Will PSG ever win the Champions League?
Does ‘La Remontada’ translate into English? According to Ruud Gullit, on the air for BeIn’s Champions League coverage after Manchester United improbably knocked Paris Saint-Germain out in the Round of 16, it does.
What the hell just happened?
You might think a football analyst paid well for his deep knowledge and experience should never utter those words. On this occasion, however, it summed up events perfectly. Gullit, proving you can be amused and bemused simultaneously, detailed just how improbable United’s triumph was.
First, the obvious. PSG controlled the match. They dominated possession. United never looked a threat. Neither Gullit nor Marcel Desailly could remember when United created any clear scoring chances. They couldn't explain how the Red Devils scored three times to win the match on away goals. The Dutchman immediately saw the lesson in that.
It just goes to show these managers who want to dominate. It doesn’t matter. You can have 70% possession. Eighty per cent. It doesn’t matter. The game is about taking chances. It’s about creating chances. United took their chances.
The irony in the Ligue 1 overlords' demise was delicious. In the first leg, Presnel Kimpembe scored his first goal for Les Rouge et Blanc in any competition. He did so after inexplicably escaping a second yellow card for clearly hauling down Marcus Rashford in the first half. PSG left Manchester in full control of their destiny, up 2-0.
It took two minutes at Les Parce des Princes for that control to waver. Romelu Lukaku bullied his way onto Thilo Kehrer’s tepid back pass, gained control, danced around Gianluigi Buffon, then slid into a shot from a tight angle like a defender attempting to prevent a corner. The ball trundled just inside the far post.
To quote Alan Smith, who partnered Martin Tyler for the play-by-play, “normal service resumed” when Kylian Mbappe squared a ball across United’s goal for Juan Bernat to smash through the back door. Only, Alan Smith was wrong and not for the first time on the evening.
Normal service did not resume. The normally reliable Gigi Buffon spilled a Marcus Rashford constellation special. From distance, the United No.10’s Big Dipper bounced in front of the Italian then caromed off him into Lukaku’s path. Can you say three consecutive braces?
Their nerve restored following a lengthy confab in the tunnel, PSG came out for the second half looking to kill off the tie. Mbappe came close but was offside. Angel di Maria found the mark but he timed his run poorly too. PSG kept coming, refusing to slow the game even in the final ten minutes when time begged to be their best friend. Each time they put a ball in the box, United’s defenders were either waiting or arrived just in time to get a foot in.
Then Momus, the Greek god of mockery and complaint, known as irony in more polite circles, took a hand. As the 90th minute tolled, Diogo Dalot let loose a volley from 25 yards. Kimpembe went up. The shot ricocheted off his forearm and out of play. The referee awarded the corner but the VAR official had a word in his ear.
Damir Skomina pantomimed the rectangle then ran to the monitor. Alan Smith thought it wasn’t a penalty.
His arm is hanging in a natural position.
Afterwards, Marcel Desailly weighed in.
If you have any knowledge of football, you know Kimpembe put it there on purpose.
Skomina left the monitor and ran at least 15 yards onto the pitch before signalling his agreement with Desailly. Rashford coolly sent United through to the quarterfinals.
Neymar, who had been up in a luxury box ready to celebrate, was down on the pitch just in time for the review. He’d missed a second Champions League tie in two years with a broken foot. His hopes for making an impact in later rounds were broken as well. A lot can change while you're on an elevator.
Momus couldn't resist another sly dig. Three years ago, the Brazilian was La Remontada’s architect, engineering the stunning 6-1 second leg against PSG at the Nou Camp for Barcelona before changing sides in the summer. Now, he returned from dancing up a storm at Carnival with one left foot only to find he might as well have stayed in Rio.
Strange forces are at work. Three managers now tried and failed to deliver the Parisians to a Champions League final, let alone win it. Laurent Blanc lives high off his severance package after failing first. Unai Emery finds Arsene Wenger’s mess more complicated than he expected at Arsenal. And Thomas Tuchel? Well, the German must now sweat the remainder of the season and the summer, hoping the club doesn’t change managers yet again.
Gullit and Desailly agreed he was the right man with the right project for the club. Neither was willing to speculate on his future, acknowledging that PSG’s Qatari ownership cares only for winning the Champions League.
The man who won the last three remains available but you have to question whether even Zinedine Zidane can dispel the bad karma surrounding this club. Or if he cares to try, being a Marseille man.
Since taking charge, PSG chairman Nasser Ghanim al-Khalaifi made all the right moves. He hired the best managers and signed world-class players many of whom boast winners medal collections that will set off airport metal detectors for days. Carlo Ancelotti. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Neymar. Dani Alves. Thiago Silva. Di Maria. Buffon.
Yet something always happens. Neymar breaks his foot not once but twice. The immensely experienced and reliable Buffon coughs up a key rebound that opens the door for United. Luis Suarez, the reigning world heavyweight champion of simulation draws a critical penalty with a dive that would make Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis jealous. Not to be outdone, VAR gives one too.
With the stars, planets and spirits seemingly aligned against them, it’s a legitimate question to ask. Will PSG ever win the Champions League?