Barcelona out but not down
Barcelona’s Champions League campaign is over for another season, but while exits in the past three years have been painful the team should not be too down after this one.
Put simply, Barca were the far better team in Paris and with better finishing, better officiating and a stroke or two of luck may even have pulled off another remontada.
Barcelona had more shots (16) and more shots on target (9) in the opening 45 minutes against PSG than any other side has managed in the first half of a #UCL game this season.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 10, 2021
And they goal they scored was their furthest effort out. pic.twitter.com/uRzPf2OLEE
Once again Barca wasted chance after chance and yet again the opposition goalkeeper, this time Keylor Navas, needed to produce a man-of-the-match display to keep the Catalans out. Not bad going for a team in transition and missing key players due to injury.
The damage was of course done in the first leg, but Barca restored some pride with their performance at the Parc des Princes which maintains their good form since the turn of the year.
Indeed it almost felt like the start of something new. The team showed character, there was a Champions League debut for 18-year-old Ilaix Moriba, and there at the end was none other than Kylian Mbappe asking for Pedri’s shirt.
If only Dembele were more clinical
There will still be a few ‘what ifs’ floating around in the wake of the game, not least regarding Ousmane Dembele’s finishing ability.
The Frenchman was a threat all night but wasted four good chances to score in the first half alone. If he’d converted just one of those it might have been a different night altogether.
Dembele wasn’t the only player guilty of being wasteful in attack. Lionel Messi scored a glorious goal but then missed a penalty in first-half stoppage time which could have sent Barca in 2-1 up at the break.
You couldn’t help but wonder during the game ‘what if Barca had Erling Haaland?’ The Norwegian would surely have gobbled up the chances Barca served up against PSG which only highlighted once again the team’s need for a new No. 9.
More VAR mess
If Barcelona’s finishing was frustrating then it wasn’t a patch on the VAR decisions we saw throughout the match that once again produced confusion and controversy.
Clement Lenglet has had a tough season but the decision to award a penalty when he accidentally trod on Mauro Icardi’s foot was incredibly harsh.
VAR also decided there was no need for Messi to retake his penalty despite Marco Verratti, who was the first to clear the ball, clearly encroaching. What were they looking at?
Should VAR have spotted Verratti encroaching on Messi's penalty?— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 10, 2021
The PSG midfielder was the player who cleared the ball after his miss. pic.twitter.com/L8xf4E2uyo
And then there’s Navas taking out Sergino Dest in the penalty area. It probably wasn’t a penalty in my opinion but it seemed as much as an offense as Lenglet’s so why not?
Messi’s goal to remember
As always there was plenty of talk about Messi in the build-up to the match and the captain produced a goal to remember with an absolute stunner from range to make it 1-1. That’s goal no. 120 in the Champions League for the Argentine.
It seemed like a goal full of rage too after seeing his team miss chance after chance. There you go boys, that’s how you finish. Navas couldn’t get anywhere near it.
LIONEL MESSI WHAT HAVE YOU JUST DONE #UCL pic.twitter.com/6eVbntO7Z2— Goal (@goal) March 10, 2021
Messi will know more than anyone he should have scored more, and if he’d netted the penalty at the end of the first half then who knows?
Yet it was still a fine performance from the captain against PSG. Is it his last in the Champions League for Barca? We don’t know but this display may well have an impact on his thoughts about the future.
Let’s talk about Junior
Another player who could be off this summer but who produced a superb display against PSG was Junior Firpo. Ronald Koeman called for the left-back after seeing Oscar Mingueza pick up a booking and flirt with disaster moments later with another foul.
On came Junior after 35 minutes to face Kylian Mbappe in an unfamiliar right center-back role. You had to worry for the 24-year-old who’d only made five starts for Barca this season.
Yet the worries proved totally unjustified as Junior pocketed Mbappe and put in one of the most memorable performances in a Barcelona shirt. Credit must also go to Frenkie de Jong in central defense once again. The Dutchman was missed in midfield but was influential in the backline once again.