There was more than enough in the fallout from Barcelona’s 4-0 Champions League 2nd round first leg defeat to Paris St Germain to document a chastening night for the Catalans. Mundo Deportivo called it a “disaster”, AS Marca referred to the defeat as a “total write-off” while Barcelona based newspaper Sport described it as a “humiliation”.
Inside Sport Barca were taken apart as “shipwrecked without a manager” as the actual manager Luis Enrique was rumoured to have been physically restrained from confronting reporter Jordi Grau away from the post-match interview camera.
“You can tell that you didn’t watch the game,” was Enrique’s response but anybody who did watch it could have told him this was a feeble display from a bunch of players from which many have grown accustomed to great things.
It was astonishing to witness a team containing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar register just 1 shot on target as their 57% possession was picked ruthlessly apart by devastating counter-attacking.
Sergio Busquets was dreadful at the base of midfield, Andres Iniesta subdued and clearly unfit while Messi was isolated. When the Argentine did get the ball he was quickly surrounded, his helpless stance as PSG raced away to score after being pick-pocketed in midfield providing the lingering image of the night.
Enrique is out of contract in the summer and with Barca stuttering in their pursuit of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga this feels like the beginning of the end for a manager they have never truly warmed to in Catalonia. After complaining about a small squad last term, his summer signings, the likes of Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer and Denis Suarez, have not produced.
The conveyor belt of talent at La Masia appears to have slowed down drastically leaving an ageing squad exposed while signings such as Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal have underwhelmed since being brought in. The solution offered up has often simply been Leo Messi but when they can’t find him, as on Tuesday night, the consequences are disastrous.
Barca’s tribulations cannot overshadow PSG’s brilliance however and it would be dangerous for the rest of Europe if it did. Bayern Munich indicated they will be in the latter stages of the competition once again as they demolished Arsenal on the following night, while Real Madrid will be a handy bet for defending the trophy as they maintain their effective form under Zinedine Zidane.
PSG announced on Tuesday they are in genuine contention to win their first ever European Cup and if Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti and Julian Draxler can continue the synergy that overwhelmed Barca it will be very difficult to stop them. Not only short term but long term too, with the Qatari owner’s plans bearing fruit in the form of £441.2 million annual revenues which position them sixth in Europe’s money league.
Since the investment from the Qatari Government’s investment authority in 2011, PSG have won 9 domestic trophies in France but have failed to make it past the quarter finals of the Champions League. The Laurent Blanc era was ended last year when PSG’s CEO Nasser al-Khelaifi described the quarter final defeat to Manchester City as the lowest point of his reign.
Knowing that the elusive triumph on the continent will be validation to the investment and the project, Unai Emery, winner of the Europa League for the past 3 seasons with Sevilla, was hired to succeed Blanc. Progress was slow, expectedly so after a summer of transition in which David Luiz was sold to Chelsea, Lucas Digne to Barcelona and Zlatan Ibrahimovic departed for Manchester United.
Jese Rodriguez and Grzegorz Krychowiak were signed for a combined £48 million, with the latter struggling to settle in France while the former is now on loan at Las Palmas. A group of senior players reportedly questioned Emery’s approach in a heated team meeting after a defeat at Toulouse in September and the pressure was ramped up again on the Spaniard after a rocky pre-Christmas spell saw them drop points to Montpellier, Nice and Guingamp.
A 1-1 draw to Monaco has been the only blip in a response that has seen 6 wins from the last 7 to leave them just 3 points off Monaco at the top. The January signing of Draxler for £35 million from Wolfsburg was a huge statement and judging from the way he terrorised Barca’s back 4 on Tuesday night, superbly sweeping home the second goal, they are getting instant reward from the German.
Homegrown talent has also produced with Adrien Rabiot and one of Luiz’s centre-half replacements Presnel Kimpembe impressing against Barcelona while youth products Christoph Nkuku and Jean-Kevin Augustin have both been given chances under Emery. The 19-year-old Nkuku came on after Verratti wonderfully picked Barca apart on Tuesday night.
The Italian’s return from injury has come just at the right time for Emery who had to deal with vice-captain Thiago Motta’s suspension against Barca. Motta has the best passing stats in Europe this season with a 95.2 per game while Verratti is seventh on the list with an average of 85.2.
Splitting that duo up for the visit of Barca could have been troubling, especially with Blaise Matuidi’s struggles this campaign, but the Frenchman stepped in and was impressive alongside Rabiot and Verratti.
Angel Di Maria is producing some of the form that guided Real Madrid to the 2014 Champions league while Edinson Cavani, with his finishing always in question, has responded to Ibrahimovic’s departure by netting 34 goals, including the ruthless fourth on Tuesday.
On the bench on Tuesday sat Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore until they were introduced as late subs with the job all but done. Maxwell and Serge Aurier both sat it out with Thomas Meunier, who laid on Cavani’s goal with a lung-busting late run from right-back, and Layvin Kurzawa both excelling at full-back. Injured club-captain Thiago Silva was not needed as Marqunhos and Kimpembe dealt with MSN with ease.
PSG’s frightening squad-depth was illustrated to devastating effect on Tuesday night and with fears that Ligue 1 is not competitive enough to aid them when they step onto the elite level now comfortably dispatched, it is now time to take PSG seriously in the Champions League. Messi, Barcelona and Enrique, despite the doubts over what game he was watching, will attest to that.