The Magic Show: Paris Saint-Germain finally arrive

“Paris Est Magique” reads the triumphal sign at one end of the Parc des Princes. On this night, probably the greatest in the relatively short history of Paris Saint-Germain, the magic came to life.


Paris Saint-Germain celebrate their win over Barcelona Source: Getty Images

It was a glorious 90 minutes - and expect much of the discussion in the coming days to highlight how majestic Les Rouge-et-Bleu were. But the beauty on display was matched by a stunning brutality.

Barcelona don’t get caught with their pants down very often.

Arriving on Valentine's Day in the City of Love, the reception was anything but romantic. The visitors ended the evening tied to a lamppost, strides around their ankles, beaten to a pulp by a group of local thugs, clad largely in blue.

There’s been plenty of false continental dawns for PSG in the past five years, which is why some will be tempted wait and see. Fair enough, but this was no ordinary night. The final 4-0 scoreline delivered an accurate reflection of the action on the pitch.

Of course, there are still another 90 minutes to go in Catalonia, and in the cauldron of the Nou Camp, it’s a safe bet to suggest the Messi-Suarez-Neymar combination will recoup a goal or two, possibly three. They are still – in spite of this match – probably the best team in the world. And it would be foolish to outright dismiss them.

But nor can we still dismiss Paris Saint-Germain as the soft kid from rich parents: gleefully teasing little brother in the backyard, as they usually do in Ligue 1, before getting roughed up each year on the mean streets of Europe.

This was a different outfit. A PSG with teeth. Less Parisian, more artisan. But the execution of their aggressive-yet-defensive strategy was so flawless that it had its own charm. They pressed like hyenas when they wanted to, and sat back like crouching tigers when they needed to.

Take it from a Basque man, his managerial arts most recently honed in Sevilla, to know how set a trap for the mighty Barcelona. This was Unai Emery’s 26th attempt at beating them – but only his second win. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Emery was not the most glamorous choice to succeed Laurent Blanc but this night alone almost justifies his arrival. Granted, they are still three points behind a resurgent Monaco in Ligue 1, but if he cuts that gap and they have a serious tilt at European glory, few could ask for more.

Critically, all this is happening in the post-Zlatan era. Probably best player the French league has seen, certainly in modern times, Ibrahimovic leaves an extraordinary legacy at the Parc, taking four titles in as many years (and scoring 156 goals in 180 games in all competitions). But in each of those years, they bowed out of Europe at the quarter-final stage.

If his absence is being felt on the domestic front, this night proved what can be done without him if others share the load – and not just his old strike partner, Edinson Cavani.

Cavani was brilliant, though. A classic Uruguayan centre-forward: vicious in both attack and defence, he snarled at Barca’s back four when they had the ball and charged at them when he had it. His final goal of the evening was no less than he deserved.

But the support he gained was critical. Angel Di Maria, once a star of Real Madrid, relished the chance to come back and attack those that oft-humiliated his old teammates in the Clasico. The free-kick was sumptuous (regardless of why Luis Suarez ducked), while the curling, left-footed finish to make it 3-0 after half-time had all the hallmarks of greatness. Leaving the game on the hour, his mark was already made.

Helping set up that third goal was Julian Draxler, who had previously bagged the second. He looks as though he will fulfill his huge potential in France after his $61 million (€42 million) move from Wolfsburg last month.

Between the three of them, there is even a scent of Bayern Munich’s holy trinity: Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. No wonder Javier Pastore could only find a spot on the bench.

They were backed by a hell of a support cast, with the combative talents of Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi offering zero space in the midfield, and Thomas Meunier squeezing in superbly at right-back, before jetting forward.

These players are not new names, but, on this night, they showed a new spirit. Their Qatari owners have pumped in an endless stream of cash that has brought great local success in the past few years but not the European triumph they crave.

At last, it might be coming. This could be a magic show worth sticking around for.

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5 min read
Published 15 February 2017 at 11:10am
By Sebastian Hassett