PSG’s Champions League last-16 curse has finally been broken, as first-half goals by Neymar and Juan Bernat helped them overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit to sink Borussia Dortmund, earning a quarter-final berth among Europe’s elite for the first time since 2016.
Their mature display, coupled with news that Atletico Madrid were extra-time winners over defending champions Liverpool in the evening’s other last-16 clash, means Thomas Tuchel’s side have a golden opportunity to silence their critics while embarking on the best UCL run in club history this term.
Neymar broke the deadlock after 28 minutes, but couldn’t miss from close-range after Angel di Maria’s brilliant cross. Achraf Hakimi’s poor positioning proved pivotal, giving the Brazilian enough time and space to flick goalwards.
Although they would have gone through by virtue of away goals with a 1-0 lead, overlapping fullback Juan Bernat doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time after latching onto Pablo Sarabia’s fizzed cross and turning beyond Roman Burki.
This was another preventable goal from Dortmund’s perspective, who were sloppy, ponderous and appeared to switch roles with their hosts after delivering an excellent first-leg display on February 18.
Despite a determined creative showing from Jadon Sancho, as well as marked improvement once Julian Brandt and Claudio Reyna were introduced in the second-half, BVB’s attempts to cause havoc were ultimately futile.
Emre Can was sent off late on for a forceful challenge on Neymar near the touchline, prompting an on-pitch scuffle as multiple players got involved with tempers flaring. It rather typified the way Dortmund were stifled by a side they had no answers for.
This was an evening where their slender aggregate lead evaporated before their eyes – while inviting the Ligue 1 giants to settle quickly and allowing their own midfield to be nullified, despite a number of key PSG players watching on from the stands. With all of that in mind, here’s a look at five hits and flops from a memorable evening in Paris:
#5 Flop: Thorgan Hazard
Just like in the first leg three weeks ago, Thorgan Hazard largely flattered to deceive before being replaced midway through the second-half. This was again another game for the Belgian to forget, and although hindsight is a wonderful thing, Lucien Favre would have been better placed to start Julian Brandt ahead of him after his purposeful cameo.
The only difference on this occasion was, he was even more unsuccessful than the reverse fixture in Germany, where the 26-year-old switched wings with Jadon Sancho to try and help remedy that situation. Here, he was clearly trying more down the flank without improved success and struggled against a physically imposing Thilo Kehrer down his side.
His stats speak for themselves, on an evening where Erling Braut Haaland was stifled and Sancho felt compelled to go it alone – presumably because of ineffective support in creative areas. Completed one of five attempted dribbles, had 83% pass success rate (19/23), won just three of 17 total duels, committed four fouls and was dribbled past on three occasions.
#4 Hit: Idrissa Gueye
Marco Verratti was probably PSG’s best performer in the first leg, so knowing he was sidelined through yellow card suspension for this return fixture, Dortmund would have been eagerly anticipating a repeat performance from their central midfield duo – Can and Witsel.
Idrissa Gueye had other ideas. In one of his best performances of the campaign, the 30-year-old asserted quality in abundance with forceful tackles from the early exchanges and it set the tone as he bossed the midfield in the Italian’s absence.
Protecting a PSG backline without influential captain Thiago Silva is never an easy task, but the Senegal international did precisely that – while freeing up Leandro Paredes to get forward more than you’d expect, considering they were a central pair in Tuchel’s 4-2-2-2 formation.
Distributing the ball well, he was confident and Dortmund simply couldn’t cope against a player who swept in-front of the backline beautifully and worked diligently under pressure. It should come as no surprise that Gueye recorded a game-high 8 tackles, with 89% pass success (50 complete) while making three clearances, a blocked shot and interception too.
#3 Flop: Emre Can
Emre Can was sent off for violent conduct just before second-half stoppage-time and with time ticking down as Dortmund crashed out of the Champions League, this sequence of events typified the visitors’ frustration.
He charged in late on Neymar with a needlessly forceful challenge near the touchline, prompting an on-pitch scuffle as multiple players raced to get involved and referee Anthony Taylor watched it all unfold before brandishing red.
26-year-old Can joined BVB on a permanent deal last month, mere weeks after completing a loan move from Juventus. Heralded as an experienced head for games like these given his ability, he froze when it mattered most and made ineffective by the Gueye-Paredes pairing.
It wasn’t just him either: Axel Witsel looked bemused when hooked after 70 minutes, but could have no complaints – knock or otherwise – as he was largely pedestrian in midfield and didn’t help his teammates enough defensively.
Can had 84% pass success (39 made), completed one dribble, won four duels with a clearance, tackle and interception over the 90 minutes. Considering the ease at which Paredes and Neymar got forward down his side of the pitch, he should have been more involved protecting his backline – recording similar stats to Gueye.
You can understand the German’s frustrations, but had he instead channeled that same aggressiveness and energy in the right way, this may have been a different game.
#2 Hit: Presnel Kimpembe
From the early minutes, Presnel Kimpembe set the tone with accurate, persistent distribution out from the back. Dortmund figured he and others besides could retain possession in non-threatening areas, after all, they had an aggregate lead to protect and didn’t need to expend energy without reason.
This proved a serious mistake. Kimpembe quickly grew into the game, receiving multiple touches and even under pressure, had the confidence to foray into midfield and pick his forward passes more urgently as time wore on. That was precisely the encouragement he needed to deliver a much-needed dependable display, with his captain Thiago Silva (hamstring) watching on from the stands.
He worked well off-the-ball, with positioning and awareness key to shut out half-chances whenever Dortmund attacked down his side. His decision-making was sharp, completing important interceptions and tackles (4) while aerially dominant (8 of 12 total duels won), busy elsewhere (game-high 7 clearances) and keeping wonderkid Haaland quiet throughout.
As previously mentioned with those forays into midfield, he won a number of smart fouls (3) whenever the visitors looked to double up on him in promising situations, relieving pressure upon teammates while forcing BVB backwards.
In tightly-contested fixtures such as these, it’s easy for forward players to earn all the plaudits for being goalscorers but Kimpembe shone from start-to-finish and importantly proved an invaluable cog in ensuring PSG kept their sixth Champions League clean sheet of the campaign, their most important one against one of Europe’s most feared frontlines.
#1 Hit: Angel di Maria
Neymar now has Champions League goals in three consecutive games, after his header set PSG on their way to an unlikely comeback victory on this occasion. The plaudits will probably go to the Brazilian superstar and manager Thomas Tuchel, who delivered a tactical masterclass against his former club with a depleted squad and big decisions to make ahead of kick-off. They paid off big time and needed to.
But an unsung hero this season flourished again here, in the same subtle way he has been doing for months. Without him, Neymar doesn’t score and steal the headlines. Without his presence on this occasion, perhaps it’s an entirely different game.
Angel di Maria created his fifth Champions League assist of the campaign to help open the scoring just before the half-hour mark. It was his inch-perfect corner delivery, fizzed across the box, causing indecision among Dortmund players, left Hakimi ball-watching and Neymar gratefully made no mistake.
For context, the 32-year-old Argentine has 12 goals and 22 assists across all competitions this term. But importantly, he continues to display a tireless attitude and it’s one you see on both ends of the pitch.
He filled into a wing-back role at times, supporting Thilo Kehrer out of his preferred central defensive role down the right, to good effect. Helping his younger German teammate by doubling up on Sancho meant the visitors’ main creative player had to think twice before deciding whether to go down the line or drift infield.
In addition, the winger forced Roman Burki into an excellent acrobatic stop after firing a brilliant free-kick towards the top corner, 10 minutes into the second-half. That save kept BVB in the tie, albeit ultimately proving futile.
Having picked up a knock with ten minutes left, Tuchel made a defensive change and introduced Layvin Kurzawa in his place as Dortmund began piling on the pressure – but it spoke volumes that he received a hero’s reception from the hosts’ bench in an empty stadium, gingerly limping off.
With two successful dribbles, he completed as many tackles as key passes (2), had 82% pass success (33 made), won six of 10 duels, a clearance and importantly making himself a constant nuisance throughout. The true Man of the Match.
Stats’ source: SofaScore and WhoScored