PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain’s old shortcomings quickly returned as soon as Manchester City cranked up the pressure in their Champions League semifinal.
Key players and teamwork went missing during a 30-minute spell in the second half of the 2-1 loss, when PSG conceded two quick goals and failed to recover. PSG went from a position of authority to being second best all over the field.
As players exchanged nonplussed glances and looked to each other for leadership, Neymar flung his arms in the air and angrily berated his teammate Mitchel Bakker for not overlapping down the left side.
While City’s captain Kevin De Bruyne lifted his side up, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe failed to do the same. They went missing in attack and stopped tracking back after midfielder Idrissa Gueye’s red card, which further exposed the midfield and defense.
Had City used its pressure to more clinical effect, PSG could have faced an even bigger deficit heading into next week’s second leg in England.
After trying to find solutions on his own rather than through teamwork, Neymar then got booked for pointless late challenge on Ruben Dias, having been sent off twice already this season in the French league.
He was not alone in playing below his best, with standout goalkeeper Keylor Navas beaten by a cross from De Bruyne that went straight in.
Gueye’s needless free kick on Phil Foden led to City’s second goal and then he got sent off, just four minutes after Neymar’s pointless booking. On City’s free kick, Leandro Paredes and Presnel Kimpembe jumped up but left a gap for Riyad Mahrez’s shot to squeeze through.
The imposing Kimpembe, one of the toughest defenders in the French league, also surprisingly turned his back on the ball when De Bruyne’s cross came in.
As things disintegrated before his eyes, PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino was slow to react. He could have brought on Ander Herrera for Gueye, but did not, and also left powerful striker Moise Kean on bench when his physical presence might have made a difference.
It was PSG’s 12th loss of an inconsistent campaign, and eighth at home.
There is still hope for the return leg, though, given that PSG scored four goals away to Barcelona in the Round of 16 and three away to Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals during those first legs.
“We’ve had some great performances away from home. We need to believe in ourselves,” Pochettino said. “We need to play with the same intensity we showed in the first hour.”
Pochettino is under pressure on two fronts, because PSG is still one point behind Lille and one ahead of third-place Monaco with only four games remaining in the French league.
His players must rally for Saturday’s home game against a Lens side in fifth place and chasing a Europa League spot. Lille is at home to midtable Nice later that day.
That puts Pochettino in a difficult position, knowing that he can ill afford to rest key players against Lens, but also needing them as fresh as possible for the return leg against City.