NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, England — Kylian Mbappé headed straight down the tunnel at the end of Paris Saint-Germain’s 4-1 Champions League humiliation against Newcastle United. As he disappeared with a face like thunder, St. James’ Park rocked to a party it had waited 20 years to host.
These are early days in the 2023-24 Champions League season and the fate of both Newcastle and PSG in Group F is still far from being decided, but the mood around the two teams couldn’t be more different.
Newcastle are enjoying the ride of their first Champions League campaign since 2002-03 and now sit top of the group after dismantling PSG to win their first home game after earning a point with a 0-0 draw at AC Milan two weeks ago. On the other hand, PSG, who defeated Borussia Dortmund in the opening fixture, look anything but a team capable of winning a competition that has long been an obsession for the club’s Qatari owners.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
Much will be made of the ownership of both teams and how each has been transformed by money rooted in the oil and gas fields of the Middle East. PSG have been bankrolled by Qatar for more than a decade, but have still to win their first Champions League, while Newcastle are back in the competition less than two years after Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) completed their takeover of the team.
While the financial power of their owners has unquestionably made a huge difference to the aspirations and fortunes of PSG and Newcastle, respectively, this raucous night at St. James’ Park highlighted the big difference between the approaches taken by the two ownership groups.
PSG have gone down the superstar route, breaking all kinds of financial records to sign players such as Mbappé, Neymar and Lionel Messi. They have made plenty of headlines, but Neymar and Messi have been and gone without delivering Champions League glory, leaving Mbappé to shoulder the burden on his own.
Against Newcastle, the 24-year-old barely made an impression and cut a frustrated figure as his teammates were outfought and outrun by the home side. PSG, once again, looked like a team of individuals thrown together to support a superstar.
Newcastle are the complete opposite. Under Eddie Howe, they have slowly built a team capable of thriving in the Champions League, but there are no superstars at St. James’ Park, and that is the strength of the side. Alexander Isak, Nick Pope, Anthony Gordon, Kieran Trippier, Bruno Guimarães, Sandro Tonali and Dan Burn have all been added to the squad since the Saudi takeover in October 2021 and they are all team players.
Their unity was evident on a night when St. James’ Park, one of the most atmospheric grounds in England, shook with noise. The passionate supporters drove the team on and where PSG were half hearted and flat footed, Newcastle were driven and determined.
On an individual basis, it would be difficult to argue that many of the home side were more skillful or talented than their opposite number in the PSG team, but collectively, Newcastle were well worth their 4-1 winning margin.
The sight of Burn and Sean Longstaff on the scoresheet was also a testament to the way Howe’s team has been built. Both players are local boys, albeit with Burn signing for his hometown team from Brighton & Hove Albion in 2022, and it means everything to Newcastle fans to have a Geordie — a person born and bred in the area — wearing the black and white stripes on the pitch.
Former Newcastle chairman Sir John Hall, who rescued the club from financial ruin in the 1990s, once said that he wanted to watch a “team of Geordies,” citing the disproportionate number of top-flight players produced by the area, including former England players Michael Carrick, Alan Shearer, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley. That never happened, and in the modern era of global scouting networks is unlikely to happen in the future, but Burn, Longstaff and substitute Elliot Anderson are all Geordies and they give this Newcastle team a local heartbeat.
Howe has been able to mesh the locals with the overseas stars and his team now has a real sense of character — something that cannot be said of PSG.
From the moment that Miguel Almirón gave Newcastle the lead on 17 minutes, it was clear that PSG would not fight their way back. Newcastle were too strong and dominant and Burn made it 2-0 on 42 minutes with a towering header that was awarded after a lengthy VAR review to assess whether Guimarães had crossed the ball after receiving it while offside. He hadn’t.
When Longstaff scored with an angled shot on 50 minutes, PSG coach Luis Enrique would have been worrying about the game unravelling further and leaving his side on the end of an even worse result until Lucas Hernández’s header reduced the deficit on 56 minutes. Although PSG attempted a late fightback, Newcastle held firm until Fabian Schär scored a fourth on 90 minutes with a shot from 20 yards.
The secret to qualifying from a Champions League group is to win your home games and pick up a point or two on the road. Having already banked a point at the San Siro and now beating one of the favourites at home, Newcastle are well on their way to the knockout stages.
PSG will probably join them, but don’t expect them to go much further. With Newcastle, the team ethic and St. James’ Park crowd could ensure a Champions League adventure deep into the competition.