PSG vs BARCA
Birthday boy scores 2
The first few minutes of the match provided a glimpse of what PSG was going to do throughout the game. They were going to press Barcelona right from the front - employing the forward press. They were going to hurry and harry the Barca players. Unai Emery, the coach of PSG, is known for doing his homework and it seemed, he has done his homework on the day.
The tactic employed by PSG was that, they were going to outrun the Barca midfield. The latter's back four consisted of Pique and Umtiti in the center back roles, Jordi Alba in left back and Sergi Roberto in right back. Barca has an obsession about playing the ball out of the back. This is where Emery attacked them. The PSG attacking players were at the feet of the Barca defenders whenever the latter were receiving the ball. The Barca players looked ragged and tired.
It is well-known that Roberto is a weak link in the Barca defense. His ability to play the ball out is not very good and this is where PSG stifled them. As Barca were trying to play the ball from their goalkeeper, ter Stegan, to their defenders, PSG pressed them. The wingers, Di Maria and Draxler, regularly pressed the full backs of Barca, and they gave away possession easily. Nervousness crept into the Barca players as they were continuously loosing possession and were being over-run in the midfield. Di Maria struck with a beautiful free-kick in the 18th minute. The wall for the free-kick was set and a gentle push to Suarez in the wall by Kurzawa, created the gap in the wall for Di Maria to aim for, which he did successfully.
Draxer and Di Maria were often exchanging positions and it seemed this might be a very long night for Luis Enrique's Barca men. The midfield three of Barca consisted of Busquets (holding midfielder), Iniesta (left center-midfield) and Andre Gomes (right center-midfield), but it were the midfielders of PSG comprising, Rabiot, Verratti and Matuidi, who were running the show. The energy of the crowd seemed to carry onto the players of PSG and Verratti was bossing the midfield. He was tackling, running past players, spreading the play and covering for the full backs. He seemed everywhere for PSG and the Barca midfielders just could not keep up with the midfielders of the former. The selection of Gomes in place of Rakitic is bewildering and that is where all the change overs came from, PSG's left side and Barca's right side. Gomes just was not providing enough effective cover for Roberto, with both Draxler and Di Maria running at the Barca right back, whenever the chance was there. He was being torn apart, with the wingers of PSG racing past him.
40 minutes into the game, Messi picked up the ball deep in midfield and immediately, there were 3 PSG players on him, with Verratti making a crunching challenge on Messi. Just as Messi lost the possession of the ball, PSG countered and a through ball to Draxler and he smashed it past ter Stegan. 2-0, to PSG at half time. Messi could have been at fault for this, as he did not chase back, after losing the ball. This exemplifies Barca's performance for the entire night.
2-0 down in a Champions League quarter final for Barca is a much unknown territory for them. Everyone hoped a different Barca would turn up for the second half, but, the same story continued. The Barca midfield was being over-run and Luis Enrique was a spectator to this. Iniesta seems to have lost his legs, Gomes is just not good enough to be a Barca first-team player and for Busquets, it is impossible to cover so much ground. Messi was having an off day and even Suarez was missing all night. The only one of MSN, who was firing was Neymar, continuously running at the right back of PSG. Di Maria struck again with a beautiful goal past the ter Stegan and it looked like Barca was in for a hiding.
70 minutes in, Meunier dispossessing Neymar and running through the heart of Barca's midfield, with Iniesta and Busquets not having the legs to catch him, finally feeding in Cavani, who finished emphatically for 4-0. The other birthday boy made his mark on the night and celebrated with passion after his goal. Barca looked lost and wanted the game to finish as soon as possible. 73 minutes and Iniesta off and Rakitic on. Rakitic showed in the 17 minutes what Barca missed for the goal game, physical presence in the midfield.
4-0 the tie stands as of now, with the second leg scheduled at Camp Nou. It looks like a mountain to climb for Barcelona and if a different Barca as compared to the first leg does not turn up, the overall score of the tie could resemble 7-0, when Barca were thrashed by Bayern few years back. It was a changing point in Barca's history back then. Could this be one or is this the end of an era?
As soon as the ball was played to either of the two center backs for Barcelona, the PSG players pressed them. The pressing was such that the man in possession for Barcelona had to either pass to ter Stegan or Roberto at right back. This was done by either Di Maria or Draxler already covering Alba, Busquets being covered by Rabiot or Verratti and Cavani pressing on the center back. However, they initially left Ander Gomes and Roberto free to receive the ball. Thus, Barca played into the trap. As soon as Roberto received the ball, he was pressed by Draxler or Di Maria and Matuidi, with Rabiot covering Gomes.
Now in the midfield, PSG players hunted in groups. They waited for the right time and when they found the time, they jumped onto the player, be it Busquets, Iniesta, Gomes or even Messi. Cavani cut off the pass from the midfielder to the center back. The right winger of PSG cut off the pass to Alba at left back, with three PSG players pressing the Barca midfielder in possession. Verratti was terrific in doing this job of dispossessing the Barca midfielders. The PSG players played physically, which was indicated by a 3rd minute yellow card for Rabiot who was brilliant throughout the game. Whenever, Barca tried to press PSG, there was the long ball behind the Barca defence from Verratti and Roberto was no match for the pacy Draxler.
Enrique looks like a man lost, over-dependent on MSN and simply had no answer to the tactics of Unai Emery, whose passion is similar to that of Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte.