Barça took a big step towards the Champions League semi-finals with a 1-3 victory over Paris Saint Germain in the first leg of the quarter-final at the Parc des Princes tonight. Neymar Jr opened the scoring after 18 minutes before two second half goals from a lethal Luis Suárez gave Barça a three-goal lead. Gregory Van der Wiel grabbed a late consolation to give the French side a glimmer of hope going into next Tuesday’s second leg at Camp Nou.
It’s fair to say that PSG were weakened by the absences of Ibrahimovic, Veratti and Motta but a club with such financial resources should seemingly have a big enough squad to suffer such losses less. Whatever PSG’s problems, it should take nothing away from an excellent Barça performance which brought to an end the Parisiens’ unbeaten home record in Europe which stretches back 33 games to 2006.
The contrasting styles of the two sides was evident from the first minute when Barça’s high press led to a quick three-against-three counter from the home team. Barça were cautious in possession while PSG sat back and it might be fair to say there was more danger early on for both teams when PSG had the ball, as Barça threatened a quick recuperation of the ball and PSG threatened the quick break.
The first decent attack came from the home team in the eighth minute after a good combination between Maxwell and Matuidi on the left. Matuidi sent in a dangerous low cross but the ex-Barça left-back miscued his shot wide. Barça responded six minutes later when Neymar found Messi on the edge of the area. As against Almeria and Sevilla the Argentinian looked to curl his shot just inside the post but his execution this time was just off perfect and the ball bounced out off the post.
With Messi moving infield leaving Montoya alone on the right, Barça concentrated on attacking down the left. In the 18th minute Iniesta played the ball inside to Messi who took the ball in his stride before releasing Neymar to his left. The Brazilian had got goal-side of Van der Wiel but Maxwell played him onside. As Sirigu came out Neymar slipped his shot under the keeper’s dive to put Barça ahead.
PSG’s woes were increased soon after when Thiago Silva was forced off with an injury and David Luiz, back remarkably soon after his injury, came on in his place. Barça were looking very comfortable and Neymar might have added a second goal after a stylish dribble in from the left but his shot lacked power and Sirigu dived to make an easy save.
At times Barça looked brilliant but there were occasional errors that inevitably led to PSG counters. Mascherano needed to make an excellent tackle to deny Cavani a chance but it wasn’t until the 35th minute that Ter Stegen needed to make a relatively simple save from Cavani’s near post flick. At the other end Suárez robbed David Luiz but his attempted chip lacked height, though Sirigu appeared in some discomfort after making the save. The half ended with a scissor-kick wide from Cavani but Barça had generally looked strong in defence and the 0-1 half-time score seemed to fairly reflect the two teams’ merits.
PSG began the second half strongly and Ter Stegen was soon in action making a difficult save after Pastore’s 25-yard shot bounced awkwardly in front of him. Soon after, Pastore robbed Iniesta near the Barça area and Adrien Rabiot fired a low shot straight at Ter Stegen. Iniesta was injured in the challenge and needed to be stretchered off but his replacement, Xavi, came on to remind everyone of his qualities in controlling a game.
With Xavi in the midfield Barça began to dominate again. To some Barça’s style of keep-ball may appear to lack direction as the ball goes from side to side, forward then back, then back over to the other side again. But the process wears down the opposition and sooner or later the chances arrive. There had been nothing to test Sirigu’s shoulder injury, then in the 67th minute Suárez received the ball from Montoya on the right, knocked the ball through David Luiz’s legs, cut inside Marquinhos, and while holding off Maxwell’s challenge, poked the ball past Sirigu at the near post.
PSG nearly pulled a goal straight back. Maxwell won a corner on the left and when the cross came in Xavi only half headed clear and Cavani whipped a shot back in from 15 yards that Ter Stegen did brilliantly to save by the post. Mathieu came on for Rakitic to add height in defence for the final minutes while Mascherano moved into midfield. In the 79th minute Suárez played a one-two with Mascherano before again knocking the ball through David Luiz’s legs before beating Sirigu with a corker of a shot into the top corner.
Adriano came on for Montoya but soon after PSG pulled a goal back when Van der Wiel’s volley from the right was deflected past Ter Stegen by Mathieu’s slice as he attempted to clear. In the final minutes the game looked closer to a 1-4 than a 2-3 though there was one final PSG attack in the 89th minute but Adriano got a tackle in on Lavezzi, then Mathieu made a good block on Cavani before Matuidi mis-hit his shot.
All in all this was a very good performance and an excellent result to take to the second leg next week. The dream of a treble is just a little bit closer though we would be foolish to believe the tie is over. Now we must hope the team maintains this form for the visit of Valencia to Camp Nou in La Liga on Saturday.
PSG: Sirigu; Van der Wiel, Thiago Silva (David Luiz m21), Marquinhos, Maxwell; Rabiot (Lucas Moura m65), Cabaye, Matuidi; Pastore; Cavani, Lavezzi.
Barça: Ter Stegen 7; Montoya 6.5 (Adriano m80, 6.5), Piqué 7.5, Mascherano 8, Alba 7; Rakitic 6.5 (Mathieu m74, 6), Busquets 6.5, Iniesta 6.5 (Xavi m53, 7.5); Messi 7.5, Suárez 8.5, Neymar 8.
Goals: m18 Neymar 0-1, m67 Suárez 0-2, m79 Suárez 0-3, m82 Van der Wiel 1-3
Yellow cards: m32 Piqué, m37 Cabaye, m54 Messi