Only history can provide solace for Liverpool after a careless and porous performance in the Parc des Princes last night. Twice before they have lost to French clubs in European away legs, only to overwhelm them in the return - though never from three goals adrift.
Anfield will need to be at its red-hot intimidating old self if they are to rescue this European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final. At 2-0 down to an incisive Paris St-Germain it looked bad enough, but worse was to follow. Six minutes from time the newly introduced substitute Cyrille Pouget carved an opening for Jerome Leroy to tuck home. To worsen Liverpool's woes, Steve Harkness was booked and will miss the second leg.
The Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, was scathing. "We were poor. We never looked like defending anything. We need to do a bit of soul searching individually because no one did themselves any credit. Nothing functioned tonight. We played the game so slowly, we didn't defend, and we didn't attack. It lacked passion and it lacked pride.
"David James has looked confident for most of the season but a bit of uncertainty has crept in, but then there was uncertainty right through the defence all night. We have had many famous victories at Anfield and everything is possible, but I can only put our chances at 20 per cent - maybe.''
Evans' team selection was bold, with Stan Collymore included in attack as Liverpool sought to capitalise on PSG's recent patchy form and the fact that six of their team were on one yellow card. In hindsight he might have regretted it as PSG gave what regular watchers of them described as their best performance of the season.
Any theory that they might be the weakest of the last four was soon shown to be folly. PSG quickly revealed themselves to be swift and skilful, their captain Vincent Guerin and Leroy controlling midfield, Patrice Loko offering darting movement up front and Benoit Cauet a quicksilver outlet on the left.
Liverpool failed to heed an early warning when Leroy found Cauet in space and David James had to dive to save. Another followed when Guerin's low cross was turned home by Loko, who was ruled offside. It came as no surprise when they soon had the ball in the net again - and this time it counted.
After 11 minutes Leroy's dinky little lob was only weakly punched by James to Cauet, whose shot the goalkeeper managed to parry. Cauet, however, retrieved the ball and, when his low cross again rolled through the holes in the Liverpool defence, Leonardo was this time onside and on hand to stab home at the far post.
Thankfully for Liverpool, PSG could not maintain such a breathtaking pace and, when the game entered its second wind, the visitors improved with Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman at last retaining the ball. It was all too fleeting, however.
Their first real chance came after a movement of more than 20 passes when Stig Inge Bjornebye crossed for Robbie Fowler to send goalwards a header that Bernard Lama grabbed gratefully. Soon after, Fowler forced the goalkeeper into a sprawling save with a powerful shot after being sent through by Collymore. The partial rehabilitation was all undermined two minutes before half-time, courtesy of another error by James. He flapped again at a cross from the right by Leroy, pushing it only to Loko, who headed it back for Cauet to steer into the far corner.
Evans did for the second half what he perhaps should have done for the first. On for Collymore, to stiffen the midfield, came Michael Thomas. Suddenly, Liverpool looked better balanced as they set off in pursuit of a goal.
They should have had it soon after the restart. Bjornebye's cross from the left was headed down by Fowler for McManaman to glance home only for it to be ruled offside - highly questionably. Mark Wright's header over the bar from Bjornebye's corner was further example of Liverpool's renewed vigour.
PSG remained potent at the other end, however, not least because James' handling continued to unnerve. He looked safer as a shot-stopper, at least, clutching low attempts by Loko and Leonardo into his midriff.
Any Liverpool attacking seemed mostly token and PSG claimed the third goal their superiority deserved. This was an insipid performance by Liverpool, one not normally associated with a club tradition that had seen them previously successful in eight out of 10 European semi-finals - and one which Anfield will not tolerate in two weeks' time.
Paris St-Germain (4-4-2): Lama; Fournier, N'Gotty, Le Guen, Domi (Algerino, 41); Rai, Leroy, Guerin, Cauet; Loko (Pouget, 83), Leonardo. Substitutes not used: Fernandez (gk), Allou, Dely Valdes.
Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Harkness, Wright, Matteo; McAteer, Redknapp, McManaman, Barnes, Bjornebye; Collymore (Thomas, h-t), Fowler. Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Ruddock, Berger, Babb.
Referee: H Krug (Ger).
Batistuta to the rescue, page 30Reuse content