UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 FC Barcelona
1970 PSG Man Of The Match: Javier Pastore / David Luiz
The euphoria at the final whistle last night was nothing short of spine tingling. Paris Saint-Germain as a club realised that it had achieved one of the most significant victories in its history. Barcelona with arguably the greatest player of all time in Lionel Messi were beaten 3-2 in a game that will be remembered for one of the bravest performances by a French club in Europe. It was a stunning advert for the sport. Two teams that put on a spectacle for the world to embrace and in the end Les Parisiens came out on top. This was the real Paris Saint-Germain that came to the fore. Not the one that has been putting in half-hearted displays domestically. The big game mentality set in, Laurent Blanc got his tactics spot on and PSG can now look at the Group F table with a wry smile. We now sit top with two back to back games against APOEL coming up where we can more or less seal our place into the last-16.
Before the game, there was speculation that Blanc would set out his team in a 4-3-1-2. That did indeed turn out to be the case in the early sparring of the match. Lucas Moura played as a second striker off Edinson Cavani before drifting out wide. Javier Pastore was in the number 10 role just behind with a three man midfield consisting of the usual suspects; Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta. In defence David Luiz and Marquinhos continued at centre-back with the full-backs Maxwell and Gregory Van der Wiel returning from their rest at Toulouse.
Right from the get go we looked like a team that was drilled and organised. Everybody knew their role, they were disciplined and the desire they showed was exceptional. When Barcelona were in possession our players got back into their positions whilst pressing the Catalans when they had the chance. We allowed them to keep the ball in areas that were not a threat to us and then sensing the danger when we needed to.
The opening 15 minutes just flew by. We took the lead in the 10th minute and it was David Luiz who got it to register his first goal in Parisian blue. Lucas played a lovely ball into the box from a freekick which the big haired Brazilian did exceptionally well to control (and to hold off Javier Mascherano) before slotting the ball home like a centre forward. His celebration told the story! He was absolutely thrilled and he deserved that goal after an impressive start to his career in Paris.
However the Catalans soon equalised within 90 seconds with a truly exceptional goal. One touch passing between Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi resulted in the Argentine scoring at the Parc once again with a beautiful finish past Salvatore Sirigu. It was a typical Barca goal that we could not do too much about. If we were to be overly critical Verratti could have stuck with Iniesta’s run into the box but that would be harsh. The interplay was that slick it just cut us apart. Messi in that first-half by the way put on a show at times.
The Blaugrana enjoyed spells of possession after that but we stood firm and hit them a number of times on the counter-attack. Pastore and Lucas were our outlets all night. Everything in an attacking sense was orchestrated by the pair of them. Lucas had Jordi Alba ran ragged at one point. His electric pace was too much for the men in yellow.
Then we saw the unimaginable as Verratti headed home a corner to put us into a 2-1 lead. Little Marco had never scored for Les Parisiens and here he was doing it against Barcelona, from a corner, with his head. Just cannot write scripts like that! The Italian was overjoyed and coach Laurent Blanc was shaking his head with a massive smile on his face as he couldn’t believe it himself. It was a special moment that, one to embrace.
Standard Marco though, within moments of scoring he was booked for hacking down Iniesta. Nevertheless, he was fantastic for the 70 minutes he was on the pitch. The kind of performance that will aid him to eventually become a world class central midfielder.
Paris started to play with swagger at long last and doing it against world class opposition. There were spells of possession. The interplay was sharp and crisp. It was just an absolute joy to watch. As I said earlier this was the real Paris Saint-Germain on show. If only they could play like this in the league!
After the interval we were soon in dreamland as the engine that is Matuidi put us 3-1 up to nearly send the Parc into orbit. Lucas and Pastore again involved with El Flaco playing a through ball to VDW who put in a delicious ball towards the back post for Matuidi to score. Everything to do with that goal just reeked off class. Van der Wiel, one of our most underrated players, could not have produced a better assist.
But again Barca hit straight back, this time via Neymar. The Brazilian’s finish was taken with aplomb as we failed to deal with a Dani Alves cross.
But for the remaining 30+ minutes we dug in, getting men behind the ball. We hit them on the counter-attack and so many times it was orchestrated by Pastore. He at this moment in time, along with Lucas, is our most important player in attack. I just cannot help but look on in glee at this Pastore. How he has turned his career around this season is remarkable. The confidence is just oozing out of his pours.
Lucas too is really showing why so much was invested in him. For as good as he is in attack when he’s on song, his tracking back is astonishingly good as well. He won his fair share of tackles that Thiago Motta would have been proud of.
The defence was so solid. I have not seen a PSG back-four like this for a while and the skipper Thiago Silva is going to have his work cut out in getting back into it because the Luiz/Marquinhos partnership was the bedrock for the victory. Marquinhos made a world class block to deny Jordi Alba a certain goal before celebrating it as if he scored a winner. That was a special moment too, a defining one of the victory.
He may have won a league title and a Coupe de la Ligue, but this is Laurent Blanc’s biggest win so far during his tenure. He needed his team to perform after the negativity throughout the past few weeks and how they did. Words cannot do it justice. Every single one of them in a navy blue shirt played their hearts out.
I will say it again, this is the real Paris Saint-Germain.