WHAT WE LEARNED: Paris Saint-Germain show backbone as Barcelona look brittle at the back

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Thiago Silva was the beating heart of the PSG side that kept their Champions League hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Liverpool. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2018
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WHAT WE LEARNED: Paris Saint-Germain show backbone as Barcelona look brittle at the back

  • French club add substance to style to show they are more than one-trick ponies.
  • For all their brilliance in attack Barca look vulnerable at the back.

LONDON: With only one match of the group stage to go, here is what we learned from the latest round of matches in the Champions League ...

PSG SHOW SOME FIGHT

For all the money the capital club has had thrown at it, there has always been a sense that while it has bought style, the side still lacked any real substance. In the French league they are rarely challenged — this season they have won all 14 of their matches — so when they have come up against good opposition in Europe they have been found wanting. Wednesday night’s clash against Liverpool at the Parc des Princes was a must-not-lose encounter against the high-flying English side. In short, just the type of match they have struggled to negotiate in the past. However, the moneybags club — led by the brilliant Thiago Silva, right — showed some fight to prevail 2-1 in a match very low on quality. It was the sort of performance they have failed to display come the big European nights and one that — when combined with the flair of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani — bodes well for the rest of the competition.

For all of Neymar's tricks it was the guts and determinination that PSG showed that really caught the eye. 



GROUPS OF DEATH PROVE AS SCARY AS PREDICTED

If there is one criticism of the Champions League other than it has made an already very rich elite even richer, it is that the group stages are fairly dull. They are merely processions in which the big teams swat away the minnows to confirm their spots in the knockout stages, which was all but guaranteed when the draw was made. This year, however, the two “Groups of Death” are providing, for once, a lot of entertainment and bitten fingernails. Group B sees Tottenham needing to beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp to ensure progress or at least match what Inter Milan achieve at home to PSV Eindhoven. Group C sees Liverpool needing to beat current group leaders Napoli at home 1-0 or beat the Italians by two goals to go through. That would, assuming PSG beat Red Star Belgrade, eliminate Carlo Ancelotti’s side. But if Liverpool only win 2-1 they would be the team to exit. 
Exciting stuff …

Both Spurs and Inter will have a nervous final 90 minutes of the group stage.

BARCELONA ARE BRILLIANT AND BRITTLE AT THE SAME TIME

The Catalan giants are something of a Jekyll and Hyde side. Going forward they are the best in the world, playing the game with a devil-may-attitude and bare-faced cheek — mostly down to Lionel Messi’s brilliance — that would force even Real Madrid fans to stand up and applaud. During their 2-1 win at PSV this attacking verve was once again on display. Both Messi’s goal — which proved he is playing a different game from everyone else — and his cheeky free-kick that set up Gerard Pique’s strike, took the breath away. But at the back they look as vulnerable as one of the European minnows. The scoreline read 2-1 to the visitors, but in all fairness the Dutch team should have scored at least three and opened up the Barca backline with, at times, alarming ease. Unless Ernesto Valverde can add some much-needed backbone to the defence then we are going to stick our necks out and say Messi and Co. do not have a chance of lifting the trophy this season.

Messi was once again at his imperious best against PSV, but there remain huge doubts about Barca's backline. 


From near-death in Libyan desert to Saudi Arabia in 40 years: A history of the Dakar Rally

Updated 25 April 2019
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From near-death in Libyan desert to Saudi Arabia in 40 years: A history of the Dakar Rally

  • Race will start in Jeddah and make a stop in Riyadh before ending in Qiddiya
  • Take a look back at the most momentous moments

LONDON: A new and exciting chapter in the prestigious history of the Dakar Rally is ready to be written as the world’s biggest and most challenging rally confirmed it will debut in Saudi Arabia in January 2020.

1977: Inspiration
Biker Thierry Sabine gets lost in the Libyan desert while competing in the Abidjan-Nice Rally. After being rescued from the sands on the verge of death, he vows to share the scale and magic of the desert with the whole world.

1978: A dream come true
On 26 December 1978, a field of 170 adventurers starts its 10,000-kilometer quest through Algeria, Niger, Mali, the Upper Volta, and Senegal. A total of 74 vehicles make it to the finish on Place de l’Indépendance in Dakar, with Cyril Neveu at the helm.

1983: Ickx on all fronts
Celebrities and the best drivers and riders in the world heed the call of the Dakar. The combination is a successful one, with the six-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Jacky Ickx and comedian Claude Brasseur taking the spoils in the fourth edition.

1986: Tragedy strikes
Thierry Sabine and Daniel Balavoine die in a helicopter crash alongside pilot François-Xavier Bagnoud, journalist Nathalie Odent and radio technician Jean-Paul Lefur. Gilbert Sabine, the father of the creator of the race, takes over as director.

1992: Africa from north to south
The Dakar takes a break from the capital of Senegal to pit the competitors against the challenge of a lifetime. The drivers and riders have to tackle a route of almost 12,500 kilometers through 11 countries to cross Africa from one side to the other and reach Cape Town in South Africa. Stéphane Peterhansel (motorbikes) and Hubert Auriol (cars) stand atop the podium at the end of the Odyssey.

1998: Peterhansel rolls a six
The biker with a blue bandana emerges victorious from a clash of titans with Orioli and Arcarons to become the undisputed master of the category in the 1990s. His sixth win catapults him past Cyril Neveu as the event record holder. “Peter” has since added seven car victories to his tally!

2000: At the foot of the pyramids
The Dakar marks the turn of the century next to one of the seven wonders of the world: the Great Pyramid of Giza. Reigning champions Richard Sainct (motorbikes) and Jean-Louis Schlesser (cars) both manage to defend their titles against this prestigious backdrop.

2001: Miss Dakar
No one suspects that this will be the last Paris–Dakar. In contrast, everyone sees Jutta Kleinschmidt, who had made her Dakar debut in 1988 on a motorbike, become the first woman to win the rally, this time racing at the wheel of a Mitsubishi 4×4. She remains the only female winner of the event to date.

2009: Rising from the ashes in Buenos Aires
The Dakar picks itself up and crosses the Atlantic to rise from the ashes. A new era dawns with 4 million spectators turning out in force to cheer on the drivers and riders in the majestic landscapes of Argentina and Chile.

2012: Pacific Challenge
After three years with a route starting and ending in Buenos Aires, the organizers break the mold with a finish on the Pacific coast of Lima, Peru.

2014: Dizzying heights
Bolivia becomes the 28th country to host the Dakar. The Altiplano and Salar de Uyuni introduce a new test for the competitors: extreme altitude, which takes a toll on both their bodies and their machines.

2020: Chapter 3
In the wake of its first foray into Paraguay in 2017, the Dakar adds the 30th country to its list. In Saudi Arabia, the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula, the competitors will face challenges such as the “Empty Quarter,” a pristine expanse that has never been explored fully before.