For all Barcelona’s possession, it wasn’t a complete mismatch. The difference lay in the respective front threes. Lavezzi-Cavani-Pastore is a very strong frontline, but firstly, they were not at the top of their games, and secondly, that attack doesn’t compare to Messi-Suarez-Neymar, one of if not the most fearsome front three in world football for a decade or two (feel free to debate in the comments section). They were superb on Wednesday night. Suarez was always playing on heels of the last defender which allowed Lionel Messi and Neymar to weave their magic in the gaps created between the midfield and defence.
It would have been interesting to see if the injured Thiago Motta and the suspended Marco Verratti, a ball of energy at Stamford Bridge in the last round, could have added some steel in midfield and made a difference. PSG let Barcelona play a lot – the possession was 66/34 in Barca’s favour – and if they upped the tempo and got in Barcelona’s faces, as they did against Chelsea, the game could have been very different. In fact, so impressive has Verratti been that Barcelona are reportedly interested in him. Also, to see if Zlatan Ibrahimovic could have provided some magic which Edison Cavani notably could not conjure up. Apart from one fine half volley from a corner, which drew a fine save, the Uruguayan looked far from a world-class striker – he didn’t exploit a two-on-one situation in the first half, miscontrolled it a few times and was often offside (and once he was actually onside and in a good position but thought he was offside – not a mistake a top striker should be making.) Also, late on, he could have, however undeservedly, brought PSG well back into the tie, as the ball fell to him just behind the penalty spot but he struck it at Jeremy Mathieu, diving in with an impressive block. It was far-from a gilt-edged chance, but, with glory and millions on the line, it’s one you pay a striker of his calibre millions to score – similar to a crucial chance he put over when PSG dramatically went out at Stamford Bridge in the quarter-finals last year.
David Luiz had a night he would do well to forget. Rushed back from a hamstring injury three weeks early due to Thiago Silva’s early injury, the front three gave him a torrid time, particularly a certain Mr Suarez. The Uruguayan nutmegged Luiz out wide then darted into the box and showed guile and strength to find a gap between two more defenders, before slotting neatly into the corner. But the third goal, Suarez’s second, was the nadir. Instead of slowing down and jockeying to let defenders track back, Luiz rushed out to challenge Suarez – the defending of a rash schoolkid, not a Champions League centre back. He got nutmegged, again, before Suarez finished superbly into the top corner – a cool sidefoot into the bottom corner would have done, but when you’re as good as Suarez and in the form he is (he now has 11 goals in 11 games), why not put into it the top corner? It may sound harsh to criticise the defending in the face of such genius from a £75m striker, but PSG surely didn’t pay £50m for a defender to ship two goals in one game to two nutmegs.
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