Barcelona FC 1–4 Paris Saint Germain: Five Biggest Questions
Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG make the Camp Nou their playground as the Champions League round of 16 gets underway
By: Maxwell Argento
1. Could Kylian Mbappé make scoring a hat-trick look any easier?
I’m not sure he could if he tried.
The first goal for the Frenchman (an all important away-goal that got them level in the match and ahead on aggregate) was a clinic in close control and invention, with each brilliant touch leading up to a perfectly struck effort into the top corner at Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s near post. The second of Mbappé’s three goals was a true poacher’s finish, which came off of the palms of the Barcelona keeper after a wonderfully expansive move from the Parisians as the match became more stretched. His third was the jewel in the crown, his right foot connecting for a first-time curler on a counter-attack that surely would’ve resulted in Barcelona’s fanbase leaving the stadium en masse.
I remember what I was doing at 22 years of age, and none of it resembled running the show opposite Lionel Messi in one of the most intimidating crucibles on European soil. Imagine what he is goingbe capable of when he has a couple more years of experience…
2. What has happened to Barcelona’s squad?
When stacked up to Barcelona squads from the last decade or more, it’s fallen off the face of the earth. If you look at Ronald Koeman’s squad and compare it to PSG’s group of players (both on the pitch and coming off the bench) there is no doubt which club you’d rather be in charge of.
I think it is time for us to collectively agree that the likes of Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets are off the pace at the highest level of European competition, and there aren’t exactly tons of world-class options of the bench to replace them with. Mauricio Pochettino being able to call upon proven international professionals like Julian Draxler and Ander Herrera in critical junctures of the game is a luxury Koeman would love to have, and further proves the gap in quality of each squad.
When expensive talent (in the form of Ousmane Dembélé and Antoine Greizmann) don’t provide direct goal contributions to match their leader and captain Lionel Messi, Barcelona look shockingly lightweight against European elite.
3. Is PSG’s midfield good enough to get them back to the Champions League Final?
The triumvirate of Marco Verratti, Leandro Paredes and Idrissa Gueye provide everything I love in a midfield: ruggedness, eager running, eye for a pass, and skill in abundance. Paredes playing as the pivot in front of his centerback partnership allows Gueye to be combative and mobile from sideline to sideline, and gives Verratti the license to use his creativity to tie the play together for his forward-thinking teammates.
The attacking options at Pochettino’s disposal generally get all of the credit (especially when Neymar is in the side), but the excellence of his midfield is what is going to allow the Parisians to return to the final match of this competition in consecutive years. Match their effectiveness with Pochettino’s tactical nous, and you get results like we saw on Tuesday, with Barcelona getting overrun in the most crucial part of the park.
4. Why was Ronald Koeman in a jovial mood post-match?
I am not entirely sure.
Footage surfaced after the match of the Dutch manager laughing boisterously and smiling widely as he embraced Idrissa Gueye (a player he coached during his tenure as manager with Everton in the Premier League), which is a terrible look considering the scoreline his team had just suffered.
I understand wanting to give one of your former players a hug after a match that you both were a part of, but acting as though nothing is wrong after getting throttled in the early stages of the knockout portion of the competition in your home park makes absolutely no sense.
Look at it like this…Would the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola or José Mourinho show any modicum of positive emotions after a 4–1 loss in the round of 16 in the Champions League? You’re correct if your answer is “absolutely not”. I have a feeling Koeman wouldn’t have been so keen to show such outward happiness on the pitch directly after the match if the Camp Nou had fans in attendance. Regardless, the decision was quizzical, and highlights the lack of unity present at the club currently, from the board, all the way down to the manager and his squad.
5. Do Barcelona have a chance in the reverse fixture?
The Blaugrana conceding four in their home park on Tuesday means that winning the subsequent fixture by 3–0 still sends PSG to the next round on away goals. Couple that numerical reality with the fact that Barça don’t have nearly the aura in this competition that they used to (especially after losing 8–2 to Bayern Munich last year) and a comeback in Paris seems very unlikely. Hopefully having Neymar fit and ready for selection will allow the French side to pin the fullbacks of Barca back even further than they did in the first leg, which isn’t a good recipe for a team who need their wide defenders in advanced areas in order to effectively chase the game.
Barring Messi doing GOAT-like things or PSG capitulating like they did against this same club in 2017, the Parisians will advance to the round of eight, giving the Barcelona legend even more of an excuse to leave in the summer.