PSG 2 Liverpool 1
The finale may be how Liverpool like it - an all-or-nothing, death or glory Champions League decider at Anfield - but not how they want it. Jurgen Klopp’s team succumbed to a third consecutive away defeat in Group C as Paris Saint-Germain turned on the style to revive their prospects of joining the European elite in the knockout phase.
Inspired by the infuriating but at times unplayable Neymar, the French champions delivered a deeply impressive performance before losing their way when James Milner halved a lead gleaned from goals by Juan Bernat and the world’s most expensive footballer.
Liverpool pressed for a second-half equaliser but in vain. Defeated in all three away games for the first time in the Champions League group stage, Klopp’s team must now defeat Napoli by a two-goal margin on December 11th to preserve their interest in the competition they cherish. It is not beyond Liverpool by any means, as Carlo Ancelotti knows only too well, but a vastly improved European display will be required to avoid the rigours of the Europa League next year.
Tuchel had conceded that PSG have a mental difficulty in switching from dominating in France, where they have won the last 14 domestic cup competitions and five of the last six league titles, to imposing themselves in the Champions League. The same was perhaps true of himself when up against the man he succeeded at both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, Klopp having savoured two dramatic stoppage-time victories as Liverpool manager over self-imploding Tuchel teams.
Not here. The problems in Paris belonged exclusively to those in red until they were handed a lifeline at the end of the first half. The PSG coach, said Klopp, would have been working on a plan to avenge the 3-2 defeat at Anfield within seconds of Roberto Firmino’s winner. It materialised in a surprising 4-4-2 formation with Angel Di Maria on the right and Neymar left. Not only did it afford the Brazilian space to wreak havoc against Liverpool’s pedestrian three-man midfield, it enabled Kylian Mbappe to preoccupy the visiting defence with his pace.
With Marco Verratti imperious in central midfield and PSG a whirl of white as they opened at blistering speed, the visitors were besieged from the off. There was absolutely no surprise inside the raucous Parc des Princes when they fell behind with only 13 minutes gone. Verratti set the tone from the first whistle with a delightful ball over Virgil van Dijk that Edinson Cavani just failed to collect with only Alisson to beat.
That was the first of three opportunities that PSG had to break behind the Liverpool backline in the opening five minutes. Di Maria also forced a fine save from Alisson with a dipping half-volley from 20 yards before Juan Bernat, the host’s left-back, placed his team into a richly deserved lead.
Neymar breaking from deep and Mbappe skipping clear of Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren was a recurring theme of the first half. The breakthrough stemmed from Mbappe’s low cross from the left. Van Dijk scuffed his attempted clearance skywards, Gomez and Lovren were slow to react, and Bernat intervened to cut on to his right foot and steer a low finish beyond the wrong-footed Liverpool goalkeeper.
Verratti was dictating proceedings with style and far too much freedom but was fortunate to escape a red card for a late and high tackle that left Gomez writhing in agony. A yellow card was deemed sufficient, and the midfielder also sailed close to a second when clipping Jordan Henderson.
Liverpool improved slightly after the opening goal but were still frequently overrun in midfield. They fell two behind when the Neymar-Mbappe combination exposed the visitors’ midfield yet again. Neymar sent Mbappe scampering down the left and, though Alisson made a fine block to deny Cavani converting another low Mbappe centre, the rebound rolled perfectly for Neymar who made no mistake from six yards. The kick-off was delayed by his over-elaborate celebrations.
Liverpool were passive and posed barely a threat for 45 minutes but they were gifted hope when Di Maria conceded a penalty with a rash challenge on Sadio Mane in injury time. Mane invited the tackle superbly, beating Marquinhos deep in the PSG half before embarking on a piercing run that evaded one defender before the Argentina international sent him sprawling just inside the area.
The referee Szymon Marciniak initially, and somehow, awarded a corner only to be corrected by the additional assistant behind the goal. Milner sent Gianluigi Buffon the wrong way from the penalty spot and Liverpool, from out of nowhere, were back in the contest.
PSG bemoaned the penalty decision all the way down the tunnel at the interval. One coach pursued the additional assistant referee with an iPad, showing a replay of the incident. Their chaotic defending after the restart illustrated the destabilising effect of the Liverpool goal and offered Klopp’s team several chances to restore parity.
Despite regularly outnumbering PSG defenders, however, Buffon was rarely tested. Firmino flashed a header wide and Mohamed Salah had a shot blocked on the edge of the area. The home crowd were growing restless, their anxiety not helped when Marquinhos had a goal disallowed for offside when converting a free-kick moments after the restart.
The converted central midfielder was also denied by Alisson when he met Neymar’s corner with a towering header that the Brazilian keeper saved well. Andy Robertson denied Mbappe with a superb challenge as he shaped to shoot inside the area as PSG finished confidently.
Liverpool have it all to do on the final day, yet again.