There was to be no miracle in Barcelona last night as Paris Saint-Germain bowed out of the quarter-final of the Champions League for a third successive year. Neymar’s brace gave the hosts a comfortable 2-0 victory on the night which sent us crashing out 5-1 on aggregate.
There can be no complaints from a Parisian perspective. The superior team went through over the 180 minutes played. The Catalans now stand as good a chance as any to win the whole competition.
It was disappointing from our perspective that we were unable to perform anywhere near the level we are capable of. The damage was evidently done in the first-leg which did not give the lads any sort of belief last night. It was as if they knew they would be bowing out right from kick-off. Soon as Neymar netted the opener it drained the life out of them and to be honest, we were fortunate to go in at the break 2-0 down because Barca could have turned the screw if they really wanted to.
Laurent Blanc utilised a 4-3-1-2 formation with Javier Pastore playing just behind the two front men in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edisnon Cavani. We were overrun in midfield and could not cope with Barca’s passing. Even when we got the ball they pressed us each and every time. There was no let up.
The opening goal came in the 14th minute. We just capitulated as Andres Iniesta ghosted past Yohan Cabaye, Edinson Cavnai and Marco Verratti as if they were nothing more than shadows before sliding the ball through for Neymar. The Brazilian was so composed and used his acceleration to get away from David Luiz before rounding Salvatore Sirigu to finish. It was ruthless from the Catalans! Yet we made it a literal walk in the park for them as Iniesta cut through us at ease.
If the defending there was bad, the second goal trumped it. Maxwell failed to stop the cross from Dani Alves and there was an unmarked Neymar to head past SS. Luiz was at fault here as he just completely lost his man. It was majorly poor from him, especially as he knew Gregory Van der Wiel was covering a player behind.
Heads were down. The lads just did not want to be there but at least after the interval they kept Barca at bay. The Blaugrana were showing mercy I think because they could have upped the ante if they wanted to but the job was done.
Lucas Moura – who should have started in my opinion – came on for 25 minutes and did more than most in a Parisian shirt over the two legs. Verratti was the only one last night who can be pleased with his performance. The rest did not do themselves justice in all honesty. Pastore tried to have an influence on proceedings but kept giving the ball away. Yohan Cabaye offered very little yet again and Blaise Matuidi could not get in the game either despite his efforts. The two front men up top were anonymous bar a late flurry from Ibra.
Nevertheless, I said it on Twitter last night. For a club like ours that lacks a European Cup pedigree, reaching three successive quarter-finals is not bad at all. We were up against an elite side that are a cut above most in Europe along with the Bayern Munichs and Real Madrids of this world – possibly even Juventus. Our starting-XI when fully fit is as good as any in Europe but the lack of depth in the squad came back to haunt us. FFP sanctions last summer played havoc on our recruitment so the task now is to rectify a few things in the upcoming window. The squad needs freshening up and hopefully come this time next season we will have the opportunity to get into the semi-final for the first time since the mid-90’s.
We have proved we can match some of Europe’s best this season. There is still a way to go though! As for the rest of the campaign, the domestic treble is still very much alive which would be a magnificent achievement!