Tuesday afternoon we saw a Paris Saint-Germain side that we simply have not seen. Not outside of Ligue 1, anyway. France’s top flight gets its fair share of flak. Like Juventus in Serie A, PSG have run the table in recent years. Juve are looking to conquer Serie A for the sixth consecutive season while Les Parisians are seeking their fifth straight domestic title. But for the first time since the 2011-12 season, a reasonable amount of competition exists.
Of their four recent titles, PSG took Ligue 1 by no less than eight points. But last season sunk the French league to embarrassing and historic lows from a competitive standpoint. As the dust settled, PSG finished 31 points ahead of the next-best sides (Lyon, Monaco). And, had plus-84 goal differential to boot.
But as good as they’ve been in France, as dominant as they’ve been across various domestic competitions, they just couldn’t take that next step. They simply could not put it all together on the bigger stage. Every year for the last four, it ended in the quarters. All that money, all that talent, and little to show for it.
Their 2012-13 UCL campaign would end on away goals to Barcelona. The same would happen the following season, this time to Chelsea. 2014-15 matched them up against the Spanish giants again, and they’d be decimated (5-1 on aggregate). Last season may have been their best chance to reach the semi-final, but Manchester City would end those dreams. The same old story, on and on it went.
Until Tuesday afternoon.
Ángel Di María got the festivities started early and PSG never looked back. 90-plus minutes later, the Spanish giants had fallen 4-0. Scratch that—Les Parisians had rolled over Barcelona 4-0. There was no resistance, no semblance of arguably the best team in the world. Instead, a gigantic step was taken. Now the French side just needs to build on it. Now they just need to keep their foot on the gas.
We’ll grant that it’s easier said than done.
Of course it’s only one leg. Of course it’s still just the Round of 16. If any club can overturn a 4-0 deficit, it’s Barcelona. It’s the three-headed monster of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez. A monster tamed beyond anyone’s wildest imagination Tuesday afternoon. If there’s a shred of a silver lining for Barcelona, it’s that Camp Nou awaits. If there’s another, it’s that the odds of Barcelona playing at their absolute worst in consecutive UCL contests is slim to none.
All PSG need is one away goal. All PSG need is one moment that will almost irreversibly turn this tie on its head. Is it another Man of the Match performance from Di María? Or, remember Julian Draxler—a German prodigy at one point in his still-young career—who wasted away within a broken Wolfsburg system? Sure the competition in France is nothing to write home about, but alongside Di María there he was, impressive as ever. What about the 30-year-old Uruguayan, Edinson Cavani?
Ever the scapegoat, ever the odd man out while Zlatan Ibrahimović was bagging goals for fun, Cavani often disappeared into Zlatan’s shadow. But while many continue to rip on the forward who just never truly developed into the star fans expected, there’s no denying his production this season. In 35 appearances across all competitions, Cavani has 35 goals to match. His goal with roughly 20 minutes to go in the contest would cement PSG’s dominance on Tuesday, necessary or not.
Truth be told, there wasn’t a bad performance in the bunch on Tuesday. And if we get those type of performances for the remainder of the competition, that step will undoubtedly turn into PSG’s greatest accomplishment in club history.