"In 95 minutes, anything can happen."
"Of course, lots of things have happened since the first leg. We have improved and have put in some good performances. We are optimistic by nature and convinced of what we can do," said an optimistic Luis Enrique ahead of the Paris Saint-Germain clash.
And Enrique turned out to be spot on! On a night where all PSG had to do was not concede five goals against Barcelona away from home, they ended up conceding six. 6-1 was the score when the referee blew the final whistle at the majestic Camp Nou — the place where Manchester United scored two late goals to win the Champions League in 1999.
Barcelona entered the field like a hungry wolf and gave themselves every chance of achieving the seemingly impossible whereas PSG had to shield their goal and look for counter-attacks to try and bury the contest. However, the home side took the lead inside three minutes, taking advantage of indecisive defending from the French giants. Luis Suarez headed from close range to take the first step in the comeback. On the other hand, PSG's backline was chaotic and out of touch.
PSG's initial plan was to stay compact and contain the 'MSN' trio — Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez — but they were shaky when they had possession. They got men behind the ball rather than pressing high to stop Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta from creating chances. The Spanish champions, however, continued to target the right flank and found the net again five minutes from half-time, thanks to a goof-up in the six-yard box which led PSG left-back Layvin Kurzawa to bundle the ball into his own net. That summed up the first half for the Parisians.
Once Sir Alex Ferguson said, "Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles," which is still relevant even in modern football despite the high tempo of the game.
Nothing was going well for Paris outfit as the mighty Catalans had the done the damage already and things were just getting worse. It's not for the first time that PSG's backline have been so vulnerable, leaking goals so easily. Their struggles in Ligue 1 suggests that they have not been up to the mark defensively, losing twice as many league games as they did last season.
PSG failed to complete a single take-on in the first half vs. Barcelona.
Counter attack coming undone. pic.twitter.com/1SfV7nFKeO
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 8, 2017
However against Enrique's men, it was PSG's midfield that invited the danger, leaving defenders disorganised as Barcelona went 3-0 up just three minutes after the restart. Meunier brought Neymar down in the penalty box and Lionel Messi slotted from 12 yards to triple their score. It was here when the electrifying Barcelona fans got behind the players and believed that they could pull off a miraculous comeback only to see PSG deliver the sucker punch just after the hour-mark. Edinson Cavani volleyed the ball straight into Ter Stegen's goal to give the Parisians a sigh of relief.
Despite scoring the away goal, PSG embarrassed themselves in the second half. They were clearly bereft of desire and the intent to make a difference. The onus was on Barcelona as they needed to score three more. That Cavani goal did ease the pressure off PSG's shoulder but Barcelona responded in kind. Yet again, Emery's side was left exposed, allowing Barcelona to pull off the unthinkable. Neymar netted a free-kick in the 88th-minute and found the back of the net again, this time from the spot in the 91st minute to ignite Barcelona's hopes.
In the last three minutes of the game, Barcelona attacked from every angle possible and PSG had to just clear the dangerous-looking through balls, but unfortunately they succumbed to some brilliant gameplay in the final third. Starman Neymar lobbed the ball towards Kevin Trapp's goal, finding substitute Sergi Roberto, who beat the offside trap to complete one of the most incredible victories. Barcelona qualified for the last eight for a record 10th consecutive campaign.
The game did have some tricky refereeing decisions which arguably cost PSG's place in the quarter-final, including two dives from Suarez and a penalty in the first-half. "We were calmer in the second half and better positioned. We improved and had a chance for 3-2. The refereeing decisions went against us and we lost everything in the closing minutes," said Emery after the final whistle.
That Suárez dive for the second penalty will get lost in the celebrations but, you know.. it made a massive difference. — Andrew Gaffney (@GaffneyVLC) March 8, 2017
According to Squawka, Barcelona took six shots and scored three goals after the 85th minute, while PSG completed just four passes in the last 10 minutes out of which three came from kick-off situations.
It wasn't just PSG's leaky defence but also Emery's tactics that amplified their problems on the pitch. In a game where his team needed high defensive mobility, Emery took the gamble of attempting to kill the game with his attack. He replaced Angel di Maria with Lucas Moura due to the former's dip in form. The Argentine is no longer the same player he was last season, when he enjoyed the best season of his career in terms of goals. It was evident against Barcelona's 3-4-3, where he found it difficult to pick Cavani's runs and missed out on scoring just after Cavani did.
Emery, who guided Sevilla to Europa League success in three consecutive years before the PSG move, had already received a lot of criticism for his unwillingness to make early substitutions or change formation mid-match earlier. But it was bewildering to see Emery not include 21-year-old Presnel Kimpembe in the starting lineup who played brilliantly in the reverse fixture in Paris or start with Serge Aurier, who is more physical than Meunier. Also, to break the opposition's play, Blaise Matuidi or Adrien Rabiot could have been replaced by Grzegorz Krychowiak in the second half. Amidst the could-haves and should-haves, PSG choked under pressure and the tired legs could do nothing but witness a disaster happening in no time.
With this debacle, PSG will not appear in a fifth straight quarter-final in Europe's elite club competition. However, his position in the club hangs in the balance as they are now placed second in the Ligue 1, two points behind leaders Monaco. Failure to win any silverware this year could see him be dismissed from his role after taking over the club just nine months ago.
After the match, Emery accepted PSG had missed a golden opportunity.
"The first half was our fault and we didn't manage to press or do things with the ball. We defended very deep and they had more chances to score. We made mistakes for the two first-half goals."
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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2017 12:37:50 IST