And then, just when it was happening again, it did not. P.S.G. produced a performance not just of class but of cunning and courage, and swatted Manchester United aside, 2-0.
Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappé — this great international vision, this expression of Qatari soft power, delivered by two boys from Paris’s sprawling banlieues — scored a goal each, and P.S.G. might feel slightly disappointed not to have left with more. Later on, Pogba — against his hometown club — was sent off, meaning United’s standout performer will miss the return leg next month. With his exit, all reasonable hope of a turnaround in Paris departed, too.
As it turned out, the harbinger of what was to come here was not Neymar’s injury, or Cavani’s, or any of the other feints and misdirections offered by P.S.G. in recent weeks. Instead, it was in November, in the aftermath of the French champion’s victory against Liverpool in the opening stage of this competition.
It was then, as his players danced on the field, celebrating a victory in a group-stage game — one high on tension and fraught with traps, admittedly, but still a group-stage game — that Thomas Tuchel, P.S.G.’s German coach, saw something.
His team had not just beaten Liverpool for talent, not relied on Neymar’s virtuosity or Mbappé’s breathtaking speed; it had beaten them for effort, too. It had dug in and ground it out. It had proved, against a dogged, determined opponent, that it could fight, too. “Now, we feel something,” Tuchel said.