This time there was no debate. Dani Alves and Neymar both stood over the free-kick that Paris Saint-Germain had won late in the first-half of their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich. But both men knew who was taking it.
When the whistle blew, Alves rushed forward and belted his shot straight into the wall. It was an anti-climactic end to a thrilling 45 minutes, but that suited PSG just fine. They were already winning 2-0, after all.
For the preceding 10 days, the talk had all been of locker room discord. A series of unedifying squabbles over set-piece responsibilities during a win over Lyon was threatening to overshadow the French club’s barnstorming start to this season.
Alves had interjected himself into an argument over a free-kick in that game – grabbing the ball from Edinson Cavani and handing it to Neymar (though the full-back would subsequently claim he had been trying to keep it for himself). Later, PSG won a penalty. This time Cavani seized the ball and placed it on the spot, only to find Neymar blocking his way. Words were exchanged, but the Uruguayan held his ground. His shot was eventually saved.
With a different group of teammates, this whole scene might have been dismissed as a storm in a tea club. PSG did beat Lyon, after all, extending their perfect start in Ligue 1 to six games. The rules are always going to be a little different, though, for the most expensive player on the planet. Team officials soon found themselves denying reports that Cavani had been offered a €1-million bonus payment to let Neymar take spot-kicks in future.
It hardly felt like the ideal preparation for Wednesday’s clash with Bayern. Nor, for that matter, did PSG’s 0-0 draw with Montpellier on Saturday – a game that Neymar missed with a foot injury. Alves sought to restore a little harmony by getting the whole team together for a dinner. The Spanish newspaper El País reported that the mood had felt more like a funeral.
So what changed, exactly, from there to Wednesday night? PSG hardly looked like a team with too much on its mind as Neymar squared the ball for Alves to open the scoring within 90 seconds of kick-off against the Bundesliga champions.
Of course, it had to be those two. Fast friends from their time together at Barcelona, they were hardly going to let events of the past few days impact on their personal relationship. Five months earlier they had been playing on opposite sides in a Champions League quarter-final. Instead of celebrating with his Juventus teammates after they had sealed a 3-0 aggregate victory, Alves went immediately to console Neymar at the end.
For all the justifiable excitement about the younger man’s arrival in Paris, we ought not to underestimate the role that Alves can play this season. He might now be 34 years old, but the full-back remains as dynamic and deadly as ever on the counter-attack.
And that is the game that PSG found themselves playing on Wednesday night. Whether by intent or as a consequence of that early lead, they soon were sitting back against Bayern, inviting the Germans’ on before sweeping forward on break-neck breakaways.
The second goal arrived from just such a circumstance, Alves feeding Kylian Mbappé down the right before the teenager span and centred the ball to Cavani, who dispatched it brilliantly into the top corner of the net.
This game had been billed as the first true test of PSG following the summer splurge that brought Neymar, Alves and Mbappé to the Parc des Princes. Not once since their takeover by Qatar Sports Investments had the French club gone beyond the Champions League quarter-finals. Here was a chance to make a statement early in the tournament against opponents who do so routinely.
PSG seized the moment emphatically, Neymar adding a third goal in the second-half. Cavani trotted over to celebrate with him, just as the Brazilian had done for his strike earlier on.
Can a team heal in one evening? Perhaps, but even then we would probably be wise to wait a little longer for confirmation. It may be that Cavani and Neymar go back to bickering by the weekend. Or it might be that they come together in pursuit of greater glory.
What we can say is that this PSG team passed its first European examination with flying colours, displaying a confidence and a cohesion - on the pitch, at least - that few would have dared to expect so soon after the summer splurge.
Supporters in Paris might feel wary of getting carried away, after seeing a 4-0 first-leg lead against Barcelona turn into a 6-5 aggregate defeat just this March. Those scars are not shared, though, by Neymar, Alves or Mbappé. If they can avoid inflicting too many fresh ones on themselves, then this group has the potential to go far.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)