They went in the favorites. They came out shell shocked. It’s the St. Valentine’s massacre. And how!
Luis Enrique’s team had knocked Paris Saint-Germain out of the competition in 2013 and 2015. This Valentine’s day, the hunter was hunted. Quite simply, the Parisians carved out the Blaugrana and laid them out for the world to watch. The football fraternity is in shock. Not for the defeat. But how it was achieved. There is no hiding for the Catalan giants. They were humbled and humiliated. At the expense of the most glorified winners of Europe’s premier club competition in the last decade, PSG have a foot, head and both hands in the quarterfinals of UEFA Champions League.
They were better than us from the start and put us under pressure. We couldn’t get out of it. We were obviously inferior tonight — Luis Enrique
Damn right, Lucho.
Barcelona are on their way to exit the competition at this stage for the first time since 2007. That time it was at the hands of Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool.
A Season of Struggle
The joy that Barcelona fans derived from their team every season, the one that was granted, was missing all along. In no competition did Barcelona truly establish their pedigree. Take the La Liga for example. Having played two matches more, they lie a point adrift off Real Madrid. The only team from the top six in the La Liga they have beaten was Sevilla. And how did that come about?
A moment of Messi magic. Again.
On Barça-esque levels, the season has been a struggle. It hasn’t just been against the big ones. Barcelona have dropped point against those they usually run riot. Yes, the Catalans are in the final of the Copa del Rey. But it had an element of luck and a wasteful Atletico Madrid that ensured a nervy passage to the finals. In the group stages of the Champions League, the 3–1 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad was a shocker. The last 30 minutes was alarming. The cracks were visible. Fans were concerned. Now that PSG mauled the Catalans, the struggle is there for all to see. It’s too early to call it the end of an era. But Blaugrana and Luis Enrique are caught with their pants down.
Barcelona without MSN firing is like Thor without his hammer.
The Catalans are over reliant on the attacking brilliance of Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. It’s often the Messi magic that bails them out. When the Argentine has been injured, the other two have delivered. The triumvirate are talented to win matches on their own. Each elegant and fluidic. No debate needed here. But what is beyond?
Plan A — Messi
Plan B — Suarez and Neymar
Plan C — Huh
For all the brilliance of the South American exports, their defensive contribution is alarmingly low. I guess if you can score at will, then that doesn’t count. Or does it? The more pressing issue on the downside of the MSN trio, though not their fault, is that the team lacks a collective identity. It shouldn’t be the case because it’s a team littered with world class talent.
The rest of the Barcelona players are unable to pull their weight. That’s were Barça are struggling. When PSG attacked and pressed, the Catalans lost their shape and composure. They looked like they had run out of ideas. Luis Enrqiue not using all his substitutes spoke volumes.
The struggle is real.
Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic are perhaps having the worst season of their careers. Busquets, who is the finest in the world at his job was made to look average by PSG. Even the mighty Andrés Iniesta has not been himself. I suppose there is only so much a man can do. The Spaniard is 33 and still exhibits his class on the pitch. The captain has been let down by his team. There’s a question that will linger after the defeat. It was always there. But now it’s going to be persistent. What after Iniesta? The thing is the likes of Denis Suarez, André Gomes and Rafina are yet to offer the promise. Soon Barça will have to bring in a direct replacement. Coutinho, ahem!
What I am saying is this. Behind the MSN excellence lies trouble that Luis Enrique must address.
After getting knocked out by their opponents in 2013 and 2015, it seemed the Catalans had the Parisians in their pocket. PSG were handicapped by missing Thiago Silva to injury and Thiago Motta to suspension. The Parisians were always the underdog here. Any PSG fan would have been content with a nil-nil result. It would still give them a fighting chance heading into Camp Nou. But in the romantic capital of the world, PSG delivered the best valentine’s gift for their faithful. It seemed liked the reserved their best for the best.
The PSG was decisive, fast and hard working. Barcelona, drained, slow, and lost. The midfield of Blaise Matuidi, Adrian Rabiot and Marco Verratti went at the opposition with confidence and energy. They dismantled Barcelona’s. The Parisians were passing the ball and creating chances like it was a practice session. They had space and time to wreck havoc. That’s what they did. The defense choked MSN trio who were pressed and bullied, their team, embarrassed. Barcelona had a solitary shot on target. While on the other end, PSG making an art of attacking football. Each goal was better than the previous.
Messi had no touches in the penalty box. Nada.
For Paris Saint-Germain, match winners were in plenty. Julian Draxler has been a revelation. He scored on his Ligue 1 debut, and now on his European debut for PSG. The second goal was a confident strike from the German. But all marks for team effort here. PSG pressed and robbed Barça off the ball. Draxler, clinical with the finish. Angel Di Maria’s second of the night was sublime. And that attack started right from their goal-keeper Kevin Trapp. But for me, the best of the night was Edison Cavani’s. My word, that was a top class finish on the run. It had me jumping up from the couch, spilling beer all over myself. That was the final nail in the Catalan coffin that would leave Paris.
Oh, and Adrien Rabiot. The first time I head the name was a few years back when he was rumored to be scouted by Arsenal. I guess its staple for an exciting young French prospect to be linked with Arsene Wenger. If the Arsenal manager was interested, I figured Rabiot must be good. Against Barcelona he cemented that. Rabiot is just 21. In a few years time he might well turn out to be one of the best midfielders of his generation. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Barcelona themselves sign this talent down the line.
There’s quality in the Parisian club. Then there is Unai Emery, a man who has done wonders on tighter budgets. One who is all familiar to Barcelona. It was just his second victory over the Catalan heavyweights in 24 attempts. This will be right up there with the three Europa League triumphs with Sevilla. It was a night to celebrate the brilliance of the manager. One that he thoroughly deserved.
The crowd in Paris turned up. As the mighty Barça crumbled under the relentless determination of the hosts, the noise level at Parc des Princes reached deafening proportions. It was a night PSG fans will cherish. It’s exactly the performance from the team the ambitious Qatari owners envisioned to propel the club among the European elite.
One should not write off Barcelona — The most glorious team of the 21st century. But history weighs on them. No team have turned around a 4 goal deficit from the first leg of the Champions League knockouts. The Catalans have at least 90 minutes and 90,000 fans roaring behind them to make history. Attack they must! But that attack will leave them vulnerable for PSG to dissect them again. Luis Enrique has a lot to address.
Anyone brave enough to bet on Barcelona making through?