Barça coasted into the Champions League semi-finals with a 2-0 win over Paris Saint Germain tonight which completes an overall aggregate score of 5-1. Neymar Jr scored both goals in a wonderful first 45 minutes from Luis Enrique’s men, inspired by the dazzling feet of Andrés Iniesta. Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich join Barça in Friday’s semi-final draw and tomorrow the other two teams will be decided from the Madrid-Atlético and Monaco-Juventus ties.
Despite the healthy 1-3 advantage from the first leg Luis Enrique was taking no risks, putting out what for many is his Champions League once de gala of Ter Stegen, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suárez and Neymar. Barça were immediately in control, playing an energetic high press which kept PSG pinned back in their own half for long periods.
Barça’s domination was not converted into any chances until the 13th minute when Messi’s shot was blocked after Neymar’s one-two with Iniesta. A minute later Iniesta was involved again, but this time to devastating effect. Receiving the ball 35 yards from his own goal he turned skilfully away from Cabaye before a quick change of pace took him dancing deliciously away from the challenges of Cavani and Verratti. Camp Nou roared its approval but Iniesta hadn’t finished yet. He sped forward gracefully until 30 yards from PSG’s goal he slipped a pass forward to Neymar who escaped David Luiz’s attention and skipped round Sirigu to score into an empty net.
Zlatan ibrahimovic had the ball in Barça’s net four minutes later but he was correctly ruled to be offside, and besides this there was very little seen of the French side in attack. Barça’s intensity didn’t drop and there were constant recuperations of the ball in PSG’s half with Busquets looking very sharp. Dani Alves was also having an impressive game on the right, sending in one cross for Suárez to knock down for Messi who then hooked a shot over, and soon after firing a tremendous drive from 25 yards that Sirigu dived well to save, Neymar followed up with a header that the keeper also stopped.
Neymar and Iniesta continued to connect well on the left. In the 29th minute the Brazilian’s flick sent the Barça captain off on another splendid run into the area but this time there were too many defenders. Five minutes later the danger was back on the right. Alves dribbled inside past Maxwell before chipping an a delightful left-foot cross to find Neymar free in the middle to head past Sirigu for his second of the night, his sixth in the 2014/15 Champions League and his 30th Barça goal of the season.
With the overall score standing at 5-1 Barça concentrated on controlling the game and reserving energy. There were no problems for Ter Stegen before half time and during the break Luis Enrique decided to reserve Iniesta and give 45 minutes to Xavi in his place. If the first half had been excellent, the second half would best be described as intelligent.
Sergi Roberto was soon on as well, in place of Busquets. The youngster put in another good shift and there seems a new trend in recent weeks of him being given more opportunites where previously Rafinha was preferred. Barça’s intensity dropped a little which allowed PSG the chance to push further forward. There were a few attempts on Ter Stegen’s goal but Barça defended with discipline to keep the danger at a distance. PSG’s best effort came in the 73rd minute with an Ibrahimovic bullet that Ter Stegen beat away but by this point the tie was as good as over.
At the other end Messi tried a few runs with little luck, but Sirigu’s only saves in the second half came early from Rakitic’s low drive and Messi’s underhit chip. Pedro got 15 minutes at the end in place of Suárez and Barça nearly added a third goal in injury time when Alba’s long ball was nicely touched back by Pedro to Messi who went for the kill but fired his shot just wide of the post.
This was another good win in what is turning into a very good season. Just compare it to how much we suffered two years ago at the same stage against the same team when we only scraped through on away goals. Particularly encouraging tonight was the form of Alves, Busquets, Iniesta and Neymar. None of the first three could be said to be having a vintage season so it is great to see them hitting form at exactly the right time, while Neymar is back scoring again with four in the last four games after his mini-drought of six games without a goal.
Barça: Ter Stegen 7; Alves 8, Piqué 7, Mascherano 7.5, Alba 7; Rakitic 7.5, Busquets 8 (Sergi Roberto m53, 6.5), Iniesta 8.5 (Xavi h/t, 6.5); Messi 7, Suárez 6.5 (Pedro m75, 6.5), Neymar 8.5.
PSG: Sirigu; Van der Wiel, Marquinhos, David Luiz, Maxwell; Cabaye (Lucas Moura m66), Verratti, Matuidi (Rabiot m80); Pastore, Cavani (Lavezzi m80), Ibrahimovic,
Goals: m14 Neymar 1-0, m34 Neymar 2-0.
Yellow cards: m3 David Luiz.