Kingsley Coman returns to haunt PSG and give Bayern Munich the edge


For the last few weeks Paris has been gripped by stories of superstar players wanting to leave this place. For an hour at the Parc des Princes it was easy to sympathise, as a Paris Saint-Germain team with Neymar and Lionel Messi installed as a walking-football front two produced a horribly constipated performance en route to a 1-0 defeat by Bayern Munich that threatens to deadhead their season before the end of February.

The emir of Qatar was in Paris to watch this last-16 first leg, hotfooting it from Rome, and perhaps, who knows, with half an eye on opportunities in the north-west of England. There has been some unease in Paris about the interest in Manchester United. The Elon Musk blather, the Saudi chat may all sound a little far-fetched. But the emir, well, he definitely does like buying stuff.

Presumably he will have at least woken up for the final half-hour, where the arrival of Kylian Mbappé injected life and pace into this blue-shirted star vehicle. Otherwise PSG looked like an imitation of a team here, outplayed for long periods by a neat and competent Bayern.

Le Parisien had billed this match as “Le Grand Soir”. And it is basically the season for PSG, a year of the project, ready to do or die once again across 180 minutes of knockout football. The Parc des Princes was a thunderous place at kick-off, although as ever with a sense of being en fête, of lots of people basically singing and dancing next to a football match.

Bayern went with a back three from the start, an ambitious shape that meant Kingsley Coman taking a turn as an attacking left wing-back. For PSG Mbappé was, as promised (by the man himself), on the bench despite a thigh injury. Warren Zaïre-Emery, a 16-year-old from the banlieues, started in midfield for the biggest game of the year.

It says a great deal for this club that it was Zaïre-Emery – their best player to that point – who would eventually make way for Mbappé, rather then the mummified entity still going by the name of Neymar. And from the start PSG just looked utterly flat, a collection of random parts trying in vain to assume the shapes of a team. For a while Bayern dominated, not just taking the ball and keeping it, but looking so much more coherent as an entity. João Cancelo fizzed a cross through the six-yard box. Towards half-time Joshua Kimmich had a shot that whipped past the post.

As for Paris, well, they had Messi. And even here when he dropped deep and ran with the ball – PSG’s only noticeable attacking tactic – you still felt that thrill of recognition, the energy field of this unmistakable presence, the great mobile brain.

Otherwise it was cautious stuff. Bayern tried to create patterns, to press in packs and find overloads out wide. Paris defended in two blocks and waited for their superstar front two to create an illusion of motion.

It took Bayern eight minutes of the second half to score the game’s only goal. Alphonso Davies had replaced Cancelo at half-time, and he made it, whistling in a hard, flat, outswinging cross from a strangely untended left touchline, left vacant as Danilo rumbled back on after an injury. Coman finished expertly on the volley, before engaging in a rather faux-humble non-celebration in front of his former supporters. The angle, the first-time finish, the colours brought to mind his winner in the Covid summer Champions League final of 2020.

As did the abrupt appearance of Mbappé, who might have won that game, but was here now to save this one – and was desperately needed given PSG’s entropy to that point. Bayern should have added another. Jamal Musiala began to fizz and twirl in tight spaces. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting saw a close-range shot well saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

At the other end Mbappé provided a first glimpse of that thrillingly effortless speed, veering in on goal, feet barely grazing the turf and drawing a fine close-range save from Yann Sommer, the ball bouncing back off his face.

PSG were better in those final 20 minutes, given life by some angry driving runs from Mbappé. He had the ball in the net but was offside, narrowly. Messi saw a shot deflected just over the bar. At the death Benjamin Pavard was sent off for a second yellow card.

But really this was thin gruel for a team of such riches, which just seems to have too many room-temperature parts, too little in the way of internal structure, and a forward plan still based around wheeling its star parts into place and hoping for ignition. Even without the away goals rule Bayern’s 1-0 lead looks formidable.

For PSG, halfway out of elite competition for another year, there is a sense of dissonance, of key parts ageing and starting to come undone. A great deal hangs on the second leg in Munich.