The penalty from Kylian Mbappe provided three lifelines and ruined Eddie Howe’s pre-birthday night. But for the equaliser, Paris St Germain (PSG) may not have progressed from the group stage of the Champions League. That in turn would have cast grave doubts on the future of Mbappe and manager Luis Enrique.

Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward #07 Kylian Mbappe celebrates after scoring a goal (AFP)

Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Paris, Mbappe’s 98th minute goal cancelling out Alexander Isak’s strike in the 24th minute, also means PSG stay in control of their destiny. Win against Borussia Dortmund, who have already qualified, and they will top Group F and make the Champions League knockouts for the 12th consecutive season. Newcastle play Milan in a must-win game for both but for either to advance, PSG cannot win in Germany.

Minutes away from doing the double on PSG, Howe said the penalty was “hugely frustrating”. Although Szymon Marciniak had booked PSG’s Goncalo Ramos for excessive appealing, Sky Sports quoted the Newcastle manager as saying there was “extreme” pressure from PSG players on the referee. “It wasn’t the right decision in my opinion,” said Howe who turned 46 on Wednesday.

“I don’t dedicate myself to looking at VAR decisions. I am only dedicated to improving my team,” said Enrique.

The penalty was awarded after Ousmane Dembele’s shot ricocheted off Newcastle left back Tino Livramento’s torso and on to his left arm which was extended. Marciniak’s original decision was to let play continue but VAR referred him to the monitor. Which meant a clear and obvious error and forced Marciniak’s hand. Here’s why.

Under FIFA’s rules for handball, the deflection is not relevant if the arm is in an unnatural position. In 2019, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the body that frames rules, had wanted to end defenders unnaturally placing arms behind their backs to avoid handballs. And years after Queen sang about the “little silhouette of a man”, ‘natural silhouette’ got added to football’s lexicon.

“Players should be allowed to have their arms by their side because it’s their natural silhouette,” said David Elleray, technical director at IFAB. “If arms are extended beyond that silhouette, then the body is being made unnaturally bigger with the purpose of being a bigger barrier to the opponent or the ball.”

That would have settled it for Marciniak who had the whistle in the 2022 World Cup final. So, even though pundits Gary Lineker, Tim Sherwood and Ally McCoist said the decision was wrong, the referee had gone by the rules. Till IFAB clarifies, and a clarification is due in March as per former FIFA referee Christina Unkel, the referee has little choice.

As per Unkel, Livramento’s left arm was in an unnatural position. “Once that arm is out, even though there is a deflection, that is no longer part of the interpretation or the analysis,” she said on CBS. It is possible IFAB will add deflection back into the analysis, she said. Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher had an opposite view and told Sky Sports that the hand was in natural position because Livramento was running.

The penalty denied them full points in a game Newcastle produced a masterclass in the low block. They had two banks of four protecting the goal where Nick Pope pulled off a string of reflex saves. By collapsing his legs, Pope blocked an Mbappe backheel in the ninth minute, pushed away Dembele’s drive to safety in the 32nd in a way Gianluigi Donnarumma couldn’t to Miguel Almiron’s shot leading to Isak scoring, blocked another Dembele attempt in the 57th, kept out Bradley Barcola’s shot with his knee and parried an Mbappe drive in the 87th.

But it wasn’t just Pope’s six saves on the night. Anthony Gordon and Almiron dropped deep to protect the full backs Livramento and Kieran Trippier. Injuries meant outfield players on the bench were thin on experience so Newcastle made no substitutions. And still produced a lion-heated performance where they held their defensive shape. Nearly every time PSG had the ball, there were three players challenging him.

Still, PSG could have won comfortably had they taken their chances. Excluding the save, Barcola had three, twice Marco Asensio volleyed over and Dembele missed putting one away in the 87th minute. PSG had 31 attempts on goal and an xG of 4.5. (xG is expected goals which calculates the possibility of goals from a chance based on data from similar attempts).

“In Champions League, you have to score when you have the opportunity. We had nine, 10 clear opportunities and didn’t score,” “said Mbappe in a pitchside interview.

Having let go Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr, Sergio Ramos, Marco Verratti, Mauro Icardi and loaned out Renato Sanches, PSG are a work in progress with a roster that is younger and more Parisian. It hasn’t affected performance in Ligue 1. Since the away 0-0 to Clermont Foot in September, they have scored three goals or more in their last six league games. But PSG have not been able to take that form into the Champions League.

That, in turn, adds pressure on Mbappe who got his 17th goal of the season with a penalty that gave Pope no chance. PSG have signed Goncalo Ramos and Randal Kolo Muani and have Dembele but Mbappe looked the sharpest among attacking players and created at least two chances that Barcola should have converted. Not fit to start, Mbappe had nearly turned the game against Bayern at home in 2022-23. It wasn’t enough then and it is unlikely to be this time. His teammates not upping their game may be why Mbappe won’t stay in Paris beyond summer.

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