Paris Saint-Germain advanced into their first Champions League final after easing past an overwhelmed RB Leipzig side in Lisbon on Tuesday night.
Marquinhos opened the scoring for Les Parisiens with a superbly-taken glancing header from a heavenly Angel Di Maria set-piece, before Die Roten Bullen proved the masters of their own downfall as the French champions raced into a 2-0 lead through Di Maria himself.
PSG’s superiority was stark and their comfortable triumph was complete early in the second period through Juan Bernat.
This was a game Thomas Tuchel’s men should’ve won, but perhaps one they would’ve lost in years gone by – see the Manchester United defeat last season.
Not this PSG side, however. Whether it be their impressive turnaround against Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 or their recent mini-remontada against Atalanta, they’ve proved themselves to be cut from a different cloth compared to their predecessors, and Tuchel has to take plenty of credit.
The German’s approach against Julian Nagelsmann’s enterprising Leipzig was methodical, somewhat pragmatic but mightily effective. Sure, there were examples of neat combination play to bypass their Leipzig’s typically well-orchestrated press, but their gameplan was clear and simple: play direct and expose your opponent’s primary weakness.
And throughout, PSG were able to get at a vulnerable, if not brilliantly coached, Leipzig defence which often surrenders too much space in-behind and has trouble slowing down sides in transition. In Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, Tuchel possessed two superstars capable of killing the East Germans on their own, but the deployment of his two haymakers was smart and efficient.
As Mbappe was typically utilised out on the left, tasked with penetrating in-behind through his overwhelming speed and supreme off-the-ball movement, Neymar found himself in a false nine role which brought about greater structure to PSG’s attacks compared to their collective struggles against Atalanta.
There was greater harmony between Les Parisiens’ front three – with Angel Di Maria’s return proving a huge bonus in all phases – and Neymar once again starred. His movement between the lines created a dilemma for Leipzig’s centre-back pairing and caused Kevin Kampl problems throughout. So often was he able to outfox the Slovenian metronome before embarking on supreme samba silk, with space created by the Brazilian’s unselfish movement smartly exploited by PSG’s wingers.
His mature and glorious display was epitomised by the most subtle but elegant of flicks to assist Di Maria for PSG’s second, as Tuchel’s impressive defensive set-up – combined with the industry and intelligence of PSG’s front six – ensured Leipzig were pretty pitiful building-up possession, with their woes summarised in that sequence.
Again, Tuchel has to be credited for formulating a plan. It was clear Kampl’s body positioning when he received was a trigger to press and PSG were often able to overwhelm Leipzig’s metronome as the Slovenian received possession with his back to goal. The timing of the press meant Kampl wasn’t able to use his supreme press-resistance to wriggle away from his opponents.
An impressive Ander Herrera, meanwhile, was crucial to a superb performance off the ball from the French champions.
Overall, Nagelsmann’s mentor took full advantage of his apprentice’s disappointingly conservative approach in the opening period. The Leipzig string-puller’s commitment to a fluid system depending on the phase of the game remained – a 4-5-1 out of possession, 3-1-5-1 in possession – but there was a certain tepidness to Die Roten Bullen’s play which we hadn’t seen all season. Scared to progress upfield almost, knowing of the threats which awaited them going the other way.
A switch to a 4-2-2-2 along with the introductions of Patrik Schick and Emil Forsberg saw the Germans improve briefly after the restart, but this was PSG’s night and Bernat’s header secured victory before the hour mark.
They were dominant from the outset and controlled proceedings throughout. Presnel Kimpembe and Thiago Silva continued their superb form over the past month as they shutout Yussuf Poulsen with consummate ease, while both displayed a distinct comfort with the ball at their feet.
The often-overlooked Leandro Paredes, meanwhile, churned out possibly his finest showing in a PSG shirt since his arrival from Zenit. The Argentine was typically the man to spot Neymar’s movement behind Leipzig’s midfield line and pick him out with precise line-breaking passes. He was efficient circulating possession and uncharacteristically astute off of it – cutting out passing lanes and tracking runners doggedly. Paredes’ display will certainly give Tuchel a selection headache for the final following Marco Verratti’s return from an ankle injury.
The diminutive Italian just has to start, right?
Nevertheless, it’s a good problem for Tuchel to have as the former Dortmund boss goes about formulating a gameplan to defeat what will likely be Hansi Flick’s relentless Bayern in Sunday’s final.
Die Roten will likely be favourites, but PSG have proved capable of winning in Europe with contrasting ideals on display in Lisbon.
Their late show against Atalanta saw overwhelming individualism come to the fore but the dismantling of Nagelsmann’s Leizpig was made possible through a clear emphasis on the collective. This PSG side have discovered a new-found identity under their superb German boss, with their evolution epitomised by Neymar’s maturity to spearhead Les Parisiens’ rise to their first-ever Champions League final.
Their Brazilian superstar is just 90 minutes away from completing a legacy-defining campaign.