Paris Saint-Germain take on Borussia Dortmund in Germany on Wednesday in their final group-stage game with more than just Champions League survival hanging in the balance.
In Group F, the one that had all eyes on it when the draw was made, things could not be tighter as PSG, Newcastle and AC Milan all still have the chance to join already-qualified Dortmund in the knockout stages.
A win for PSG would ensure them of not only qualifying but of topping the group as they currently sit second with seven points, three behind Dortmund and two ahead of Newcastle and Milan.
“The most important thing is to focus on ourselves,” said Paris coach Luis Enrique.
“If we win, we’re going to finish first, but even if we lose, we could go through to the next phase. It’s so complicated, but I hope we can make it easier by winning.”
In the return fixture on matchday one, PSG’s campaign got off to a flyer when Kylian Mbappe and Achraf Hakimi goals ensured a 2-0 win, giving them a better head-to-head record with the Germans should both sides finish the group level on points.
Since then, they have been up-and-down and a humiliating 4-1 away defeat to Newcastle and a 2-1 loss at Milan were backed up by a 1-1 draw on matchday five against the English outfit.
Although already assured of their place, the onus is still on Dortmund to avoid defeat if they wish to ensure top spot and a better draw for the next round.
“We want to get first spot and avoid the crazy good teams. We don’t want to go out in the round of 16,” said Dortmund defender Mats Hummels.
In the group’s other game, Newcastle’s first Champions League appearance in 20 years could end early when they host seven-times winners Milan, with both sides on five points and needing victory to have any hope of qualifying.
Knockouts or bust
Fail to win and PSG will seriously risk bowing out of Europe’s premier competition at the first hurdle, that is what is immediately at stake for coach Luis Enrique and his team.
Since Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) took over PSG in 2011, the club has never failed to qualify from the group stages of the Champions League, reaching the semi-finals in 2021 and the final the year before.
Back-to-back exits in the round of 16 the last two campaigns, in part, cost coaches Mauricio Pochettino and Christophe Galtier their jobs.
And an even earlier exit this term could be enough to convince PSG’s hierarchy that 2015 Champions League-winning coach Luis Enrique is surplus to requirements at the Parc des Princes, after a mixed start to life in Paris for the Spaniard.
It is a love/hate relationship that PSG have with the Champions League. The club desires it above all other titles and, so far, it is the only one to elude them since QSI’s takeover.
Star signings, both on the pitch and in the dugout, such as Lionel Messi, Neymar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel, were brought in for a sole objective that ultimately remains unfulfilled.
And painful defeats against Barcelona in 2017, Manchester United in 2019, Real Madrid in 2022 and in the final against Bayern Munich have traumatised the club and its fans.
The end of the Mbappe saga?
It is the worst kept secret in football that Real Madrid want the France captain, though so far PSG have managed to hold onto their star asset. Another Champions League heartbreak could change this.
At the start of the season, Mbappe was initially frozen out of the first team as he refused to extend his contract, before an agreement was eventually found between the two parties.
Since then, he has been in sensational form in Ligue 1, scoring 15 goals, and notching three strikes in Europe.
However, since winning everything else possible with the club he joined in 2018, the striker may seek finally to put an end to the endless rumours regarding his future as he searches for European glory.
On a more positive note for PSG, breakout starlet Warren Zaire-Emery is back in contention after recovering from injury.
His performances have been one of the consistent good points of the French champions’ European campaign, especially in October’s 3-0 home win against Milan.
With their season potentially hanging in the balance in midweek, PSG will need all their stars to align if they are to progress.
World Cup News
/ 22 hours ago
Three German ex-top football officials went on trial on Monday in a 13.7-million-euro ($14.8...
/ 3 days ago
Saudi Arabia formally launched its bid to host the 2034 World Cup on Friday,...