A statesmanship by Neymar, a show of force by a state association. Paris Saint-Germain brought all their wealth to a 3-0 win over RB Leipzig, which means that Qatar’s major sports project has become France’s first Champions League finalist since 2004.
The belief within the club, and in an extremely focused Neymar in particular, is that he can become its first French champion since 1993 and the first new champion of the competition since Chelsea in 2012. This would be a similar trip. This is the stage they have wanted for a long time. This semi-final was now too big a stage for Leipzig, which seemed to be visibly affected by the occasion.
However, PSG’s many stars rose to it. Angel Di Maria and Neymar were particularly impressive – the Argentine scored both goals on either side, the Brazilian leading the game – but pretty much all of the star quality was on show.
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They finally got there. It was a quality and a level of performance that Leipzig simply couldn’t match.
While Julian Nagelsmann has filled the team with such an impressive tactical idea, he has to go all out to work against a team like PSG and not be fatally affected by individual mistakes.
Perhaps that’s a negative of their otherwise impressive recruiting, especially when compared to a club as resourceful as PSG. The emphasis on young players on their first deals can bring commitment and hunger, but it can also mean that Leipzig doesn’t have the experience to handle such occasions. Ten of the grid were 26 or younger and there were a few moments that suggested it was a game too big for them.
The odds were hacked and there were so many mistakes. They decided the game in a way, as was most evident with all goals. For the first time Marquinhos could not be picked up. For the second time there was another bad pass from goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi before the third time there was poor handling and a collapse of the defensive.
Of course, these mistakes did not lead all the way to deciding the game. On the other hand, the outstanding quality and so much experience with big game was even more important.
The way Leipzig’s defenders lost Marquinhos was bad, but the way Di Maria found him was divine. It was a sublime delivery, perfectly placed, perfectly weighted so it just flew off the Brazilian’s head and in.
Then there was Neymar’s touch for Di Maria’s own finish. Gulacsi may have almost given them the goal, but that was a chance to seize the opportunity.
Juan Bernat then showed some ingenuity when he came back into the onside position for the third time, despite Di Maria’s cross being perfect again.
The ball went over the line just before Neymar could get there, but one goal was really all that was missing in his performance.
The Brazilian had already shown that he was more than ready to seize the moment and make the game his own. This was his best European performance since PSG beat Barca 6-1 in February 2017 and possibly one of the most influential of his career.
He was clearly in that mindset of full focus, total engagement. It meant he caused chaos every time he brought the ball near the Leipzig goal. This constant threat undoubtedly brought with it the kind of insecurity and panic that led to more individual mistakes. He almost caught Gulasci in front of Di Maria’s goal twice and hit the post twice. The first was a hand-to-hand combat after another pass error, the second a speculative and spectacular free kick when he almost realized the goalkeeper’s position.
It was also something that stood out about his performance. While it became more and more important during the night that PSG had far more experience with big game than Leipzig – Di Maria was the man of the game in this stadium six years ago – this felt like a player of age.
This is Neymar’s time. And that means symbolically and consequently that it could well be time for PSG. That’s why they signed him for so much money and fanfare. This felt like a club was moving to the next level.
Given that Qatar is making use of it, many questions should now be asked about what exactly this club will be when they reach the greatest stage.
However, the fact that they are there means that Neymar and his teammates will answer every question they are asked. All you need is one big answer.