Barça came from behind to beat Paris Saint Germain 3-1 at Camp Nou tonight and clinch top spot in Champions Group F. Ex-blaugrana Zlatan Ibrahimovic shot the French team in front after 15 minutes but goals from Leo Messi, Neymar Jr and Luis Suarez turned things around for Barça who will now face either Arsenal, Manchester City, Juventus, Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk or Basel in the last 16.
There was quite a surprise when the Barça team was announced an hour before kick-off. With Dani Alves injured Luis Enrique opted for a defence of three formed by Bartra, Piqué and Mathieu. Mascherano played just in front of the defence with Busquets close by to his right and Iniesta a little further forward to the left, Messi roamed wherever he wanted behind a front three of Pedro, Suarez and Neymar.
The objective was obviously to surprise the visitors but Barça lacked order in the new formation. Busquets always struggles in a more advanced position while Iniesta had a rare off day which left Messi more or less on his own to create. Neymar had little luck against the powerful Van der Wiel, Suarez rarely got away from Thiago Silva and David Luis while Pedro was seen more supporting Bartra in defensive work.
It didn’t take long for PSG to take advantage. Ibrahimovic was dropping deep and in the 15th minute he began a move from midfield before finding Lucas Moura on the right, the Brazilian crossed low to Matuidi who held off Piqué near the six-yard box, laying the ball back for Ibrahimovic who gave Ter Stegen little chance with his low left-foot strike.
However, Barça reacted quickly and were soon level. Mascherano chipped a pass forward into the left side of the area, Suarez chased and stretched to volley the ball across the goalmouth and Messi sprinted to the far post to score past Sirigu and David Luiz on the line. It was another right-footed goal goal for the Argentinian which is becoming quite a habit, it also extended his Champions League goals total to 75 which leaves him three above Cristiano Ronaldo on 72.
Barça began to improve after the equalizer but the visitors were looking very strong with Matuidi popping up all over the place to cause problems. In the 29th minute Ibrahimovic and Cavani got the better of Piqué and Busquets, the ball came to Matuidi on the left but his cross to the near post was hit narrowly wide by Lucas Moura. Two minutes later a long ball sent Ibrahimovic free on the right, the Swede sent the ball inside to Matuidi whose low shot was saved low to his right by Ter Stegen.
There were moments of brilliance from Barça amidst the general disorder such as a blistering move in the 39th minute which ended with Iniesta finding Pedro who crossed from the right to Suarez who flashed his shot too close to Sirigu. Then a couple of minutes later Iniesta won the ball and found Neymar in the inside-left position, the Brazilian darted forward fifteen yards towards the area before unleashing a brilliant shot that curled just inside the far post.
Barça were somewhat fortunate to go in 2-1 ahead at half-time and PSG came out strongly after the break in search of an equalizer. It nearly came in the 53rd minute after Lucas Moura broke in from the right past Mathieu and Piqué, a tremendous scramble developed with Lucas, Canavi and Matuidi all trying to force the ball in and Ter Stegen, and Bartra twice, preventing them.
PSG continued to push forward and Barça needed strong performances from Bartra and Mascherano to prevent Ter Stegen being troubled again. Luis Enrique switched the formation back to 4-3-3 half-way through the second period when Rakitic replaced Pedro and Mascherano dropped into defence. Busquets immediately looked more comfortable in his natural position and Messi moved to the right wing.
Barça looked more dominant in the final stages with Xavi coming on in place of Iniesta. The third goal came in the 79th minute after good work from Rakitic, Messi and Suarez, the ball came to Xavi on the edge of the area and he slipped it left for Neymar to shoot, Sirigu stretched to parry the shot but Suarez was following up to score from the rebound. Messi might have added another near the end but his shot flashed just wide of the post while PSG’s final effort came with an Ibrahimovic free-kick which produced jeers from the Camp Nou crowd as it flew over the bar.
It is easy to criticise the general lack of order to Barça’s game tonight and it was certainly a risk from Luis Enrique to send out the team he did. However, this was the first time the team have started a game with a defence of three and it is good to see the intention to surprise the opposition. It may not have been the ideal game to try out new things but the risk paid off in the end. There is work to be done but having different options should be seen positively.
Barça: (3-4-3) Ter Stegen 6.5; Bartra 7.5 (Adriano m92, –), Piqué 6.5, Mathieu 6; Mascherano 8, Busquets 6, Iniesta 5.5 (Xavi m73, 6.5), Messi 7; Pedro 7 (Rakitic m67, 6.5), Suarez 6.5, Neymar 6.
Paris SG: (4-3-1-2) Sirigu; Van der Wiel, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Maxwell; Veratti (m62 Pastore), Motta, Matuidi (Lavezzi m73); Ibrahimovc; Lucas Moura, Cavani.
Goals: m15 Ibrahimovic 0-1, m18 Messi 1-1, m41 Neymar 2-1, m79 Suarez 3-1.
Yellow card: m57 Cavani.