Paris Saint-Germain 0 Borussia Dortmund 1 – Crucial Hummels, PSG’s attacking struggles

Borussia Dortmund managed a 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night to advance to the Champions League final by winning 2-0 on aggregate.

After a tentative first-half in which neither team had any major opportunities, PSG came close to opening the scoring within five minutes of the break as Warren Zaire-Emery hit the post. This proved to be a major blow for the hosts, as only minutes later Mats Hummels rose highest from a corner to power a header home and double his side’s lead.

The hosts eventually got going in the match, laying siege to the Dortmund goal, but they found it difficult to break down the defence. Gregor Kobel also pulled off crucial saves to keep his side in front — and this was enough to see Dortmund through to the final.

Here, Peter Rutzler, Sebastian Stafford-Bloor and Liam Tharme break down a shock win for Dortmund.


How important was Hummels?

That Dortmund are in a Champions League final is remarkable enough. That they depended upon an immaculate performance from a 35-year-old Mats Hummels was more so.

Across this European campaign, Hummels has comfortably been Dortmund’s best player. He has often looked ten years younger — in the timing of his tackling, in his willingness to step out of defence and pass the ball forward. It’s been vintage Hummels, round after round.

His one-on-one defending was excellent in Paris. It was often brave, too. But it was also measured. Hummels played out of step with the occasion. He was serene within the chaos. The butterfly effect was vital because that stability seemed to inspire a similarly outstanding performance from Nico Schlotterbeck.

Schlotterbeck can be error-prone. At his best, though — when the balance around him is right — he is wonderfully exuberant on the ball and a big asset to the possession game.

He was absolutely that in Paris and having this version of Hummels alongside him, with all the confidence that it seemed to engender, was a big part of why.

Sebastian Stafford-Bloor

Why did PSG struggle in attack?

Once again, Luis Enrique made a curious tactical tweak for a second-leg Champions League knockout tie.

In San Sebastian it had been Barcola and Mbappe as split strikers in a 4-3-1-2; away to Barcelona it was Mbappe No 9 and Barcola and Dembele on the wings. Earlier in the group stages, he had paired Randal Kolo-Muani with Mbappe and used Asensio as a false nine too. The return of Goncalo Ramos was a surprise. This was only his second European start of the season.

Luis Enrique has spent the entirety of this European campaign trying to find an attacking alchemy and never quite settled. PSG consistently underwhelmed in first halves and needed their best players to break games open in the second-half.

PSG attacking touches Borussia Dortmund Dec

Ramos was wasteful, having been picked so PSG had a pure No 9, a box presence against a Dortmund side with two (not three) centre-backs. But PSG struggled to get the wingers one-on-one, they built up safely by rotating midfielder Fabian Ruiz out to the left, giving counter-attack cover against Sancho but reducing their central presence.

PSG crossed frequently and without wingers attacking the back-post or midfielders crashing the box. They had 15 first-half crosses, their most in a Champions League knockout game since they played Manchester City in May 2021 (16). Hakimi’s trademark underlaps were few and far between.

15 shots off target was PSG’s most in a European knockout game since the start of 2018-19. It is a young team across the pitch, who do not have Dortmund’s experience and nous, but an underwhelming attacking display from a team who had scored in 24 straight home games.

Liam Tharme

How will Mbappe remember his PSG finale?

This was not the finale that Kylian Mbappe nor PSG had envisaged.

The France captain will not say goodbye to the Parc des Princes entirely just yet. PSG will face Toulouse in Ligue 1 this weekend.

But this was his Champions League finale, the moment where the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, both in all competitions and in Europe, bowed out. He has not always had the doting affection of PSG supporters over his time in Paris, a product perhaps, as L’Equipe outlined this week, of his frequent ‘near departures’. But he has been loved in Paris, a leader for club and country. Before the game, his name was roared the loudest by the supporters when the teams were read out.

Yet this game, and this tie, did not play by the script. Throughout both legs Mbappe has struggled to find his moment. At Signal Iduna Park, he had a glimpse; stepping off the left flank to curl the ball into the post. On Tuesday, he was feeding off half chances, an opportunistic volley from range, a 30-yard curler gone wide.

kylian mbappe psg 0 1 borussia dortmund convex touchmap

Dortmund deserve much credit for the way in which they kept him quiet. And PSG criticism for the lack of ingenuity in the final third, which left them turning to high and lofted crosses that struggled to find targets. That’s not Mbappe’s game.

He returned to the left flank for the second leg but it made little difference here. Only once previously has Mbappe failed to score in both legs of a knockout stage tie in the Champions League when starting in both games and that was against Real Madrid in the round of 16 in 2017-18, at the start of his time in Paris. That wasn’t the kind of closed circle he was after.

Mbappe was not an outlier and has not been in this tie overall. Indeed, Mbappe created the most chances under pressure (23) in the Champions League heading into this tie, but none have been converted by teammates. Mbappe was just never where PSG needed him to be, on the end of their best chances. And when one finally emerged, a bouncing ball in the box that needed taming on 86 minutes, his shot went into the ground, a scuffed connection, deflected up and onto the crossbar.

It was not meant to be.

Peter Rutzler

Was Terzic’s gameplan a surprise?

Edin Terzic’s many detractors question his tactical acumen. This performance in Paris, which was as organized and stubborn as Dortmund have been all season, offered a strong rebuttal.

A notable feature of PSG’s first-half performance was just how little penetration they managed through the middle of the pitch. That was the result of a fine gameplan, well-executed.

The idea was simple enough: Dortmund were compact through the middle, sending pressers — notably Karim Adeyemi — high in an attempt to funnel possession into a narrow channel down the right. It made sense; better for Dortmund to take their chances with Ousmane Dembele on that side than Kylian Mbappe on the other.

Just 17 per cent of PSG’s attacking touches during the first 45 minutes came in the central third, their lowest in the Champions League this season. It left Luis Enrique’s side dependent upon Dembele for their supply and he spent the night searching for a ball that he could never quite find.

Sebastian Stafford-Bloor

Did PSG struggle with the pressure?

This match was billed as possibly PSG’s biggest of all time at the Parc des Princes, or at least their biggest since 1995, when they faced AC Milan in their first ever semi-final in the Champions League.

Unsurprisingly, the anticipation for this game was huge in Paris. The build up has centred on creating an atmosphere to rival the one experienced last week in Dortmund, where the Yellow Wall inspired the hosts to a 1-0 win.

The ultras made a ‘call to arms’ earlier this week. Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said he’d have removed the seats for this game if it was possible. On the night, the terraces were full almost an hour before kick-off, and made a huge racket. “We are Paris,” boomed over the tannoy. “You are the voice of millions.” A few ultras had been relocated to the Boulogne Stand, opposite the ultras’ main residence in the Auteuil.

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Mbappe shows his frustration during Tuesday’s game (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

PSG channelled that energy from the terraces early on, firing them into challenges and forcing the ball up the field through collective willpower alone. But then the tension crept into the ranks. This is a very young team, and on the night, the average age of their starting XI was 24 years and 157 days. That was the youngest starting XI in a Champions League semi-final since Arsenal in May 2009.

It showed. Luis Enrique wanted his team to embrace the pressure but as the game wore on in the first, that bite and energy began to fade. The crowd continued but PSG lacked their usual incision, proving imprecise in the final third with their last pass or cross, while lacking any tempo to their game too. Dortmund’s compact shape was not stretched. When PSG chased the game, the forwards lacked composure when chances presented themselves.

They can blame bad luck, and for sure there was an aspect of that underlined by their six shots onto the woodwork over both legs. But it also emphasised how they lacked a cool head in front of goal.

Luis Enrique will want this to be a learning experience for his young team. But it will feel particularly painful this evening, as many in Paris hoped, and expected, a trip to Wembley.

Peter Rutzler

What did Luis Enrique say?

We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.

What did Terzic say?

We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.

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(Top photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

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