In a Champions League match-up that wouldn't feature PSG superstars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi, it was hard not to expect a victorious outcome for Barcelona. However, PSG's unlikely heroes rose to the occasion in what turned out to be an exciting night for football in Paris.
Barcelona's back line once again was in the spotlight as they gave up two early goals that came from set pieces. The first goal came in the 10th minute of play from an unlikely defender, David Luiz. Ironically, the same defender many of us criticized Barcelona for trying to sign over the summer from PSG. Ninety seconds after the Luiz goal, a brilliant reply came from none other than magician Leo Messi as he buried a one-touch build up from Mascherano, Neymar and Iniesta respectively. Messi's goal turned out to be a historic 500th goal in European competition for FC Barcelona. The first half unfortunately went from bad to worse as PSG regained the lead in the 26th minute off of a header from 5'5 central midfielder, Marco Veratti. Yes, Marco Veratti. You read that correctly. It was the kind of evening for Luis Enrique's men going into halftime down 2-1.
The second half was much like the first with few changes to the starting squad. PSG netted a third insurance goal in the 54th minute as the match was starting to feel like a lost cause for Barcelona. Just like the first goal, a quick response by Neymar cut the lead to 3-2 in the 56th minute but it would not be enough in the end. Lucho brought on young rising star Munir for Pedro in the 63rd minute and Xavi Hernandez for Rakitic in the 69th minute. Xavi made Champions League history making his 143rd start, passing the record held by Real Madrid legend, Raul. These were two substitutions that arguably should not have even happened in the first place. Being that it was a Champions League match, Lucho should have started Xavi over Rakitic simply due to his his experience playing in European competition with Iniesta in the midfield. Munir, while young and still learning, deserved a spot in the starting line-up over Pedro, who has been out of form in recent months for the first team. The final sub came late in the game as Sandro replaced a Dani Alves who had the worst performance of the evening by far.
Much can be said about Lucho's choices for the line-up. A question of why didn't he start Vermaelen also came up in discussions after the match. Vermaelen was given the medical green light after suffering a leg injury but was left out of the line-up by Lucho as a coaching decision. It's hard to say if that would have made a tremendous difference, but the back line and defending set pieces was ultimately what hurt them the most against PSG. Giving away too many chances to PSG in the midfield was the second downfall. In order for Barcelona to make it into the semifinals or finals in European competition, they're going to have to work on having more discipline at the back. Being weary of their opponents counter-attacking style of play and set pieces is crucial when playing with the total football philosophy La Masia uses. In recent years, they've been burned far too many times from plays that I mentioned previously. Lucho must give the new signings a chance and not bench players who have experience playing against big named clubs in Europe.
Playing against PSG was one of their biggest tests of the season and they unfortunately failed to produce a reasonable result. However, it's good to be reminded that it was the first loss in seven matches played this season and the first match in which Barcelona conceded any goals. They sit in second place in Group F behind PSG now as well. The second match at the Camp Nou in December will most likely decide the group winner. The night was not entirely negative as it produced two major milestones for the club and legendary midfielder, Xavi. With some minor adjustments and the debut of Luis Suarez coming up in a few weeks time, Lucho's men should be well ready to take on bitter rivals Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the new season.