier League seems to have had a destabilising effect.

The Bayern Munich game felt like a case of all that glitters not being gold. PSG contain the captains of both teams that played in the World Cup final and who scored five of the game’s six goals, but Lionel Messi isn’t getting any younger, Neymar is as described above and Mbappe wasn’t fully fit. That the Frenchman had to be introduced regardless by head coach The Under Pressure Christophe Galtier after 57 minutes felt like a bit of an act of desperation, even though there was still at least more than two hours of football in this tie still to play.

Four minutes earlier, in an act of symbolism so heavy-handed as to feel like parody, Bayern Munich scored the only goal of the night. The scorer was Kingsley Coman, a Parisian by birth who first joined PSG in 2004 at just seven years old and who nine years later became their youngest-ever player when he made his debut for them at just 16 years, eight months and four days old in February 2013 – a record only recently broken by PSG’s latest wunderkind Warren Zaire-Emery.

Coman only made four appearances for PSG in total and when his contract with them expired in the summer of 2014 he left for Juventus, frustrated at being unable to get more game time in the first team. He didn’t celebrate the goal against his former club, but the very fact that he scored it for Bayern Munich at Parc des Princes in such a tie said plenty on his behalf. And the icing on this particular cake was that Mbappe had replaced Zaire-Emery, who’d been PSG’s best player to that point.

But Mbappe has scored 25 goals in 27 games this season in all competitions for PSG. Surely he could pull something from his extensive bag of tricks to save the day? On this occasion he couldn’t, although it was close. He had the ball in the net with 17 minutes to play before the goal chalked off for offside and the same thing happened again less than 10 minutes later. But for all this it would have felt somewhat dishonest had PSG rescued a draw from this match. Bayern Munich were the better team over the course of the 90 minutes.

Of course, when your team can feature Messi, Mbappe and (there may be an asterisk due here) Neymar up front, there’s always a chance, and it would be foolish to completely write off PSG’s chances in the second leg when they have such riches at their disposal. But just as the club’s exits from this competition in recent years have provided such amusement to onlookers, so does this defeat against Bayern Munich. Losing to the superclub that no-one seems to think about when superclubs are discussed feels like yet another act in a morality play about the risks of excess wealth.

PSG are teetering on the brink of elimination from the Champions League yet again, and it is a reflection on that wealth that the reaction to this is, as ever, the sound of a million nano-violins playing at the same time. They’ll probably win Ligue Un again, but that isn’t enough. Ole’ big ears is the trophy that the owners of the club covet more than any other, but all the riches in the world haven’t delivered it to Paris, and the question of whether they will be tempted to chase it in Manchester instead is one that will now hang like a cloud over the rest of their season – should they fail to turn it around in the second leg in Munich.

Author: editor

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