Neymar, Mbappe & PSG on track to become a Champions League force
Paris Saint-Germain opened their case to become European champions on Tuesday with a formidable display in defeating Celtic 5-0 in Glasgow.
The French media had built the game up by suggesting that last season’s Ligue 1 runners-up were heading into the ‘lion pit’ to open up their Champions League campaign, yet they successfully tamed their opponents with a performance of the utmost control.
It may ‘only’ have been Celtic, but it had been 122 years since the Scottish champions had lost so emphatically at home.
Neymar and Kylian Mbappe made few friends in Glasgow as they tormented their opponents and incited the crowd by going to ground easily, with a fan even running on the field in an attempt to kick the young Frenchman – an action that Celtic will surely be heavily and deservedly sanctioned for.
This pair, however, were leading protagonists as the French club marched to another formidable victory. They have now won all of their last five competitive fixtures by at least three goals, scoring an incredible 22 times in the process.
Of course, they have yet to face a true test either domestically or in Europe, but their rivals for the Champions League crown will have taken note as to just how easily they are dismantling their foes.
Edinson Cavani may have nine goals in six games, including two in each of his last three, but it is Neymar and Mbappe who are doing much of the damage on the flanks.
Again, that was the case in Glasgow. Ably supported by full-backs Layvin Kurzawa and Dani Alves, the pair were consistently able to create space from which their side profited.
Teams trying to contain this front trio will be given a major headache by their rotation. All three, though perhaps to a lesser extent Cavani, are effective in any of the positions along the forward line. And at Celtic Park, they were happy to drift around an interchange whenever the mood or necessity took them.
Given that they have barely been training together a week, it is a strong sign for the future.
From the beginning, it was clear this was an encounter that PSG were going to control, with the manner they retained possession particularly pleasing head coach Unai Emery come full-time.
“There were many strengths in the team tonight,” he reflected. “We controlled the game all across the park, in defence and attack. But the midfield showed control of the ball and the match, with and without possession.”
The manner in which they stroked the ball around in the early stages quietened the crowd. This created a sense of nervous tension around the previously vibrant ground which gave the impression that the home fans feared a large defeat even before Neymar had galloped clear to smash home the opener.
Although PSG managed only four shots in the first half, they went into the break three goals to the good, with Mbappe and Cavani, from the penalty spot, adding to the tally.
The French side seemed to be able to effectively pick their moments to strike. Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Adrien Rabiot would be stroking lazy passes in the midfield before an explosion of movement further forward led to an opportunity. Celtic may only have allowed four shots, but they were forever being tested.
In the second half, the Scots improved upon an opening period that manager Brendan Rodgers was highly critical of. “At times they were playing like an Under-12 team,” the former Liverpool boss told the media after the game.
It was simply not enough to stop their rampant opponents, who added gloss to their victory with an own goal and then a Cavani header of outrageous quality towards the end.
“The club wants to learn from things that have happened,” Emery explained to the media after the game, referring back to the harrowing 6-1 loss against Barcelona earlier this year that saw them dumped out at the last-16 stage of last term’s competition.
“We’re content but we have to be calm and confident to continue. But a match like tonight is good for confidence.
“We’re searching for a clear identity, and this is a good step forwards to prepare for more difficult times.”
Emery knows better than anyone that the Champions League is not won in September at Celtic Park. But having tamed the lions, PSG can be confident that they are on the right track.