Serial underperformers: the sad history between Paris Saint-Germain and the Champions League

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Since the Qatari buyout of 2011 and subsequently becoming one of the richest clubs in world football, Paris Saint-Germain’s prime goal has been to construct a team laden with world superstars, boasting the quality and experience capable of winning the club their first European trophy.

That approach hasn’t worked, with the capital club’s recent failings in the continent’s elite competition providing clear evidence. PSG’s exit from this year’s Champions League round of 16 at the hands of Bayern Munich was, incredibly, the club’s fifth elimination at that stage of the competition in the last seven years.

With that in mind, here is a closer look at three of the very worst of those last-16 defeats, all of which summarise the sad history between PSG and the Champions League.

2021-22: Real Madrid 3-2 PSG (Aggregate)

Coming against the competition’s record winners is certainly no mean feat. Real Madrid had won Europe’s elite competition a staggering 13 times, which became 14 after the 2021-22 season. Despite their obvious prowess, though, PSG had put themselves in the best position possible. Kylian Mbappe’s 94th-minute strike sealed a late 1-0 first-leg victory at the Parc des Princes, before his effort after 38 minutes in the Santiago Bernabeu made it 2-0 on aggregate.

Karim Benzema pulled one back on the hour mark, before the Parisians’ European fate was snatched away from them in a matter of minutes. Benzema completed an 18-minute hat-trick in the 76th and 78th minute of the match to send the home side through and leave PSG with a familiar disappointing taste in the mouth. Madrid were able to see off Liverpool this European campaign as they were PSG last. An underwhelming league season sees them with slim football betting odds of 20/1 to win La Liga, as they sat a whopping 12 points behind rivals Barcelona after 26 games played.

2018-19: PSG 3-3 Man Utd (Aggregate, Man Utd win on away goals)

Before successive final and semi-final finishes in 2019-20 and 2020-21 respectively, PSG were again removed from the competition at its earliest knockout stage, although a 2-0 win at Old Trafford in the first leg looked to see them all but qualified. A strike each from Presnel Kimpembe and the inevitable Mbappe had meant that Manchester United would need to score at least three to avoid extra time and penalties. Paul Pogba was suspended thanks to a straight red in Paris, so passage to the quarter-finals looked a mere formality.

An entertaining first half saw Romelu Lukaku gave United hope after two minutes and Juan Bernat equalise 10 minutes later, before the Belgian scored again to make it 1-2 on the night and the away side in need of a third. Then, in stoppage time, the referee adjudged the ball to have hit Kimpembe’s arm after a VAR review, with Marcus Rashford stepping up to score a dramatic 94th minute winner from the spot. Ecstasy for the English side, and, once again, heartbreak for PSG.

2016-2017: Barcelona 6-5 PSG (Aggregate)

As far as comeback stories go, they don’t get much more dramatic than this. Goals from Julian Draxler, Edinson Cavani and a brace from Angel Di Maria meant the Parisians had a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 advantage to take to Camp Nou three weeks later. Understandably, Barca came out swinging in the home leg, with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi turning home and Layvin Kurzawa scoring in his own net before the 50-minute mark. 

But Cavani settled the nerves with his 62nd-minute strike, which meant Barcelona needed to score three more due to the away goals rule. With just two minutes of regular time remaining, it seemed all but done. But Neymar struck an exquisite free kick on 88 minutes before turning home from 12 yards just three minutes later. Buoyed by the clamorous home support, the Brazilian then managed to tee up Sergi Roberto to become the unlikely hero in the 95th minute. It remains undoubtedly one of the greatest comebacks in European memory, but also one of the darkest nights in PSG’s sad history on the continent.

While a lot has changed in the French capital with regard to new managerial appointments and an influx of star-studded players, there has been little difference in PSG’s fortunes in Europe’s elite competition.

Dominating France’s top flight while boasting far and away the league’s biggest financial power is hardly a marker of progress for the capital club, as the semi-final and final between 2019 and 2021 remains their best European finishes to date.

After years of serial underperformance in the Champions League, it may be time for PSG to get back to the drawing board and re-think their footballing project.

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