Match day two of the UEFA Champions League saw two of Europe’s heavyweights slug it out. Barcelona under new coach Luis Enrique was enjoying a relatively untroubled start to the new season whilst a struggling Paris Saint-Germain went into the game without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Both teams were unbeaten but the form book tipped the scales in Barcelona’s favour.
PSG drew six of their previous nine games placing pressure on their manager Laurent Blanc.
Barcelona on the other hand had won six of seven matches in La Liga without seeing the ball nestle into their net.
The game proved to be a Champions League classic with both sides attacking intelligently and with intent.
PSG’s victory has given Laurent Blanc some much needed breathing space whilst Luis Enrique may just be working on defending set-pieces when Barcelona return to Spain.
Barca’s set-piece shockers
Up till today Barcelona hadn’t conceded a goal all season. Come half-time they had given away two preventable goals.
The first came when Barcelona failed to defend a free-kick properly allowing David Luiz to tuck the ball home.
The second was as a result of zonal marking gone wrong. Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitić was caught ball watching at the far post and couldn’t position himself quickly enough to deal with the deep corner allowing Marco Verratti to gleefully head home. Marc-André ter Stegen, Barcelona’s keeper, didn’t exactly cover himself in glory either unconvincingly covering his goal.
Messi, Neymar and (soon) Suárez
There’s a growing understanding between Neymar and Lionel Messi and both players made their mark in this match. Messi equalized shortly (scoring his 68th and Barcelona’s 500th Champions League goal in the process) after David Luiz gave PSG the lead whilst Neymar scored Barcelona’s second with a quite sumptuous finish in a crowded penalty box.
The pair looked for each other during the game and generally were at the heart of everything good that Barcelona produced. Once Luis Suárez is fit and ready to go the Catalans front three will be, to point out the obvious, extremely formidable.
Johan Cruyff suggested that the trio won’t be effective together as they are all individualists but perhaps they can gel together with Suárez’s work rate and urgency adding another attacking dimension to the Catalan side.
Barcelona susceptible to pace
Luis Enrique set-up his side to play high up the pitch and encouraged his fullbacks to support the attack at every opportunity thus making Barcelona extremely vulnerable to a quick counter.
PSG possessed the talent to exploit the gaps left behind and in Javier Pastore and Lucas Moura – PSG had quick skillful players capable of leading rapid breakaways. They made the most of the space afforded to them by moving the ball swiftly and directly.
Indeed the third goal was a result of PSG countering rapidly after winning possession and using the width of the pitch before crossing in for Blaise Matuidi to guide the ball home.
For all their footballing ability there is still a reluctance from Barcelona to play direct.
PSG won the tactical battle
PSG decided to forgo possession in preference of a counter attacking strategy with the French side being far better in the transitions of play.
Barcelona had 57% possession with PSG having 43% of the ball but the latter looked the more effective. At times PSG sat deep getting men behind the ball and challenged Barcelona to break them down. On other occasions the French side pressed higher up the pitch to win the ball and launch rapid counters. At points of the game PSG took the game to Barcelona giving the Spanish side something to think about. Credit should be given to Edinson Cavani who worked tirelessly up front.
Barcelona on the other hand sought to continually play deep in PSG’s half committing men forward. They were practically asking for PSG to counter. They could have been better served playing a little deeper and drawing out their opponents.
Enrique brought on Xavi who made a record breaking 143rd appearance in the Champions League but even he couldn’t mastermind a way through the stubborn Parisian defense.
Whisper it, but Barcelona was far too predictable at times.
Marquinhos – The Human Shield
Marquinhos was linked with Barcelona over the summer and showed the Spaniards why PSG were determined to keep him.
The Brazilian produced a sensational block in the 82nd minute to deny Jordi Alba.
Marquinhos celebrated as if he scored a goal, he may well have done as his was a match winning tackle that ensured the three points stayed at the Parc des Princes.
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