UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
FC Barcelona 3-1 Paris Saint-Germain
1970 PSG Man Of The Match: Marco Verratti
Paris Saint-Germain’s air of invincibility is no more after being beaten by Barcelona 3-1 at the Camp Nou last night. The defeat is a disappointment in itself but it means the Catalans have jumped us into first place as we proceed as runners-up. Our fate is a whole lot more complex as we now face the probability of being pulled out of the hat against the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Chelsea in Monday’s last-16 draw.
Laurent Blanc named the team we thought he would. And Blaise Matuidi got the nod ahead of Javier Pastore. This was more down to giving us much needed legs in midfield and this was evident in the first-half as we pressed the Blaugrana.
The home side started the game with a back-three with two wing-backs. This is something that was not expected before kick-off. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Pedro was in fact one of the two wing-backs and to his credit put in a decent performance.
In the opening 10 minutes, Barca enjoyed plenty of the ball. We were setup in a standard flat 4-4-2 and it was working a treat. We were organised, comfortable, even though we didn’t test Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal. Lucas Moura was our best attacking outlet as he looked to run at Jeremy Mathieu as much as possible. The Frenchman struggled to deal with his pace.
It was the Brazilian who played an integral role in us taking the lead in the 15th minute. Who got the goal? Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not going to return to his former club and not make some sort of noise. LM played the ball into the box for Matudi who used his strength to hold off Gerard Pique and teed up the Swede to finish with his left foot. You could hear the roar from the top tier of that glorious stadium with the PSG supporters going wild!
The lead only last four minutes though and it could have been prevented. Javier Mascherano played a ball over the top that caught us unawares and Luis Suarez’s cross come shot was met by Lionel Messi who slid in. His job was made all the more easier as David Luiz and Salvatore Sirigu failed to see the danger, giving Messi a free shot on goal. Luiz, who has been excellent this season, should have known the little Magician was lurking behind.
Moments later, we should have been 2-1 up. Lucas squandered a glorious opportunity as he beat Mathieu for pace to meet Matuidi’s ball in the box but shot wide. Had that gone in, who know what might have transpired?
Edinson Cavani was quiet all night. He had a decent effort on goal to latch onto Zlatan’s cross but the German in goal was there to gather.
The home side completed their turnaround with a fabulous strike from Neymar. Again, could we have done better? We just backed off, giving him the space to shoot and he duly punished us. Sirigu tried his best to get a fingertip to it but to no avail.
We were never the same after that. We showed intent up to the hour mark but as soon as Marco Verratti was taken off we lost balance in midfield. They swamped us as the game wore on and the more control they had. The game was always balanced though. You felt that If we could orchestrate a counter-attack that they were there to be hurt. Lucas was our main protagonist with this as one of his jinking runs resulted in Cavani having a shot blocked heroically by Marc Bartra.
Our fate was sealed though in the 77th minute by Luis Suarez. The build-up to be fair was pure class. Lionel Messi, Xavi, Neymar and the scorer were all involved. Sirigu parried out Neymar’s shot and the former Liverpool man showed the awareness to continue his run into the box and tucked the ball away. Tired minds and legs from our point of view clearly showed.
So that is how it ended. We now face the unenvious task of meeting one of the European heavyweights in the next round.
The defeat is disappointing, of course it is. We gave as good as we got but at this level, you need to take your chances. The Lucas one could have turned the tide in our favour and we should have done better in preventing their equaliser. Any lapse in concentration, especially against a formidable side like Barcelona, you will get punished. It was another harsh European lesson for Laurent Blanc after what happened at Stamford Bridge last season.
You cannot point the blame at the coach though. He set up the team excellently and this was evident for 40 minutes in the first-half. The only question I have is why did he take off Verratti? I know he’s just regaining full match fitness but when he departed, we were inferior in midfield. Barca just took complete control in that part of the pitch and got their reward with the Suarez goal.
Win, lose or draw, PSG showed again that it is more than capable at competing with the very best. On another night, who knows what might have been? Had Lucas put the ball in the back of the net at 1-1 then things may have been different. That is why European football is a game of fine margins and we found out the hard way.