Paris Saint-Germain have failed often in Europe in the past decade, but rarely so dramatically and never so unexpectedly. While Barcelona’s remontada at Camp Nou two years ago was unprecedented, overturning a 4-0 first-leg loss in Paris to win 6-1 and progress in the second, there remained a sense that Messi and co were capable of fighting back. That was not the case here. Never had a 2-0 home first-leg deficit been overturned in the Champions League, and given PSG’s masterful away display three weeks ago coupled with a Manchester United missing Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Alexis Sánchez, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial, this tie was supposed to be over. But, in the driving Parisian rain, another record was broken.
The influential French sports daily L’Équipe was typically scathing in its judgment. Twenty-four hours after awarding Real Madrid’s chief tormentor Dusan Tadic only the 10th 10-out-of-10 player rating in its history, both Thilo Kehrer, whose loose back-pass led to United’s early goal, and Gianluigi Buffon, who spilled Marcus Rashford’s shot for Romelu Lukaku to tuck away his second, received only 2/10. Kehrer, overtly nervous all game, endured a “nightmare”, a word splashed across its website on Wednesday night, while Buffon’s slip in goal was branded “indefensible” and his performance “embarrassing”.
Mental frailty has dogged PSG under the owner, Qatar Sports Investments, but it now appears endemic. They were overwhelmed by Barcelona in 2017, naive at Real Madrid last year and produced a timid and vacant display in losing to Manchester City in 2016. Somehow this marked a new low. Fifty-six per cent of more than 26,000 L’Équipe website readers voted the defeat by United the biggest disappointment of them all while its star columnist, Vincent Duluc, called PSG “ridiculous in the eyes of the world” and “a specialist in failure”.
This was a team that were supposed to have been remade by their coach, Thomas Tuchel. The German has brought, courage, harmony and tactical diversity since replacing Unai Emery last year, and wins over Liverpool and in Manchester were streetwise and exacting. However a distressed Thiago Silva, who said it was “hard to talk” about the exit, admitted the players did not follow the coach’s instructions and were “stressed until the end”. An angry Marquinhos was less diplomatic: “As they say in Brazil, now we need to eat our own shit.”
Others were just as critical in their appraisals. Le Parisien said PSG’s defeat was “unforgivable” and “horrible” while also awarding Kehrer a 2/10 rating; the fan site Culture PSG said the team were “cursed”; Ouest-France spoke of a “new remontada”; and RMC called the result an “earthquake”. Meanwhile the Marseille-based newspaper La Provence, rarely able to poke fun the Parisians’ way of late, tweeted Didier Deschamps holding the European Cup in 1993 when OM became the only French team to win the Champions League, with the caption “for ever first”.
After the Barcelona defeat, a loss that called PSG’s entire project into question, there was a sense they could not get any lower. L’Équipe’s front page on Thursday stated otherwise. “Even worse,” it said. PSG had “cracked”, “dismally eliminated” in “a cataclysm” said the newspaper, which asked forlornly on its sixth of eight pages of coverage, much as Tuchel, Neymar and QSI will be: “What do we do now?”