Liverpool on brink of Champions League elimination after damaging Paris Saint-Germain defeat
By Jason Burt, Chief Football Correspondent, at the Parc des Princes
28 November 2018 • 11:09pm
Liverpool must summon another famous European night to reach the last-16 of the Champions League after suffering a defeat to Paris Saint-Germain orchestrated through a Neymar master-class that, for Jurgen Klopp, felt more like a lesson in the dark arts.
So much is written and said, so much criticism levelled at the world’s most expensive player, and much of it justified, but, boy, can he play. And how he played in a first-half when his devastating skill and speed was simply too much to contain.
Neymar was less effective after that but the damage was already done even if, in injury-time, he drew yet another yellow card and ended it all with a rainbow flick over substitute Xherdan Shaqiri. It kind of summed up his mesmeric and – for Klopp – his maddening contribution.
Liverpool suffered six yellow cards in all but will feel one of the two cautions awarded to PSG should have been a red with Marco Verratti fortunate to escape being sent off following a reckless lunge at Joe Gomez in the first-half.
The result means that Group C is going all the way. “We need Anfield one more time. I’m calling Anfield,” Klopp later said and if Liverpool beat Napoli in their final group tie they will go through - as long as it is 1-0, or more, and not 2-1, for example. The permutations are complicated. PSG need to avoid defeat away to Red Star Belgrade, a challenging place to go, as Liverpool found out this season.
The bottom line is that it remains in Liverpool’s hands and the scenario they face is not unfamiliar. In 2004/05 they similarly had to beat Olympiakos to get out of their group and did so with a late Steven Gerrard goal – and we all know what happened that season with the miracle of Istanbul and the trophy won.
Liverpool were in the final again last season but the fact is they have now lost their last four away games in this competition and, for the first time, all three group games away from Anfield. Although this is a tough, tough group it will be desperately disappointing if they do not go through.
For PSG it will be embarrassing, not just disappointing, if they do not progress and the way they celebrated at the end owed much to the relief of fighting on as earning this victory against a club whose European heritage they envy. Neymar struck what proved to be the winning goal, a simple tap-in, although it came from a devastating counter-attack he initiated.
In doing so he became, at 26, the highest-scoring Brazilian in Champions League history and level with countryman Rivaldo with 31 goals in the competition’s previous guise, the European Cup. He swapped shirts with fellow Brazilian Alisson at the end and it was the Liverpool goalkeeper who stood between his team and a more comprehensive defeat.
For all of Liverpool’s effort, for all of their determination to stay in this contest, they only mustered one shot on target and it was a fair result. For all of PSG’s attacking talent it was strong performances from two more Brazilians, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos, throwing themselves to try and block every cross and shot, that also marked this performance.
PSG, backed by their ultras behind each goal, started at a ferocious pace and rarely relented during the first 45 minutes. As impressive as Neymar was the biggest influence during that period was Verratti who was the dominant force in midfield and not least in the way he created the opening goal.
The Italian ran from his own half, exchanging passes before Kylian Mbappe’s attempt to find Edinson Cavani was cut out by Virgil Van Dijk. Unfortunately both Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez were slow to react. Even more unfortunately Jean Bernat was not and the PSG full-back stole in to wrong-foot Alisson with a low shot back across him and into the net.
The noise levels steepled. Neymar, on the left of midfield in an unusual 4-4-2, was finding far too much space, and attempting to win far too many free-kicks, and Liverpool were struggling to even gain a foothold. They tried to attack down that side but were vulnerable to the counter.
Alisson had already pushed away an angled Angel di Maria half-volley and excelled in bravely preventing Cavani from side-footing home an Mbappe cross but was eventually beaten again. Even then he pulled off another fine save, a point-blank response to deny Cavani, but the rebound fell to Neymar who steered it beyond him. Neymar had started the move with an extraordinary turn of pace as he combined with Mbappe to open up Liverpool.
Liverpool were overwhelmed. They needed something. Desperately needed something. And on the cusp of half-time they got it. Sadio Mane burst into the penalty area and was needlessly brought down by Di Maria. The Polish referee Szymon Marciniak pointed for a corner but after Liverpool’s understandable protests he changed his mind. Penalty. James Milner stepped up and swept the ball past Gianluigi Buffon. The result meant it was the first time Milner had scored and ended up on the losing side for Liverpool.
Klopp pointed out the referee’s inadequacies afterwards, and maybe it was the assistant who told him, but that was more to do with the perception that Marciniak was punishing his team and not what he felt was PSG’s antics. Their coach Thomas Tuchel understandably brushed aside Klopp’s protests as the words of a sore loser.
Liverpool had more pressure in the second-half but it was PSG who went closest. Alisson turned away a powerful Marquinhos header, Mbappe fired over and the goalkeeper scrambled to save a Neymar free-kick and PSG saw out the five minutes of added time in a group that is going right down to the wire.
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