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UEFA Champions League: FC Barcelona 1-1 PSG: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain, which was enough to see the Blaugrana qualify for their sixth successive UEFA Champions League semi-final

David Ramos

FC Barcelona may have left it late, but thanks to Pedro Rodriguez’ 71st minute equaliser, the Blaugrana progressed to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for a sixth successive season. Paris Saint-Germain were poised to eliminate Barça after Javier Pastore’s strike put Carlo Ancelotti’s team ahead on 50 minutes, but with Lionel Messi entering the action after the hour-mark, Barcelona pressed forward in search of an equaliser, and ultimately Pedro’s goal was richly deserved. After all, given the officiating in the first-leg, few will argue that the Blaugrana didn’t deserve to progress.






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Lionel Messi may have rejoined training yesterday, but the Argentine superstar was forced to settle for a place on the bench as Tito Vilanova opted to keep Cesc Fàbregas in the centre of attack. Fàbregas was joined upfront by David Villa and Pedro, who – along with Adriano – started on his return from injury. Paris Saint-Germain on the other hand made just two changes to the XI that started last week’s 2-2 draw, as Blaise Matuidi and David Beckham dropped out of starting line-up meaning that Italian duo, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti got a chance to shine on Spanish soil. Could Barcelona overcome Messi’s slight injury and book their place in the semi-finals, or would PSG shock the world with a win at the Camp Nou?

Of course, this is the first time in nigh-on twenty years that Paris Saint-Germain have reached the quarter-finals and as such, nerves were to be expected. The Camp Nou isn’t the loudest stadium in Europe, but it’s an intimidating place to visit, especially when you take Barcelona’s home record into consideration. The Blaugrana know how to stretch opposing defenses, how to use each and every inch of the Camp Nou field to their advantage; they know exactly what they need to do to secure their place in the next round. So, you could forgive some of the PSG players for their start to the game. In particular, Marco Verratti. The talented Italian was left on the bench for the first meeting between the two sides as Carlo Ancelotti opted for the experience of David Beckham. For the most part, it worked out well for the Parisians; so why change it? Ancelotti may have asked himself the same question as within a minute, Verratti had fouled Cesc Fàbregas, gifting the hosts with a free-kick in a dangerous position.

In the absence of Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s captain for the evening, Xavi, fancied his chances – and he very nearly delivered, coming within inches of Salvatore Sirigu’s near-post with a magnificent curling effort. It would have been a dream start for the Blaugrana, who were clearly not contenting themselves with their away goals "lead". And who would have? With Adriano filling in at centre-half, Barcelona’s defense was arguably at the weakest it had been all season; we all knew that PSG would create chances as a result.

The first "chance" of the night for the visitors fell to Ezequiel Lavezzi, as the visitors looked to establish their counter-attacking threat, but the Argentine blazed his shot over the bar wasting a perfectly good chance to put PSG in the lead. Maybe Lavezzi was feeling a little nervous, maybe even anxious after last week’s 2-2 draw in which he was the first PSG player to be substituted? Lavezzi even had another chance to break free just moments later, but he was beaten to the ball by Gerard Piqué – who is hardly renowned for his athleticism. Barça’s defense wasn’t providing much resistance, but be that as it may, PSG were struggling to take advantage.

As per usual, Barcelona were retaining the bulk of possession, although it was frighteningly obvious that they were missing their top-scorer. Without Lionel Messi, the onus fell on Andrés Iniesta to act as the "livewire" in the Barça attack – and while it’s a role that Iniesta performs well, there’s no replacement for Messi. Iniesta was able to dance past defenders and feed his teammates with good passes, but he wasn’t able to get his shots off at goal in the same manner that Messi can. So, even though Barcelona had mustered 11 shots in less than half-an-hour, they were yet to force Sirigu into action as both Thiago Silva and Alex threw themselves at every single Barça attempt. And as they blocked the Barcelona shots, PSG gained possession, ready to take the game to the Blaugrana on the counter-attack.

The Camp Nou was getting anxious. Aside from Xavi’s free-kick in the game’s opening stages, the majority of the chances were being created at the wrong end and if not for Victor Valdés, Barcelona would have certainly fallen behind. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the creator, threading a nice through ball past the Barça defense to find the run of Lavezzi; but the Argentine again couldn’t capitalise. Of course, he isn’t your typical centre-forward, but he knew he should have done better as his shot was directed straight at Valdés. Lucas Moura nearly atoned for his colleague’s miss with an impressive header at the far post after yet another superb pass from Ibra but the Brazilian prodigy was also denied by Valdés. Even if his defense wasn’t up to the task, Valdés was determined to keep his team in this tie.

Paris Saint-Germain continued to press forward in search of an opener, they obviously needed a goal to progress to the semi-finals; as much as we pondered whether or not Messi should make an appearance, it was worth remembering that all the pressure was on PSG. They might not have been expected to progress at Barça’s expense, but the only pressure on Barcelona was that they couldn’t afford to lose. So, despite PSG’s relative dominance, Barcelona must have been content headed into the half-time interval; as it stood, the Blaugrana were just 45 minutes away from progressing to their sixth successive semi-final.

Neither manager made a change at the break, and consequently, it didn’t take long for PSG to pick up exactly where they left off in the first-half – creating chances in abundance, although this time, they wouldn’t be so wasteful in front of goal. And honestly, a goal had been coming; Lavezzi could and probably should have converted one of his chances in the first-half, while Lucas also went close. Yet again, it was the PSG counter-attack that was causing Barcelona problems as Javier Pastore exchanged a one-two with Ibrahimovic, surging clear of Alves in the process. Despite his best efforts, the Brazilian couldn’t recover in time, and Pastore kept his composure to slot the ball past Victor Valdés at the near-post and give PSG the lead. Barcelona were now 40 minutes from crashing out of the UEFA Champions League.

Lionel Messi immediately readied himself; even with an injury, he seemed to be the only player capable of turning this game round in Barça’s favour. Without him on the field, the attack seemed almost lost; and without an attack, our defensive frailties would surely prove to be our downfall. But before Messi could enter the fray, Adriano would go down clutching his leg; even this makeshift defense couldn’t stay healthy. Marc Bartra was the replacement, and finally, with less than a half-an-hour to weave his magic, Messi joined the action.

Immediately, the team grew in confidence. They may have created next to nothing without Leo on the field, but now he was on, well, it was almost like they remembered what they had to do. Players were moving off the ball, the tempo was raised in the final third and for the first-time in the match, PSG were forced back into their own area. Gerard Piqué forced yet another superb block from Alex, and while Messi could only come close to capitalising on the loose ball, Iniesta followed it up with a shot of his own, which was also blocked. The pressure was building, and with Messi on the field, the Camp Nou crowd believed. They knew their side was going to turn this tie around.

And of course, Lionel Messi would be at the forefront of this charge, supplying David Villa inside the PSG area, and instead of taking the chance on himself, Villa teed up Pedro with a superb back-heel; there was only ever going to one outcome. Pedro rifled the ball across Sirigu, into the far corner of the net, thus cancelling out Pastore’s opener. With less than 20 minutes remaining, Barcelona were once again poised to progress to the semi-finals courtesy of the away goals ruling.

Maybe it was Messi’s sheer presence, or maybe it was down to Marc Bartra, but Barcelona’s defense was also looking a lot more confident. It helped that PSG were running out of stamina – they couldn’t spring away with the same intensity and speed that they did in the opening hour of the match – whatever the reason, it was actually Barça who looked more likely to score a second. PSG made more and more mistakes as they desperately pressed Barcelona in search of the ball – Thiago Silva picked up a yellow card, Lavezzi followed suit and even Beckham was cautioned, for arguing with the referee. Barcelona’s experience was evident too; they took their time over every dead-ball, everything they could think of that would wind the clock down. It may have been tight, it may have required a heroic cameo from Lionel Messi, but Barcelona were through the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the sixth successive season where a tie with either Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich awaits.

Next up, Barcelona travel to La Romareda to face Real Zaragoza, though be sure to check in before then for more analysis of tonight’s match, not to mention coverage of Friday’s Champions League semi-final draw. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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