Barcelona in need of another UCL miracle
PSG became the latest club to inflict a Champions League humiliation on Barcelona with an emphatic victory at the Camp Nou that leaves the French champions on the brink of qualification for the quarter-finals and Barca’s European dreams in tatters once again.
Of course, we all know about Barca’s incredible comeback against PSG in 2017 but few will fancy the Catalans’ chances of a repeat in Paris. Indeed Barca could end up on the end of another humbling in the second leg if they aren’t careful.
Deep down most Barca fans probably expected this to happen when the draw was made back in December. Yet a run of good form in the league and the emergence of Pedri, Araujo and others had offered hope that maybe, just maybe, Barca could pull off a shock. Yet Kylian Mbappe and Co. were a cut above with a result that sends Barca back to the drawing board yet again.
Barca still can’t defend
Mbappe will, of course, steal all the headlines after his superb hat-trick but it was no real surprise to see the prolific Frenchman run riot against a Barca defense that simply doesn’t seem to learn. The Catalans’ vulnerability at the back is no secret at all and Koeman has done little to improve matters.
Gerard Pique went straight back into the team after over three months out with knee trouble. The stats say he didn’t put a pass astray, but the enduring image of the game will be of the 34-year-old desperately trying to pull back Mbappe.
Clement Lenglet also struggled against Mbappe and seemed completely unaware Moise Kean was even on the pitch for the fourth goal, while Sergino Dest had a tough night and was (eventually) replaced by Oscar Mingueza.
And it wasn’t just the defenders who should be blamed. Sergio Busquets was guilty of giving the ball away far too high up the pitch. The midfielder also won just one of six attempted tackles against PSG. Ousmane Dembele was another player to neglect his defensive duties much to the delight of Layvin Kurzawa.
Dembele, Griezmann fail to deliver
Dembele also failed to deliver at the other end. The Frenchman was gifted the chance to make it 2-0 in the first half but could only shoot tamely at Keylor Navas. It was a poor moment from Dembele who had been in good form in the Champions League with three goals and two assists in four games before PSG.
Antoine Griezmann was also guilty of wasting a couple of opportunities that could have had an impact on the game. He was denied by Navas early on and then fired narrowly wide after a great solo run.
The big games call for big signings such as Grizemann and Dembele to deliver, but neither man could come up with the goods when it mattered. The duo’s performance was in sharp contrast to Mbappe who enjoyed his first-ever encounter with Barcelona so much that he went home with the match ball.
Is this the end for Messi?
Tuesday’s defeat also brought the sobering realization that this may well have been Lionel Messi’s final Champions League game at the Camp Nou for Barcelona. The captain smashed home a brilliant penalty to give Barca the lead in the game but couldn’t exert his usual influence on the match.
Messi’s goal did bring up 20 for the season, for the 13th campaign in a row, and also equalled Raul’s Champions League record of scoring in 17 consecutive years in Europe’s top competition.
Messi hasn’t said much about his future other than that he’ll make a decision at the end of the season, but this result could certainly play a part in any future thinking. Certainly, this was the type of performance that showed Barca are not competitive enough to win the Champions League again any time soon.
What now for Koeman?
There will be plenty of scrutiny on Koeman too again after another humbling. The Dutch coach has rightly been praised for an upturn in form and handing youngsters lots of game time but this felt like a step backwards.
The decision to throw Pique straight back into the fray will prompt plenty of debate, as will Koeman’s decision to wait so long to make changes despite his team being taken apart on their own turf by Mbappe.
Another trophyless season beckons at present, unless Barca can produce miracles in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, and despite a good run it’s worth noting Barca have struggled in big games this season.
Koeman’s team have lost to Atletico and Real Madrid in La Liga, are 2-0 down to Sevilla in the Copa del Rey, have been beaten by PSG and Juventus in the Champions League and also lost out to Athletic in the final of the Spanish Super Cup.