Against all odds, FC Barcelona managed to complete the mother of all comebacks, becoming the first team to overturn a 4-0 deficit in the Champions League. It started brightly for Barcelona as they slowly but surely chipped away at PSG’s lead, building a 3-0 lead with goals from Luis Suarez, Layvin Kurzawa (OG) and Lionel Messi. Barcelona’s hopes of a spot in the quarter final took a massive dip midway through the second half when Edinson Cavani buried the ball for the all-important away goal. But through sheer will and determination Barcelona scored three goals in the dying stages of the match. Led by Neymar, who scored two goals to bring Barcelona within a goal, Barcelona had an unlikely chance to complete the impossible. And yet, they did just that. In the very last minute of added time, Sergi Roberto put Barcelona through to the next round.
Barcelona started the match with one thing in mind – the comeback, and the starting eleven showed that. Only three players, Samuel Umtiti, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano in the back, and even those three seemed like extra attackers at times. PSG also started differently than they did in Paris. They were without arguably their best player of that infamous night, Angel Di Maria, and tactically they came into the game defending their lead, not trying to disrupt Barcelona like they did at Parc des Princes.
The Catalans went on the offensive from the opening whistle and they were rewarded with a very early lead as Suarez scored in the 3rd minute. It was dream start for Barcelona. The cross came from the right side, but it was intercepted by the PSG defense, however, it was poorly cleared. Suarez won the aerial duel with goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, heading the ball on goal, but it was seemingly cleared off the line by Thomas Meunier. However, the referee pointed to the midfield spot, confirming the opening goal. The goal was also confirmed by the goal-line technology.
Barcelona continued to attack, but PSG, despite starting very defensively, also showed plenty of attacking prowess, threatening a couple of times around the ten minute mark. First, Julian Draxler claimed for a penalty kick after his low cross hit the arm of the diving Mascherano, but referee Deniz Aytekin would have none of it. The French side continued to threaten from the ensuing two corner kicks, but Barcelona’s defense held its ground.
But Barcelona weren’t pinned back for long as they quickly returned to attacking ways, but creating scoring chances was difficult. PSG, at times, defended with all eleven players inside their own 30-yards and it proved to be a tactic that caused Barcelona problems – as has been the case numerous times in the past. Still, Barcelona often tried their luck down both flanks and from one such attack Neymar came within inches of scoring, as his long range effort from the left side barely missed the target.
The Catalans continued to buzz around the PSG penalty area, but getting anywhere near Trapp continued to be a tall task, and all shots Barcelona were able to get off were from distance, the next one came from Andres Iniesta but that one too missed the target. On the other side, PSG relied on Barcelona’s mistakes in transition to start their own attacks. Those mistakes weren’t plentiful, but there was enough of them keep the Barcelona defense on their toes.
Creating clear-cut scoring chances was clearly a problems for the hosts, but regardless of that, the Catalans managed to double their lead before the halftime break, in the 40th minute – again from a broken play up front. The play started with a lovely combo on the left featuring Neymar, Suarez and Andres Iniesta. From a lost possession deep in the area, Iniesta masterfully stole the ball away from Marquinhos and quickly sent a hopeful ball in front of Trapp. There, Kurzawa reacted poorly, connecting terribly with the ball, sending it into the back of his own net.
Barcelona launched one last assault in the remaining time of first half, which was extended by three minutes, but the visitors were able to hold their ground and go into the break still up two goals on aggregate.
The start of the second half was again from Barcelona’s dream scenario. While PSG started the half higher up the pitch, the Catalans quickly pinned the hosts back and after a dangerous pass into the penalty area, Meunier was put in a terrible spot as he stumbled forward into the path of Neymar who went down. Aytekin waved play on, but the referee behind the goal had a better look of the play and a penalty kick was awarded. Messi took responsibility and powered the ball to Trapp’s right. Trapp guessed right, but he was too late to the spot to make the save.
Barcelona were now only one goal away from leveling the score on aggregate, but a solitary PSG goal would change everything for the hosts. And Cavani came within inches of doing just that but was denied by the post. The low cross was delivered by Meunier who easily skipped past the defending Neymar and found Cavani in the middle who escaped Mascherano. Cavani’s tipped shot beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but not the post.
PSG were feeling the heat and Unai Emery quickly made a very telling substitution, replacing Lucas with Di Maria. It was a sign that the visitors were going for the all-important away goa that would extend their lead to three. And the Parisians didn’t have to wait long for that to happen. In the 62nd minute a seemingly harmless free kick was taken long from near the midfield spot. Deep inside the Barcelona area Kurzawa won the duel and headed the ball right into the path of Cavani who powered the ball just under the crossbar to put Barcelona on the brink of elimination.
Two minutes later Cavani would have an even better looking chance to put the game completely out of reach, but one-on-one with ter Stegen he couldn’t get the ball past the outstretched leg of ter Stegen. Moments later, Luis Enrique made his first change of the match, taking off Iniesta, with Arda Turan taking his place.
Cavani’s goal completely changed the landscape and Barcelona, who almost climbed completely up the mountain just found out that the mountain had an even higher peak. Barcelona continued to attack, but some of the hunger from earlier in the game was gone and PSG looked content to defend. Emery even shored up his defensive ranks by bringing on Serge Aurier in place of Draxler.
Barcelona made two more substitutions in an effort to make the impossible possible, both times midfielder for midfielder, with Rafinha and Rakitić making way for Sergi Roberto and Andre Gomes. Barcelona’s chances received a tiny boost in the 88th minute when Neymar brilliantly took a free kick from the left side to make it 4-1, but Barcelona still needed two.
The next one came in the 90th minute as Marquinhos brought down Suarez inside the penalty area for a penalty kick. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Messi who stepped up, but it was the man who started the second comeback - Neymar. After a couple of stutter-steps the ball was in the back of the net, but surely time would run out before Barcelona would score the winning goal.
Barcelona sent everybody forward, even ter Stegen, but PSG’s defenders cleared away everything – until the last minute of added time. Seemingly every single player on the pitch was in the area, but somehow Roberto escaped coverage and eluded the offside trap to get on the receiving end of Neymar’s perfect cross, and with a magical touch sent the ball into the back of the net to complete the comeback of all comebacks. Barcelona scored two goals in added time, three from the start of the 87th minute to win themselves a place in the quarter-final of the Champions League. Who they will face there will be determined at a draw held on 17 March.