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

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. 


Tiger Woods-led US golfers deny Els’ dream to win Presidents Cup

Updated 15 December 2019

Tiger Woods-led US golfers deny Els’ dream to win Presidents Cup

  • Crushing loss for Ernie Els’ young Internationals who led for the first three days
  • Tiger Woods becomes the most successful Presidents Cup golfer in history

MELBOURNE: Tiger Woods’ United States produced a stunning turnaround to deny the Internationals a first Presidents Cup in 21 years Sunday, dominating the singles on a tense final day that went to the wire at Royal Melbourne.
Veteran Matt Kuchar was the hero, with his winning putt on the 17th in the penultimate match enough to ensure victory, sparking wild celebrations from playing-captain Woods, who set the tone by getting the first point on the board.
It was a crushing loss for Ernie Els’ young Internationals who led for the first three days of the biennial match play event but failed to deliver the killer blow against a more experienced and accomplished US team.
They went into the 12 singles matches with a 10-8 lead but the tide began quickly turning with Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson among those racing to big early leads with the scoreboard swathed in US red.
When Webb Simpson beat South Korea’s An Byeong-hun, the US went 15-12 in front and needed just half a point with the Internationals leading in two of three matches still in play.
Australian Cameron Smith grabbed one more point by beating Justin Thomas, ensuring a nailbiting finale with Kuchar’s heroics on 17 ensuring there was no way back Els’ team.
“I trusted all my 11 guys. I trusted them implicitly. I told them from the very get go. They went out there and got the points we needed. We fought,” said Woods.
“Even the points we lost, we were making them earn every one of them, and this Cup wasn’t going to be given to us. We had to go earn it, and we did.”
It was a remarkable comeback. No side before had rallied to win on the last day after trailing for three days, further cementing the reputation of Woods, who went undefeated in his three matches.
US President Donald Trump, an avid golf fan, immediately paid tribute on social media.
“Congratulations to Tiger and the entire US Team on a great comeback and tremendous WIN. True Champions!” he tweeted.
The playing-captain, in his ninth Presidents Cup, set the tone from the front, going out first in the singles and winning 3 and 2 against battling Mexican Abraham Ancer.
In doing so he passed Phil Mickelson to become the most successful Presidents Cup golfer in history with a 27-win, 15-loss and 1-tied record to his countryman’s 26-16-13.
It was the United States’ 11th victory in 13 editions of the event. One was drawn with the lone International win coming in 1998, also at Royal Melbourne.
Woods nailed a birdie on the second after a stunning approach shot to take an early lead and although Ancer fought back, Woods’ putter was running hot and he was two up through 10.
The 15-time major winner was striding around Royal Melbourne on a mission and nailed a monster putt on the 16th for the 3 and 2 win.
At one stage the Americans were ahead in nine matches, and world number five Johnson ensured a second point, crushing Li Haotong 4 and 3.
It ended a difficult first Presidents Cup for a Chinese player who was overlooked for the opening two days and never looked at ease.
Patrick Reed’s caddie was banned after shoving a fan on Saturday as tensions boiled over after the controversial American’s penalty for improving his lie in the Bahamas last week.
The former Masters champion turned to his swing coach to carry his bag and it worked wonders as raced six up through seven against Taiwan’s CT Pan in a scintillating display in front of taunting fans.
Pan woke up and won three in a row but it was in vain with the American winning 4 and 2.
The US were on a roll with Tony Finau earning a valuable half point against Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who looked to be on track for a win after going four clear through 10.
South Korea’s Im Sung-jae was a bright spot. Despite being just 21, the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year again showed his huge potential by comfortably beating US Open champion Gary Woodland.