Paris Saint-Germain woke up this Wednesday to the reality that their UEFA Champions League dreams are over for another season and with no guarantee that they will lift the Ligue 1 or Coupe de France trophies later this month.
Manchester City completed a 4-1 aggregate success with a 2-0 win at Etihad Stadium on Tuesday with Riyad Mahrez scoring three times in total as Pep Guardiola's men exerted exceptional control over the French giants.
PSG's misery was compounded by an ugly final 21 minutes that saw Angel Di Maria sent off and three players booked as the game threatened to descend into a brawl as Mauricio Pochettino's men lost their composure after Mahrez's clinical second goal.
It was always going to be an uphill task for PSG with City a goal up after their first leg win at Parc des Princes and the absence of superstar Kylian Mbappe did not help the visitors' cause with the 22-year-old booting up at half-time merely a false dawn.
However, despite the disappointment of the manner of their UCL exit this term, there are a number of reasons why this edition's semifinal run has not been a complete failure for Les Parisiens even as it comes during a difficult domestic spell.
🎙 "Je ne veux pas baser notre élimination sur la question arbitrale, mais il y a eu beaucoup de situations qui n'étaient pas bien gérées. Maintenant, on va garder les bonnes choses pour continuer."— RMC Sport (@RMCsport) May 4, 2021
🏆 La réaction de Leonardo après #MCIPSG au micro de RMC Sport. pic.twitter.com/EUaGuDTzof
"We must not forget what has been done over the past two years," sporting director Leonardo told RMC Sport post-match. "We reached the final and lost 1-0 against a team that won everything. This year, we eliminated Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Our goal is always to win, and our journey made us real candidates. We need to keep going and build on this. It has been a very complicated year. We should be satisfied."
To reach a second consecutive Champions League final by seeing off Barca, Bayern and then City would have been near miraculous for almost any other European side, especially when you consider the deficiencies in the squad Pochettino inherited mid-season from Thomas Tuchel, the regular run of injuries and absences and the fact that the German already oversaw a mini turnaround to win Group H.
Had you told pretty much anybody associated with PSG back in the summer of 2019 that they would go on to reach at least back-to-back Champions League semifinals, they would have considered that progress after three straight humiliations in the round of 16 and that improvement remains unchanged, despite the way the current run ended.
We're proud of you! ❤️💙— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) May 4, 2021
Proud of the journey you've been on, honoring the Parisian colours 🙌
A great adventure that ends tonight against Man City.
🔹 Bayern Munich
🔹 FC Barcelona
🔹 Istanbul Başakşehir
🔹 Manchester United
🔹 RB Leipzig #WeAreParis pic.twitter.com/asf8a7F7Av
Leonardo returned for a second spell almost two years ago to find Neymar pushing to leave after two injury-hit years and the club reeling after embarrassing defeats to Barcelona and Manchester United either side of Real Madrid.
The $266 million man is now a key figure who actually features in the biggest games and although he did not deliver in either leg against City, he featured prominently against Bayern and is expected to stay on.
This campaign has also finally put to bed the debate as to whether Ligue 1 hinders the current French titleholders' chances on the continent with an absorbing title race contributing towards a competitive edge rarely seen before with this modern PSG.
Winning Le Championnat and the Coupe de France will not make up for the loss of an historic potential treble but there should be a feeling of satisfaction -- if they do ultimately win it -- that this Ligue 1 success has been sweated for more than it has in years gone by.
However, the flip side of that particular coin is that PSG now must ensure that domestic success remains important to the squad and perhaps this close contest and another next year will see to that after the administrative victory of 2019-20.
"There are three Ligue 1 matches left," Leonardo said. "Three finals. We need to remain concentrated and earn the points to be crowned champions. There is also the Coupe de France. Yes, we lost, but we come out of this knowing that we have a great squad."
If there is to be any sense of failure and disappointment, it should be reserved for the first leg that saw PSG collapse after missing chances to better their one-goal lead before conceding two fortuitous goals as they once again failed to impose themselves in an empty Parc des Princes.
Whether that is remedied by the proposed return of supporters to stadiums in Europe in the coming months, we will see, but the spiritual home of this group is far less intimidating to opposing sides without their vociferous fans and that has shown in some displays and results this term.
Difficult to accept that we’re out of the competition after doing so many good things.We can be proud of our club, only 50 years old and improving every season.Proud of my teammates and don’t forget we still have to fight for two trophies this season🔴🔵 #allezparis #icicestparis pic.twitter.com/YfAHINOKB1— Ander Herrera (@AnderHerrera) May 5, 2021
Speculation over Neymar and Mbappe's futures will continue until there is some sort of official announcement that one or both have extended their contracts beyond 2022 with the Brazilian seemingly the closest to doing so at this moment in time.
"Honestly, now is not the time for anything to be decided or announced," said Leonardo. "We must be proud of what we have done. Our aim is always to win. We played better over two of the four halves and conceded some odd goals. There are lots of good things. We found a way out of some very difficult situations this year. I am optimistic moving forward."
What is irrefutable is the progress made in terms of the big overall goal of Champions League success since 2019 with PSG now a genuine force that even the strongest European teams will not relish facing next season and beyond.
Losing out to a very good City side that will be making their debut in the finals a year later than PSG is nothing to be ashamed of after 18-24 months of real progress on that front, but the expectation will now be that those runs become the norm along with domestic dominance.
Another Ligue 1 showing with eight defeats and counting will not be tolerated, so there is work to do over the summer ahead of Pochettino's first full season in charge with the expectation that it will be much better than the rescue mission of his first six months.