Newcastle’s local heroes stun PSG to twist a tale of geopolitical tension

Newcastle 4-1 Paris Saint-Germain: Dan Burn and Sean Longstaff starred to shock Kylian Mbappe on a famous night for the Geordies in the Champions League

Richard Jolly
at St James’ Park
Wednesday 04 October 2023 23:10 BST
PSG fans march through Newcastle ahead of Champions League clash

Geopolitics and Dan Burn can make for strange bedfellows but Saudi Arabia against Qatar was decided by the boy from Blyth and the lad from North Shields. Newcastle United and Paris Saint-Germain’s owners brought the Middle East to the northeast but, while there is a bigger picture and wider ambitions, United’s locals wrote their own credibility defying script on a seminal, spectacular night.

Burn outscored Kylian Mbappe, his fellow Geordie Sean Longstaff did what the rest of PSG’s star-studded forward line could not and found the net and Miguel Almiron and Fabian Schar completed arguably Newcastle’s greatest game for many a year. On another chastening, harrowing night for the serial disappointments from the French capital, Newcastle’s unlikely lads seized control of the Champions League’s supposed group of death.

And if there is a more serious meaning to the last word than being condemned to the Europa League, Newcastle’s scorers lent the game a different feel. Saudi Arabia did not buy Newcastle to make Burn’s dreams come true but his has been the most endearing story of a project with many facets, some more wholesome than others.

There is something wildly improbable about Burn; left-backs are not supposed to have such a physique, footballers rarely go from non-league to Champions League. He is not supposed to win a personal duel with Ousmane Dembele, one of the world’s most expensive footballers when Barcelona bought him and a World Cup finalist 10 months ago. Dembele was supposed to be living in Mbappe’s world. He instead found himself in Burn’s.

When Burn’s goal was given – following a three-minute wait for VAR to take its course – it produced the sight of the giant stood, arms outstretched like the Angel of the North, accepting the acclaim of his people; a season ticket-holder when Newcastle were last in the Champions League, a scorer now, he finds himself with a place alongside Tino Asprilla in Toon folklore. They have decorated such occasions.

There have been no European nights on Tyneside for a decade, relatively few great ones in total. But the first Champions League game staged at St James’ Park since 2003 saw a Barcelona team featuring Luis Enrique beaten and the first for 20 years saw a Paris Saint-Germain side managed by Luis Enrique defeated. And, in each case, overwhelmed at times. PSG were overrun and overcome.

Burns is engulfed by his teammates after scoring Newcastle’s second goal
Burns is engulfed by his teammates after scoring Newcastle’s second goal (Getty)

The noise was unrelenting, the atmosphere an asset to Eddie Howe’s team. Manchester City fans may boo the Champions League anthem but their Newcastle counterparts cheered it. It had not been heard at St James’ Park for two decades. Newcastle savoured the sound and created plenty of their own. Anthony Gordon turned cheerleader, gesturing to the crowd to raise the volume levels still further when he hunted down Marquinhos near the corner flag. Bruno Guimaraes celebrated an interception with an intensity often reserved for a goal.

The actual strikes themselves scarcely met with silence. Almiron got Newcastle’s first Champions League goal since Alan Shearer scored against Internazionale in San Siro in 2003 before, with Shearer watching, a younger generation of Geordies took over.

Reasons to be cheerful for the fans
Reasons to be cheerful for the fans (Reuters)

The manner of the first was significant. PSG were harried into mistakes. Marquinhos gifted possession with an attempt to chip a pass, Alexander Isak swivelled to shoot and while Gianluigi Donnarumma saved, Almiron dispatched the rebound past him.

Yet the second produced the night’s abiding images: first in the execution, then the celebration. After Guimaraes’s shot from an acute angle was blocked, the Brazilian crossed and Milan Skriniar looked too intimidated to jump as, flying above him to head in despite Donnarumma’s desperate attempt to claw the ball back, was Burn. Feel the Burn? Skriniar was too scared to try.

A three-minute VAR check – for offside against Guimaraes, and for a possible handball against Jamaal Lascelles – brought a delayed celebration for Newcastle and a roar when Burn was announced as the scorer.

There was, too, a combination of a chorus and a context that would have long seemed utterly unrealistic, with supporters chorusing that Longstaff was one of their own after he gave his side a 3-0 lead against one of the European elite. Donnarumma, blameless before then, was exposed and then embarrassed, the player of Euro 2020 allowing Longstaff’s shot to slip under him after the excellent Almiron found the relentless midfielder. He was not alone: victory was forged in the sweat of non-stop running.

Almiron scores Newcastle’s first goal
Almiron scores Newcastle’s first goal (Getty)
Superstar Mbappe failed to live up to expectations
Superstar Mbappe failed to live up to expectations (Reuters)

PSG had been left short-staffed in midfield by Luis Enrique’s decision to play 4-2-4. There may have been a logic; could Lascelles stop both Randal Kolo Muani and Goncalo Ramos, the €160m double act? Oddly, the answer came in the affirmative. PSG nevertheless should have led when Dembele volleyed wide in the third minute. Instead, Newcastle were denied a fifth consecutive clean sheet: not by Mbappe or the star-studded forward line but by Lucas Hernandez, who ghosted in to head home Warren Zaire-Emery’s chip.

Yet if he proved Burn was not the game’s only goalscoring left-back, the night’s best strike was saved for the end. Schar won the ball high up the pitch, swapped passes with the Newcastle supporter Jacob Murphy, and curled a shot into the top corner. It was the kind of finish Mbappe might be expected to provide but it came from a Newcastle centre-back. It was that kind of night.

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