PSG shed reputation as Champions League chokers vs. Dortmund to emerge as genuine contenders

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It was difficult to know what was stranger about the game in Paris on Wednesday night.

Was it the empty Parc des Princes, closed to fans to help minimize the risk of further spread of the coronavirus, the only noise coming from the players and benches, plus the curious sounds of the fans gathered outside chanting and setting off fireworks, like hearing a loud party three floors down? Or was it the fact that Paris Saint-Germain -- the moneyed serial chokers from the 16th arrondissement, the team who have been bounced out at this stage three years in a row in a variety of calamitous circumstances -- played with purpose, discipline, structure and mental fortitude to beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate?

Both were unusual. Nothing, in fact, was usual about this match, or the way that PSG won it. Even the goals felt like they belonged to a different game, a different team. Neymar opened the scoring with a header in the six-yard box, showing hitherto untapped poaching instincts (admittedly helped by some abysmal marking), then the second came from left-back Juan Bernat showing up in the inside-right slot, to delicately glance a shot home at the near jersey nfl cheap
They listened on Wednesday. Counterintuitively, considering this was a game in which they knew they would need to score at least once, Thomas Tuchel ensured his team played with tight discipline, not going hell for leather, sitting back and allowing Dortmund to knock the ball around as much as they wanted.8

On paper it looked like an irresponsibly attacking 4-4-2, more realistically a 4-2-4 considering the widemen were Neymar and Angel Di Maria. But on the pitch it was more structured than that, closer to a 4-2-3-1 with Pablo Sarabia dropping off Edinson Cavani (which emphasised another point: Kylian Mbappe was fit only for the bench) and the two on the flanks actually playing like proper wingers, rather than just disgruntled forwards shunted out to either side because that's the only place there was room.

In fact, perhaps the strangest sight of the evening came in the first half when Neymar diligently chased a ball back down the left wing, pressing his opponent like a latter-day Dirk Kuyt. It was at that point that you really started to wonder if these were just impostors in PSG shirts and the real players were tied up with electrical cable in a shipping container somewhere, desperately banging the side to escape from their tactically responsible youth nfl jerseys

This night was going to be different from the rest. It wasn't going to be added to the hall of Champions League calamity, including but not limited to: the second leg in 2013 when a goal up over Barcelona with a half-fit Lionel Messi on the bench, only for them to lose; 2014, when they threw away a two-goal lead at Chelsea; 2016, losing to a limp pre-Pep Guardiola Manchester City; 2019 and the penalty that gave Manchester United a miracle win and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a permanent job; and of course 2017 and La Remontada, perhaps the most traumatic result in the past decade, the very definition of the epic choke, crashing out to Barcelona despite winning the first leg 4-0 and being 5-3 ahead with two minutes remaining of the second.

Not this time. They actually displayed some guts to hold on, despite a late Dortmund onslaught, and despite the ominous sign of Di Maria managing to get himself booked after being substituted; at that point you thought, "Ah, this is the real PSG -- collapse incoming." But no. The celebrations at the end showed that the players and staff knew very well about their perception, and how heavily the idea of them as chokers weighed on them. They danced around and hugged and jumped as if they had won the whole tournament, not merely made it to the quarterfinals.

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