Barcelona were able to avenge the defeat in Paris earlier in the Champions League season as goals from each member of Barcelona's monster forward line of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez were more than enough to see off a tough Paris Saint-Germain side. The French side scored their only goal through former Barcelona player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
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Luis Enrique surprised the football world once again with his selection. With Dani Alves suspended speculations started early as to who would replace the Brazilian, but Lucho promised us a surprise in one of his press conferences. And the first-year Barcelona coach didn't disappoint, naming Pedro as the starting right-back. Lucho even surprised us on the opposite side of the back-line, where seemingly there was no chance that Jordi Alba wouldn't start, but he was replaced by Jeremy Mathieu. The heart of the defense, surprisingly, didn't include Javier Mascherano, who was instead used as a defensive midfielder. Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta played as central midfielders. The only positions there weren't any surprises (I feel like I used that word surprisingly many times so far) were the three forward spots and in goal, where Marc-Andre ter Stegen took his place in between the uprights.
That was at least how the lineup was presented to UEFA, the reality on the pitch was different, surprising (I know, right?) even. Pedro was positioned on the right wing, only three players were in the defensive line, with Mascherano moving from his position into the back-line when defending. There was even more "chaos" in the midfield, but Barcelona looked surprisingly competent in attack despite the new formation, moving the ball well in PSG's third. It took Barcelona only four minutes to fire their first shot, albeit off target from a Messi free kick.
Defensively Barcelona didn't look as strong, oftentimes panicking just at the sight of a player in white. Maybe they were having flashbacks to about a month and a half ago. Barcelona never really looked comfortable at the back in this formation and just 15 minutes in Paris Saint-Germain took advantage of that. Mathieu was unable to block the cross from the right wing, but in the middle Gerard Pique was able to disposes Lucas Moura in the middle. However, the ball bounced right to the feet of Ibrahimovic who escaped coverage and from that position a striker of Ibra's quality was never going to miss.
But Barcelona responded magnificently, equalizing just four minutes after Ibra's opener. Mascherano sent a stunning long ball over the defensive line which was run on to by Suarez. The Uruguay international squared the ball to the middle, past the now out of position Salvatore Sirigu. Messi hustled to the back post and arrived just in time to slot the ball past the goalkeeper to tie the game.
PSG were quite happy to allow Barcelona to control the ball, but when the Catalans turned the ball over the visitors were quick to attack in numbers. Such was the case in the 29th minute when Barça lost the ball in transition, allowing PSG a lighting quick counter attack that Lucas somehow managed to send wide of ter Stegen's right post from close range. Quickly after that, Ibrahimovic created a chance for Edinson Cavani, but Barça's young goalkeeper prevented the ball from crossing the goal-line.
On the other side Barcelona struggled to break down Paris' defense, they were constantly buzzing around Sirigu's penalty area, but were unable to really threaten to take the lead in the match and in the group standings. The hosts' next good scoring chance didn't come until 20 minutes after Messi's goal, when some brilliant passing created a chance for Suarez, but his shot went straight down the middle and was easily stopped by Sirigu.
Three minutes later, Neymar, who was struggling early in the match with fitness, even seen limping at times, took matters into his own
hands feet. The Brazilian superstar carried the ball for 20 yards before taking aim for the far post and curling a 25-yard shot past the helpless PSG goalkeeper to put Barcelona into the lead.
Neither team created much in the dying minutes of the first half, meaning Barcelona went into the break with the lead.
The second half started with neither team making any halftime substitutions. After the restart, it was PSG who threatened first, but Ibrahimovic was unable to steer his header on target. Barcelona quickly countered that chance with a chance of their own, on a quick counter attack, but after Messi found Pedro in space on the right the latter was then unable to send an accurate cross to a wide open Neymar on the far post, who would've been left with a simple finish.
As is the case in back-and-forth football it was then Paris Saint-Germain's turn to threaten to tie the game up. Lucas made easy work of Pique and Mathieu, who seemed to be in each other's way, to have a good look on goal. He didn't put a good shot on target, but it was enough for ter Stegen to get handcuffed by it, punching the rebound in front of a wide open goal. Cavani was in perfect position for what seemed to be the easiest finishes, but out of nowhere came Marc Bartra to block the shot on the goal-line. Bartra blocked another shot just second later to finally defuse the situation.
PSG continued to be the more dangerous team on the pitch, continuously putting pressure on the Barcelona defense. A defense that made even the simplest of plays look difficult. Now needing a goal to reclaim the top spot on the Group F table PSG manager Laurent Blanc changed the teams mentality to a more offensive one, most telling by the substitution in the 62nd minute when Javier Pastore, an attacking midfielder, replaced Marco Verratti, a defensive midfielder.
Five minutes later Lucho countered with a substitution of his own, one that brought some positional restructuring with it, as Ivan Rakitić replaced "right-back" Pedro. Mascherano therefore moved permanently to the back-line, with Bartra moving to the right back position and Busquets now operating as the defensive midfielder. Further five minutes later, Barcelona made its second change, with Xavi replacing Iniesta on the pitch.
Blanc then, in the 75th minute, clearly showed that he had no intention of leaving Barcelona without at least a point as he took another midfielder off the pitch, Blaise Matuidi, and replaced him with a forward, Ezequiel Lavezzi. But that substitution came at a price for the visitors as they lost the midfield presence they had throughout the second half, and Barcelona were quick to punish that. Messi passed the ball to Xavi on the edge of the box, who extended the play further to the left to Neymar. The Brazilian fired a strong low shot that was destined to squeak inside of the far post, but Sirugu was able to palm the ball into the middle where both Messi and Suarez were waiting for the juicy rebound. Messi was more than happy to leave the ball to his teammate who was able to celebrate his second goal in Blaugrana colors.
The goal seemingly deflated the visitors who now needed two goals to reclaim the place in the standings they came into the game with. But with no midfield to take control of the game, PSG were unable to mount a comeback. In fact, Barcelona became increasingly more dangerous over the last phase of the game and could've easily added a couple more goals had it not been for a couple of poor first touches.
Literally seconds before the final whistle Lucho completed his final substitution as he replaced Bartra with Adriano Correia. The referee whistled for time immediately after the Brazilian full-back was fouled after a couple of seconds the pitch. With the win Barcelona toped their group standings and will be able to hope for an "easier" opponent in the next round of the competition.
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