After bringing in a healthy advantage from the first leg Barcelona only added to the aggregate lead to secure a place in the Champions League Semi-Final. At times it seemed that the Catalans barely broke a sweat as they carved their way through the PSG ranks. Both goals of the game were scored in the first half when Neymar twice put the ball into the back of the net.
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Both managers sent similar starting elevens on the pitch as they did six days ago, but again it was Laurent Blanc who had more headaches making his selection. The French manager saw the return of David Luiz to the starting lineup, but had to play without standout defender Thiago Silva. Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimović returned after their one-game suspensions and replaced Ezequiel Lavezzi and Adrien Rabiot on the pitch. Luis Enrique made only one change, at right-back, where the previously suspended Dani Alves unseated Martin Montoya. After missing the La Liga match against Valencia over the weekend with an injury, Andres Iniesta was given the OK from the medical staff to return to the pitch.
Barcelona started the match from midfield and quickly we saw a good look of the flow of the game. The Catalans would control the majority of the ball, hoping to break down the opposing back-line through numerous passes, while Paris Saint-Germain would press high up the pitch, looking to unsettle the Barcelona passing game and threaten through counterattacks.
But with Verratti back in the fold, the French side would also be capable of organizing long attacks. Though that would've been easier for them had his teammates, like David Luiz, not make poor plays, turning the ball over. Or as in Luiz's case, pick up a yellow card for a dangerous tackle after turning the ball over.
With PSG not putting on a full-pitch press, the pressing intensified after Barcelona crossed the halfway line with the ball, the Catalans didn't have nothing against making passes between the half-back duo of Gerard Pique - Javier Mascherano. That way Barcelona not only wasted time, which they could afford because of their two goal lead from the first leg, but also baited PSG's forwards up the pitch and created some space for the Barcelona midfield to work.
Despite seeing the majority of the ball, Barcelona struggled to break down the visitors' defense. Getting near the penalty area wasn't such a tall task, but getting the ball into the dangerous areas seemed impossible. Barcelona couldn't even get shots off from distance. But that all changed in the 14th minute. Iniesta picked up the ball in Barcelona's half and then went on to dribble past Yohan Cabaye, Edinson Cavani and Verratti. Then he sent a perfect ball past Luiz to the open Neymar, who skipped past goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu and sent the ball into the wide open net.
That seemed to anger PSG a little bit as they stepped on the gas for the next few minutes, threatening to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but the Barcelona defense held its ground. Through it looked dicey on a couple plays, on one Ibrahimović sent the ball into the back of the net, but the play was ruled offside. Blaise Matuidi looked especially active in attack, several times testing the Barcelona defenders, but he couldn't make it through, mostly courtesy of some timely tackles from Jordi Alba.
Barcelona weathered the small storm and went on to create several chances in quick succession. First Alves sent a perfect cross into the middle where Luis Suarez laid the ball off to Lionel Messi, but Messi missed the target. The very next minute Alves fired a thunderous shot from 35-yards out, but Sirigu was able to push the ball away. The rebound, however, fell on the head of Neymar, but his header lacked power to beat the goalkeeper.
Barcelona continued to attack in numbers, utilizing every inch of the pitch, because players on both flanks were in good form. On the left, Iniesta and Neymar caused havoc, while Alves and Messi were a creative force on the right. The play of Alves was especially impressive as was a constant threat. Even his crosses were deadly, something he showed time and time again, but in the 34th minute his cross led to Barcelona doubling their lead. He found Neymar wide open for a free header in the heart of the PSG penalty area, and from there the Brazilian had no problems scoring his second of the game.
With PSG now needing four goal to upset Barcelona, the game lost some of its pace as the Frenchmen struggled to find the motivation to continue. It's not that they gave up per se, but they lacked the ambition needed for a comeback. Also, with a commanding lead in hand Barcelona didn't need to play with an urgency in attack, leading to a calm ending to the first half.
Maybe still feeling some ill-affects after the knock to his back in the first leg, Iniesta was taken off at halftime - or maybe it was just Lucho resting one of his key players during this brutal stretch of games. Considering he was later seen sitting on the bench it was probably the latter. Iniesta was replaced by Xavi.
PSG showed some life in the early minutes after the restart, but the Parisians weren't able to put ter Stegen to the test. Barcelona, meanwhile, continued to press all over the pitch, causing numerous turnovers. Though in this stretch Cabaye was able to take the first PSG shot that wasn't blocked by one of the Barcelona defenders, though he was unable to get it on target.
Judging that PSG all but gave up on the unlikely comeback, Enrique decided it was a good time to rest Sergio Busquets. He was subbed off in the 55th minute and was replaced by Sergi Roberto, who has seen some playing at defensive midfielder in his recent weeks.
The best chance of the game so far for PSG to open their scoring account came in the 59th minute after yet another terrible clearance from Pique. That caused some panic in the defense and Verratti was able to get a shot of uncontested, but the Italian's aim was poor and the shot harmlessly went wide of the ter Stegen's right post.
In the 66th minute PSG completed their first sub of the game, as Blanc took off defensive minded Cabaye and replaced him with an attacking threat, Lucas Moura. Six minutes later, the visitors were finally able to put a shot on goal. The shot came from former Barcelona-man, Ibrahimović, who blasted a powerful shot from 25-yards out, but ter Stegen was in perfect position to make a difficult save look easy.
In the 75th minute Lucho completed his last substitution of the game, putting Pedro on the pitch in place of Suarez. Three minutes later Barcelona would ride some luck as Cavani would draw ter Stegen out of goal before sending the ball to Matuidi, who seemed to be left with an easy finish, but Xavi and Pique combined forced and were able to defuse the situation. Immediately after that missed chance, Blanc made a double substitution. Cavani and Matuidi were taken off and were replaced by Lavezzi and Rabiot.
PSG became much more dangerous after Lucas was introduced into the game. It was in this time that PSG put their first shot on goal and also got to take their first corner kick. PSG continued in their quest for the consolidation goal, but were unable achieve that goal. Lavezzi did manage to warm up the hands of ter Stegen in the 89th minute, but it was an easy save for the young German to make. Both teams were only waiting for the final whistle at this point, but the referee added two minutes to the regulation. At the very end of that period, Messi would have one more good look on goal, but his 20-yard try whistled just wide of the post.
With the 5-1 aggregate win Barcelona booked a place in the Champions League Semi-Final. The draw for the Semi-Final will be held on Friday, 24 April, of course, with coverage from Barca Blaugranes.
|Roll Call Info|
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