Liverpool’s Champions League hopes left hanging by a thread after defeat against PSG

Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Liverpool: The visitors succumbed to their third away defeat of the group stages

Simon Hughes
Parc des Princes
Wednesday 28 November 2018 22:39 GMT
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Liverpool's players look on after Neymar scored PSG's second goal of the night
Liverpool's players look on after Neymar scored PSG's second goal of the night (AFP)

A half of football where irritating talent rises to its most irresistible, meeting the collective work ethic of a juiced-up team that had a plan and executed it to establish the sort of advantage that is too much for an opponent to recover from.

Initially, Paris Saint-Germain had indeed been too much for Liverpool. Neymar had dazzled, making you appreciate the fuss around him. Kylian Mbappe was too quick for Liverpool’s defence, even Virgil van Dijk. Jordan Henderson was one step behind Marco Verratti. Tactically, Thomas Tuchel followed the tweaks that other managers have made to expose the visitors’ tender spots. Ultimately, it means that PSG remain alive in this competition. Liverpool’s hopes of qualification, meanwhile, hang by a thread.

It was difficult to tell whether Neymar was just enjoying himself in the celebrations that went on and on and on after he had made it 2-0 or whether he thought the outcome was settled, maybe a bit of both.

Originally, a collection of his teammates piled on top of him. When they were gone, he started dancing, firstly for the crowd’s pleasure and then for the cameraman that was filming by him.

Juan Bernat put PSG ahead
Juan Bernat put PSG ahead (Getty)

Liverpool’s players as well as PSG’s were waiting to start the game again when he decided then it was the time to embrace with Dani Alves, the substitute, who was 30-yards away in the technical area. A jump and a bump of derrieres came next.

It was at that moment, PSG’s guard came down and Liverpool began to play much better. Yet there was too much left to do. It proved to be Liverpool’s most credible away performance in the Champions League this season but that does not say much because of the manner of the other defeats, which have been utterly deserved.

There is clearly a growing feeling among managers that the best way of neutralising Liverpool is by playing 4-4-2. It had been the base for Napoli’s last minute victory in Italy at the start of October and Red Star Belgrade took the same approach in Serbia more recently.

PSG similarly followed suit. The sight of Neymar looking towards his full back from his position on the left flank was unusual. Tuchel’s side had decided to overload in the wide areas, ceding numbers to Liverpool in the centre of the pitch where Verratti often found himself surrounded by three opponents, though he was capable of dealing with the pressure.

Neymar added PSG's second of the evening
Neymar added PSG's second of the evening (Getty)

Whenever Juan Bernat supported Neymar, and he did get as close to him as regularly as possible, Marquinhos would step back from the midfield and into the defence. Tuchel’s instructions were perhaps more sophisticated than Ancelotti’s, involving more freedom. But the impact on patterns were similar.

The genesis of PSG’s early opening goal had been Verratti, a playmaker whose quality is marked by the way he always looks as though he has time and space. He was lucky to remain involved in the game following a bone-rattling challenge on Gomez mid-way through the first half. Maybe it would have been a shame to lose him from the spectacle. He knows when to dribble and drive and when to pass. In this case, he combined all three attributes to supply Mbappe. Though van Dijk met his cross initially, Bernat had again sprang forward to support Neymar and his shot went uncontested by Alisson Becker who was flat-footed. The sight of Neymar filling in 20 metres or so behind him reflected PSG’s discipline.

They had swarmed all over Liverpool up until that point. Though some intensity would be lost as the first half progressed, Liverpool did not establish the necessary composure to expose the home team’s drop in standards. With the pace in PSG’s attack, it felt like they could explode into life at any moment. Their lead was extended in a flash. The ball was with Verratti, it traded to Mbappe and Neymar was there to pick up the pieces when Becker attacked Mbappe’s cross with his knees, though maybe he had no other option.

James Milner converted from the spot to pull one back for Liverpool
James Milner converted from the spot to pull one back for Liverpool (Getty)

Liverpool needed some luck to come their way to gain any sort of foothold. Perhaps it was not luck that the Polish referee awarded a corner when Sadio Mane was felled by the talented but inexperienced Timo Kehrer. It looked like a foul and Liverpool’s players felt so too but it was only when the additional assistant at that end of the Parcs des Princes gave the word that a penalty was awarded, which James Milner slid beyond Gianluigi Buffon just before half-time.

This injected Liverpool with confidence. The second half began with Mane racing at Kehrer whenever he could. Milner was like a blood-hound in midfield and Verratti became less prominent. The area of vulnerability for PSG centred around Presnel Kimpembe, who was taking his time in possession and therefore taking risks. When Thiago Silva blocked Andrew Robertson’s cross from a promising position for the left back, the captain turned to the boisterous Boulogne end, issuing a rallying cry. The noise they had been making was ear-splitting already. It was the team-mates in front of him that needed raising.

Tuchel recognised this and sent for reinforcements. It was a measure of the way things ended up going that when all was settled, Silva and Marquinhos were the ones squeezing each other the tightest. So much is made of this team’s attacking talent. Yet defensively, they are belligerent and convincing. A base exists to achieve more than just the easy titles of Ligue 1.

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