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UEFA Champions League: Paris Saint-Germain 2-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's 2-2 UEFA Champions League quarter-final first-leg draw with Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes

Dean Mouhtaropoulos

FC Barcelona came within seconds of a win at the Parc des Princes, only to be dealt a cruel blow as Blaise Matuidi struck a late equaliser in the first-leg of Barça’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final with Paris Saint-Germain. Barcelona survived an initial onslaught of pressure from the hosts to take the lead on 38 minutes through Lionel Messi, but the game soon changed for the worse as Messi was forced off at the interval through injury. The Blaugrana looked to be heading for a 1-0 win, until Zlatan Ibrahimovic tied the game at 1-1 – albeit from an offside position. Xavi Hernández restored the lead on 88 minutes with a well-taken penalty (won by Alexis Sánchez) but ultimately it wasn’t enough as Matuidi equalised in the game’s dying moments.






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Not only were Barcelona able to welcome Tito Vilanova back after a ten-week absence, but they were also welcoming back Jordi Alba and Xavi Hernández who missed Barcelona’s 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo through Injury. There may have been no place on the bench for Eric Abidal, but Barcelona were fielding arguably their strongest possible XI; Andrés Iniesta was back in midfield, David Villa was in attack; could the Blaugrana secure a valuable first-leg win?

For all the pre-match build-up surrounding the visitors, it was Paris Saint-Germain who started the match the brighter of the two sides. With pace in abundance, the hosts were looking to stretch the Blaugrana defense whenever possible and from the get-go they sensed that they would be able to create chances against the visiting defense. With David Beckham surprisingly starting alongside Blaise Matuidi in the PSG midfield, Ancelotti’s side clearly had a gameplan and it nearly paid dividends as PSG came within inches of opening the scoring after just five minutes.

Javier Pastore created the chance with a delightful chest pass to his compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi, and the Argentine forward skipped past the challenge of Gerard Piqué – and looked set to finish past the onrushing Victor Valdés – until Sergio Busquets made a crucial, albeit dangerous intervention. Nicking the chance away from the toe of Lavezzi, Busquets inadvertently directed the ball past Valdés, although fortunately, his clearance rebounded off the post. Having survived that early scare, would Barcelona be able to grow into the game and exert control over proceedings?

Not just yet.

Credit to Ancelotti, and most of all, credit to the PSG team; they were not allowing Barcelona an iota of space on the ball in the final third, and as a result, the Blaugrana were struggling to keep PSG penned back in their own half. Maybe there was a little hesitance from Barça; after all, they were up against a formidable frontline who specialise at lightning-fast counter-attacks; but there seemed to be a lack of cutting edge – again. Andrés Iniesta wasn’t looking for a final pass; instead he often went for goal – with mostly poor results. While the shots may have appeared to go close, they ultimately didn’t test Sirigu. Lionel Messi couldn’t find enough space to weave his magic – and even when he did, he was quickly challenged by Thiago Silva. It wasn’t a great start from Barcelona although on the other hand, PSG weren’t making their (relative) dominance count.

As usual, the Barça defense was looking rather suspect, especially one-on-one with the PSG attack; Gerard Piqué in particular was having a tough time, earning himself a yellow card with a foolish foul on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It was an excellent position for an attempt on goal – surely an opportunity for David Beckham to demonstrate his talents? Not with Zlatan in the side. The Swede stepped up and, credit where credit is due, tested Valdés with a venomous effort – but nothing more. Barcelona had dodged yet another bullet.

Curiously enough, the next chance also fell to Ibrahimovic as Lucas Moura selflessly fed the Swede on another dangerous PSG counter-attack but Zlatan couldn’t direct his effort on target, dragging a left-footed shot well wide of the mark. Who would have thought? Zlatan Ibrahimovic talking the talk, but not delivering on the big stage?

While Ibra wasn’t firing on all cylinders at one end, much of the same could be said of Lionel Messi at the other; at least until the 38th minute. Up until that point, Messi hadn’t even registered a single shot, turns out all he needed was someone to provide him with a chance.

Step forward Dani Alves.

Following the breakdown of an innocuous Barcelona corner, Dani Alves supplied the mother of all passes – a jaw-dropping lobbed through-ball with the outside of his right boot – straight into the path of Messi, who made no mistake with the finish, directing a first-time volley across Sirigu into the bottom corner of the net with his favoured left boot. PSG may have started the brighter side, but they hadn’t capitalised on their chances, and Messi made them pay.

Now the Blaugrana were in control.

However, it wasn’t all good news. Lionel Messi pulled up in the closing stages of the first-half, clutching his hamstring and while he finished the half, he didn’t emerge from the tunnel at the interval. Cesc Fàbregas took his place in attack, and sure, Cesc is a fantastic player, but there is no-one quite like Lionel Messi...

The question was: would it affect the scoreline? PSG had started so well, and while the goal must have been disheartening, a team of their calibre would surely fancy their chances against a Messi-less Barcelona? However, they quickly encountered a problem; they couldn’t get the ball off Barcelona. With Cesc Fàbregas in attack, the Blagrana may have found it tougher to create clear-cut chances, but they were at least finding it easier to keep possession. Always looking for the simple pass, Barça knew that PSG needed the ball if they were going to score.

Not only that, but when PSG got the ball they were anxious to make it count, which led to some poor decision-making and the breakdown of what could have been some dangerous attacks. Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued to struggle and as Carlo Ancelotti replaced Lavezzi with Jeremy Menez, it was hard to see where exactly PSG were going to get their goals. Lucas was electrifying the crowd with his pace and close control, but he hadn’t even got close to threatening Victor Valdés in his time on the field.

Blaise Matuidi picked up a yellow card on 65 minutes, ruling him out of the return leg at the Camp Nou and he was soon joined in the referee’s book by Javier Mascherano, who was cautioned for a careless tackle on Jeremy Menez. PSG were growing in confidence, and they soon had an equaliser to show for their efforts. After their first-half performance, PSG probably deserved a goal; just not this way. A dangerous corner was headed off the woodwork by Thiago Silva and who else would be on hand to finish the rebound but Zlatan Ibrahimovic? He’d been terrible all match, and now he was benefitting from some terrible officiating – pictures show that Ibra was miles offside – to put PSG on level terms.

Javier Mascherano was forced off through injury – no news on the severity as yet – to be replaced by Marc Bartra. Considering that Mascherano was suspended for the return leg anyway, it doesn’t make a lot of difference in the short-run, but it’s hardly ideal with Carles Puyol still sidelined. Anyway, back to the game, as Barcelona pressed forward in search of an all-important winner – after the last decision went against them, one might have felt that the Blaugrana were due a little luck...

So, when Cesc Fàbregas helped the ball into the path of Alexis Sánchez who was promptly brought down by Sirigu, Wolfgang Stark had no choice but to point to the spot. It was a clear penalty, and Sirigu was cautioned for the challenge; would Barcelona be able to restore their one-goal advantage? Even with Messi sitting on the bench, there was never any doubt as Xavi stepped up to coolly dispatch the penalty into the corner of the net. Barça were 2-1 ahead, with less than five minutes to play – and that’s how the game looked set to finish, until Blaise Matuidi struck with what was almost the final kick of the game. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (insult to injury...) got the assist, teeing up the Frenchman with a cushioned header from the back-post, and Matuidi struck his shot with power, wrong-footing Valdés – possibly thanks to a deflection. It was a cruel blow for a Barcelona team who had already seen so much go against them in the previous 90 minutes.

However, with two away goals to their name, Tito Vilanova’s side will be quietly confident of their chances of progression when the two teams meet again at the Camp Nou in a week’s time. Next up, Barça host Real Mallorca, but until then, Visca el Barça!

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