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Di Maria scores to help PSG swat aside Malmo

Angel Di Maria scored on his Champions League debut to help PSG ease past Swedish side Malmo on Tuesday. Here's the match report and reaction to the game.

Di Maria scores to help PSG swat aside Malmo
Angel Di Maria celebrates with Blaise Matuidi and Edinson Cavani after scoring against Malmo. Photo: AFP

Angel Di Maria and Edinson Cavani were on target as Paris Saint-Germain began their Champions League campaign with an
ultimately comfortable 2-0 win against Malmo at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.

Di Maria scored less than four minutes into his Champions League debut as a PSG player to set the French champions on their way, but they missed a succession of opportunities before finally extending their advantage when Cavani headed home in the 61st minute.

With Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk also in Group A, Paris needed a strong start against the Swedish champions as they target not just qualification for the knockout rounds but an improvement on their runs to the
quarter-finals in each of the last three campaigns.

But while they got the points, it was not a vintage display by Laurent Blanc's side with Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasteful in front of goal and later being substituted against his hometown team and the club with whom he started his illustrious career back in 1999.

“It's not easy to win at home or away in the Champions League, so to win 2-0, cause our opponents problems and look comfortable at the back is a good start even if there are certain things we will need to perfect as the season goes on,” said Blanc.

“It augurs well. We wanted to win and we did, although I regret that we did not score one or two goals more.”

Ibrahimovic returned after injury in one of three changes to the Paris team that had been held to a 2-2 draw at home by Bordeaux in Ligue 1 at the weekend, but he was upstaged in the fourth minute by Di Maria.

The Argentina winger was labelled as the man to take PSG to the next level in Europe when he was signed from Manchester United last month, and he indicated why as he ran onto Marco Verratti's pass in behind the Malmo defence before angling a beautiful finish past Johan Wiland and into the far corner of the net.

However, if anyone then expected PSG to romp to a big victory, they were to be disappointed.

Malmo, who beat Celtic in a play-off to reach this stage, lined up with nine full internationals on the field at kick-off and, with a five-man defence and two deep in midfield, were stuffy opponents.

But, save for a Nikola Djurdjic shot that slid just wide of Kevin Trapp's far post in the 34th minute, they offered little in attack.

Ibrahimovic off target

Instead, PSG let themselves down at times with some wasteful passing and poor finishing, not least from Ibrahimovic, who failed to convert no fewer than five attempts in the first half alone and was then let down by his touch having been put in by Cavani just after the restart.

Nevertheless, he proved much more adept when it came to setting up his colleagues, and it was from an Ibrahimovic pass that Di Maria sent in a curling shot which was tipped around the post by Wiland on 52 minutes.

The second goal finally arrived just after the hour mark thanks to Cavani, the Uruguayan heading home his sixth of the season after Ibrahimovic had flicked on a left-wing cross from Maxwell.

That ended any ideas that Malmo had of coming back into the game, and only a superb stop by Wiland from point-blank range to deny David Luiz kept the final score down before substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi had a goal disallowed right at the death.

Malmo coach Age Hareide later admitted PSG were a class above his side, the Norwegian saying: “Our last Champions League game was in December last year.

“Since then we have only played in the Swedish league which is not the same level. The qualifiers are not enough.

“Hats off to Paris. It was a magnificent match from them.”

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FOOTBALL

OPINION: Mbappé’s title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project

After being the star of France's 2018 World Cup triumph, Kylian Mbappé has been the standout player for Paris Saint-Germain in a Ligue 1 title-winning campaign that has been slightly marred by the manner in which they limped over the line.

OPINION: Mbappé's title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project
Photos AFP

PSG finally wrapped up the title on Sunday after second-placed Lille failed to beat Toulouse, having not won any of their previous three games when the opportunity to confirm a sixth French crown in seven seasons was there.

The Qatari-owned club can still make it a domestic double, with the French Cup final to come against Rennes next weekend, yet this will not be remembered as a vintage year.

While Neymar once again went missing due to injury at the crucial point, Edinson Cavani has struggled with fitness too, and coach Thomas Tuchel has regularly lashed out at the lack of depth in his squad.

The 5-1 capitulation at Lille a week ago was the worst league result for PSG since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, and the first time they had let in five in a league game since 2000.

A record-breaking 14-match winning run with which they started the season now seems like a long time ago, the latest Champions League failure clouding Tuchel's first campaign in charge.

Mbappé, at least, has been a constant, revelling in his status as a World Cup winner and hardly ever being rested. He only turned 20 in December, but has now won three Ligue 1 titles in a row.

Mbappé has 36 goals in 40 games this season, with 30 in the league. And, frighteningly, his team-mate Daniel Alves told RMC recently that “he doesn't realise how good he is, he can go much further”.

He is also not used to losing, and may have upset some of his teammates with his assessment of last week's defeat at Lille. “We played like beginners,” he said.

Hollow ring

To be fair, they have usually been exceptional domestically. However, the problem is that as long as they keep failing in the Champions League, domestic success for a club backed by a Gulf state will continue to ring hollow.

The title has effectively been in the bag for some time, but their season has been winding down ever since their exit against Manchester United in the last 16.

That, combined with being knocked out in the League Cup quarter-finals, means Tuchel in his first season has actually done worse than Unai Emery, his unloved predecessor.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel has actually done worse than his predecessor, Unai Emery
However, according to sports daily L'Equipe, Tuchel has agreed to extend his contract to 2021. Thoughts have already turned to the future, with new signings needed at the Parc des Princes.

The costly Neymar experiment cannot be said to have succeeded until he stays fit for the games that matter, and there will always be speculation about his future.

“We have a contract, we're not even halfway through that contract,” Neymar's father pointed out to RMC Sport.

Time for a clear-out? 

Mbappé is the one man they really cannot afford to lose, but is it time for a clear-out elsewhere?

Some of the excitement of the early part of the decade has gone, replaced with a staleness. The days of Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti are maybe ending.

Youri Djorkaeff, a World Cup winner for France and a PSG star in the 1990s, offers a frank assessment, suggesting real change is needed higher up.

“If you're not great in every compartment, from the bus driver to the girls who clean the shirts, you will go nowhere,” he told Ligue 1 Podcast, 'Le Beau Jeu'.

“Paris Saint-Germain, after many years without success, have to rebuild everything, restart from scratch, because the foundations are not good. You cannot expect to one day win the Champions League without these foundations.”

The Qatar project needs a breath of fresh air, and all eyes will be on president Nasser al-Khelaifi and sporting director Antero Henrique.

UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules remain a problem, though, with PSG said to have a hole of around 100 million euros and the need to present a balanced budget by the end of June. The next few months will be interesting.

By Andy Scott/AFP

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