PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain must go to Borussia Dortmund and win to be sure of advancing from UEFA Champions League Group F after Tuesday’s 1-1 home draw with Newcastle United on Matchday 5. The Magpies almost completed an impressive double over the French giants thanks to a first half Alexander Isak goal but Kylian Mbappe saved the hosts with a late, late penalty via VAR.
Nick Pope made a number of superb saves, most notably to deny second half substitute Bradley Barcola after he was teed up by Kylian Mbappe, but PSG created more than enough chances to take all three points. Luis Enrique’s side’s dominating possession and shots on as well as off target yet not scoring is not unheard of and it was again the case again at Parc des Princes on Tuesday.
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Newcastle can feel unlucky at not holding on to their one-goal lead in Paris but the truth is that they were pinned back as Les Parisiens attacked at will for over 30 minutes of the second half. The real damage, as is often the case with the French champions, was done by PSG to themselves and certain decisions regarding the starting XI and substitutions will need answers and solutions pre-Dortmund.
Seven shots on target, 14 off, 11 blocked shots and 67% possession for one contentious single goal from a harsh penalty awarded via VAR is not good enough from a PSG point of view in a home game that could have sealed their safe passage to the knockout phase with a win. Instead, Mbappe barely got his team over the line and it is extremely good fortune that they remain second in Group F.
Luis Enrique made a number of debatable decisions for this one with Danilo Pereira played in central defense, Manuel Ugarte and Fabian Ruiz joined in a lightweight midfield by Lee Kang In and Randal Kolo Muani favored over Goncalo Ramos. The result was a massive drop in intensity after around 17 minutes which Newcastle did not need long to exploit as nerves set in around Parc des Princes.
Gianluigi Donnarumma did not help matters by palming the ball into the path of Isak for Newcastle’s opening goal on 24 minutes but the entire defense was questionable given how Tino Livramento was allowed to wander into dangerous territory unchallenged. Ugarte’s difficult run of form continues while front three Kolo Muani, Ousmane Dembele and Mbappe look like strangers at times.
The introduction of Barcola and Vitinha — a notable omission from the starting XI to begin with — unsurprisingly resulted in greater urgency around the hour mark but the former Olympique Lyonnais man’s finishing let him down when Pope was not performing heroics. Barcola could have earned a start away at Dortmund given that Dembele will be suspended for what would have been his return.
Captain Marquinhos and star performer Warren Zaire-Emery were big misses for this PSG side and Luis Enrique will hope to have the Brazil international back in Germany for the final round of games when the stakes will be higher than ever. That does not explain the Spaniard’s reluctance to settle on a preferred starting XI and strategy with regular combinations in both attack and midfield.
Ugarte, Ruiz and Lee have not been on the field that often together while Kolo Muani and Dembele have struggled to aid Mbappe as well as was first hoped. Ramos needing 85 minutes before being thrown into action was also baffling with PSG chasing the game and greater clinical edge since Isak’s opener while rusty substitute Marco Asensio looked every bit a player short on game fitness.
Les Parisiens have their Champions League destiny in their own hands as they head to Germany on Dec. 13, so that is a major positive but Luis Enrique will be mightily relieved that he is only having to explain a draw rather than a loss. PSG remain as unconvincing as ever in Europe and a win over already qualified Dortmund is by no means a given for this Jekyll and Hyde team.