Paris Saint Germain staged a dramatic comeback to beat Atalanta 2-1 to reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in 25 years in Lisbon on Wednesday evening.
For a long time, it looked as though the French giants would suffer another early elimination as Mario Pasalic gave the Italians a first-half lead. However, Thomas Tuchel’s men managed to get beyond their resilience, with Marquinhos and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting netting late on.
Here are three things we learnt from a dramatic evening in Portugal:
Initial rustiness for Neymar and Paris Saint Germain
With Ligue 1 having been the only top-five European league to be curtailed due to coronavirus, it would have been somewhat expected to see some rustiness in the Paris Saint Germain ranks. The Parisians indeed begun the game slowly compared to Atalanta, who had played 13 competitive matches since their last UEFA Champions League game in March compared to PSG’s two; the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue finals.
Despite that, Tuchel’s men did create a couple of chances. That aforementioned rustiness also appeared to affect the French club’s forwards though, particularly Neymar, who inexplicably skewed an effort wide when faced with just Marco Sportiello and then dragged a cross someway off target after being released. He then wasted yet more opportunities in the second-period by putting low shots straight at the Atalanta goalkeeper.
It would go to show then that the decision to curtail the French top division and hand Tuchel’s troops yet another title could have ironically hindered them in their hunt for a first ever UEFA Champions League crown but they overcame those problems right at the best time to progress.
A different Atalanta
For all of the plaudits that Atalanta have received this season for their brilliant, forward-thinking approach to the game, and justifiably so considering they managed to score 98 goals in Serie A this season, they displayed a different style of play on Wednesday. Following Pasalic’s strike, whilst they still pressed their illustrious opponents, they were much more reserved, desperate to hold onto the advantage that could have seen them into the semi-finals of the Champions League.
They did not go hunting for a second goal too ravenously, instead reserving their much-needed energy in defending their precious lead. Gan Piero Gasperini’s men also set out to frustrate the newly-crowned French champions by snapping into challenges and disrupting the pattern of play, resulting in Berat Djimsiti, Remo Freuler, Marten de Roon, Duvan Zapata, Rafael Toloi and Ruslan Malinovski all receiving bookings. Whilst Tuchel’s men will protest, Atalanta and their supporters will see it as clever game management and something that almost saw them progress to the last four.
Paris Saint Germain overcome mental block
Having been eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage in each of the last three seasons, it looked like history was going to repeat itself for Paris Saint Germain. For 89 minutes of the match, they were struggling to break down their Serie A opponents and looked destined for another elimination.
They somehow managed to gather the mental resolve and find a route back into the game through Marquinhos. As has been the case in the UEFA Champions League in recent seasons though, another dramatic comeback was on the cards as Choupo-Moting turned home Kylian Mbappe’s perfect cross.
The detractors highlighting the club’s failures in Europe will now be silenced for the time being and PSG now sit at 7/2 with William Hill to win the competition for the first time in their history.
Atalanta: Sportiello (7); Djimsiti (6) (Palomino (6), 60′), Caldara (7), Toloi (6); Gosens (7) (Castagne (N/A), 82′), Freuler (6), de Roon (7), Hateboer (6); Gomez (7) (Malinovski (6), 59′); Pasalic (8) (Muriel (6), 70′), Zapata (6) (Da Riva (N/A), 82′).
Paris Saint Germain: Navas (6) (Rico (6), 79′); Bernat (6), Kimpembe (6), Silva (6), Kehrer (6); Gueye (6) (Draxler (6), 72′), Marquinhos (7), Herrera (6) (Paredes (7), 72′); Sarabia (6) (Mbappe (7), 60′), Icardi (5) (Choupo-Moting (7), 79′), Neymar (8).
Goals: Pasalic (26′), Marquinhos (90′), Choupo-Moting (90+3′)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Yellow Cards: Djimsiti (37′), Freuler (45+1′), de Roon (50′), Zapata (53′), Bernat (54′), Herrera (57′), Toloi (67′), Marquinhos (69′), Malinovski (85′)
Red Cards: N/A