Neymar’s epic penalty fail for PSG is everything that was wrong with French giants in loss to Nantes

Four days after dominating Real Madrid in the most high-profile of the Champions League Round of 16 series, you could not help but sense a bit of misplaced overconfidence exuded by Paris Saint-Germain when they returned to French Ligue 1 play at Nantes on Feb. 19.

Perhaps it was the optional tracking back and closing down, the desire for confrontation gone missing, or the general lack of urgency in front of goal, but it was evident that PSG were not up for the fight against a Nantes team that took the lead after just four minutes.

No problem for a team starting star trio Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi at forward, right? Well, Nantes were not in the mood of showing any respect to the Ligue 1 leaders and Champions League flavor of the week: The Canaries soared to a 3-0 lead at halftime and the deficit could’ve been greater.

But when Neymar scored right after a break on an elite combination with Messi, there was an air of inevitability about a PSG comeback – like they could just have an avalanche of goals. That sense only grew when PSG subsequently earned a penalty kick on the hour mark and Neymar stepped up to take it.

That’s when the balloon of bravado burst.

The Brazilian forward, who was making his first start back from a lengthy spell on the sidelines with an ankle injury, casually passed it at the goal and watched the ‘keeper stop his weak shot. Watch it below (video cued up to the penalty incident):

It was a microcosm of PSG’s plight against a Nantes team that showed it was good value for the fifth-place standing in the table.

But the tone for PSG’s performance was arguably set by the starting XI selected by manager Mauricio Pochettino. He not only decided to give a rest to influential fullbacks Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes, but also held them back until there were just 15 minutes left.

Pochettino has watched his team pull off a number of comebacks at the death, and maybe he had reason to believe that it would happen again just like it did against Real Madrid in midweek.

Like Neymar, Messi also failed to convert a potential game-changing penalty. But an Mbappe golazo at the death saved PSG in another late show (video cued up below).

It did not quite work out at Nantes.

Instead of cowering at the anticipated show of force as PSG threw the kitchen sink at them, Nantes held up strong and its goalkeeper came up with some big stops to leave PSG stunned and dejected at the end of the match.

PSG’s season to be judged on Champions League

It was only PSG’s second loss of the domestic league season, but in this high-stakes campaign, a poorly timed defeat could send the Paris experiment into tumult this summer. That’s because it’s a Champions League-or-bust kind of season for PSG, and a little sporting humility and old-fashioned grunt work on the field would come in handy in the tougher moments that are around the corner.

But based on the first six months of the season, this PSG team, and especially its refined attacking trio, plays like it can walk the ball into the opposition penalty box and create shots whenever it decides to turn up the pressure.

The Harlem Globetrotter approach may work against some of their Ligue 1 opponents, but every now and then it can result in a 3-1 loss.

The club’s sporting director, Leonardo, said after the match that he was hopeful the team would learn from the experience. But the star-studded side he has constructed may only know one way to win.

They’re probably going to win the Ligue 1 domestic title – they have a 13-point lead with 13 matches remaining – and although they’ve already lost one final (Trophee des Champions) and were ousted from the French Cup (on penalties vs .Nice), they will ultimately be judged by what happens in the Champions League.

PSG’s 1-0 first-leg win over Real Madrid was a season highlight (outside of the Messi penalty fail), but it will mean nothing if they can’t roll up their sleeves and grind out a quarterfinal berth at the Santiago Bernabeu. That’s where Real Madrid were putting on a show in a Spanish La Liga match against Deportivo Alaves at the same time PSG were losing big at Nantes.

There are 17 days until that second-leg showdown. That’s plenty of time for introspection at PSG, some soul-searching for the kind of ruthlessness needed for the club’s first Champions League title run. Or to bury a penalty kick chance in a big moment.

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