World Football News

Man Utd v Paris St-Germain: ‘I watched PSG crumble and I don’t think they’ve ever recovered’


Reshmin Chowdhury is a TV sports broadcaster covering the Champions League and will be writing for the BBC Sport website during the competition.

Love was in the air at the Parc de Princes on a cold Valentine’s night in Paris two years ago. The cheer at full-time was deafening. I’m not sure many would have predicted a scoreline as one-sided as this. This was big.

Paris St-Germain had just beaten Barcelona – THAT Barcelona – 4-0 at home in the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League.

I was standing in the tunnel ready for my post-match interviews, watching some of the greatest players of their generation walk past, heads down, humiliated. The likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Neymar and co couldn’t get away fast enough.

I spoke to goalscorer Angel di Maria and then boss Unai Emery after the game. Di Maria was humble, but quietly confident. Emery warned that the tie was far from over.

Paris St-Germain celebrate their 4-0 first-leg victory over Barcelona in February 2017

And so it proved. That night in Paris was as good as it got for PSG, as their dreams of European glory came to a cruel and soul-destroying end just three weeks later.

I don’t think they’ve ever recovered.

Barcelona achieved mission impossible, becoming the first team to overturn a 4-0 first-leg deficit in the competition, winning 6-1 to knock the French side out 6-5 on aggregate on an unforgettable night at the Nou Camp. I also watched PSG suffer a similar fate, at the same stage of the competition, at the hands of Real Madrid the following year.

The seven-time French champions had been considered strong contenders every season, particularly after the Qatar Sports Investments takeover began in 2011.

Yet for all the big names, glamour and domestic glory, they only got as far as the last 16 of the Champions League in the last two seasons. They were sitting at Europe’s top table, but without the silverware to show for it.

For me, it feels as though the burden of expectation has weighed heavily over the past two years and a mental fragility has emerged. They have hardly had the luck of the draw either.

What struck me around that Nou Camp match was the ‘European giant’ mentality of Barcelona. There was no imposter syndrome here.

It was clear from then-manager Luis Enrique and forward Luis Suarez at the pre-match news conference that Barca meant business. They believed the tie could be turned. I think we all believed it was possible, just not very probable.

Unfortunately, the problem for PSG was that they believed it too. Football is as much psychological as it is tactical or physical and this was a stark reminder.

Paris St-Germain were beaten 6-1 in the second leg of their 2016-17 last 16 tie against Barcelona

Suarez scored after just three minutes. Once Barca were on the front foot, they seized control, smelled blood and PSG duly crumbled. Even when Edinson Cavani got the all-important away goal to make it 3-1, Barca didn’t let up.

On a Champions League matchday, I will normally head down to the post-match ‘flash’ area for one-on-one interviews around 10 minutes before full-time.

However, my producer and I were rooted to the spot. There was something in the air. Everyone in the stadium could feel it. Three goals in seven minutes followed and the Nou Camp went bonkers.

After the game, Neymar told me it was the best match of his career. Ivan Rakitic compared it to the New England Patriots’ historic comeback Super Bowl win just a week earlier.

Both admitted their absolute belief was what carried them through. I posted a video of the mad scenes in the press box