Champions League review: Watershed moment for PSG

Angel-Di-Maria

PSG's Angel Di Maria. (Francois Mori/AP)

Here’s what happened in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, in case you missed it…

THE RESULTS

Paris Saint-Germain 4, Barcelona 0: Game report || Match stats
Benfica 1, Borussia Dortmund 0: Game report || Match stats

THE STORY OF THE DAY

Who saw this coming?
History was not on Paris Saint-Germain’s side ahead of their Round of 16 first leg encounter with Barcelona. The Catalans eliminated the Ligue 1 champions in 2013 and 2015, and had lost only one of their previous six games against their French counterparts in Europe—and that was in the group stage in 2014. Simply put, Barca had PSG’s number.

Despite spending big money on star players, PSG has yet to make a splash in the Champions League. They have exited in the quarterfinals in each of the last four seasons, and we’ve seen one false dawn after another from them in this competition. Maybe Tuesday’s result in Paris was a coming of age for the French side, evidence that they’re finally ready for the big time, and to step up to the next level and walk among the game’s elite.

PSG’s 4-0 destruction of Barcelona was about as complete of a team performance as you will witness. Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti, Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani will garner most of the headlines for leading a PSG attack that overwhelmed Barca, especially in transition. But this was a balanced effort from the home team. Adrien Rabiot was outstanding in the destroyer role, ably abetted by Blaise Matuidi—the duo combined to swarm Barcelona in midfield, throwing the usually influential Sergio Busquets off his game. Belgian right back Thomas Meunier provided a constant threat going forward, and it was his run down the middle on the counter that led to PSG’s fourth goal, scored by Cavani in the 72nd minute.

The MSN trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar looked completely out of it, neutralized by PSG’s back line, it’s overall pressing game, and the defensive work of Rabiot—whose stalwart efforts was even more impressive considering he picked up a yellow card in the third minute. There were no passengers on this PSG side. None. Every player contributed, every player played a role in the win.

What happened here was somewhat reminiscent of Barcelona’s 4-0 loss to AC Milan in the 1994 final. Twenty-three years ago, the Italians were without the suspended Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta, but they stifled and dominated Johan Cryuff’s “Dream Team” in one of the most memorable finals in the tournament’s history. Similarly, PSG destroyed Barca without the services of Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta. Whether the French champions will go on to win the title remains to be seen. On this night, though, they were world beaters.

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BEST GOAL

In the 18th minute, PSG’s Angel Di Maria delivered a sumptuous free kick that dipped over Barcelona’s defensive wall and sailed past goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

BEST MOMENT

The pre-game tifo from PSG fans at the Parc des Princes:

BEST TWEET

AFP reporter Tom Williams succinctly sums up Lionel Messi’s performance in Paris on Tuesday night:

THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME

Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler scored to give PSG a 2-0 lead over Barcelona going into the break. But it was Marco Verratti who was the star of the opening 45 minutes, as the diminutive Italian ran the show for the French champions.

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THE BIG QUESTION

No team has ever come back from an 0-4 first leg deficit in the history of European competitions, but we’re still going to ask….

SIX PACK OF STATS

• PSG is the sixth side to score four goals in a Champions League match vs. Barcelona (AC Milan, Dynamo Kiev, Valencia, Chelsea and Bayern Munich).
• For the first time in 21 European games, Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday went into halftime tied at 0-0.
• Barcelona on Tuesday conceded two goals in the first half of a Champions League knockout game for the first time since 2008 vs. Celtic.
• Borussia Dortmund has kept only one clean sheet in their last 13 games in all competitions.
• Julian Draxler this season: 0 goals in 14 matches for Wolfsburg; five goals in nine matches for PSG.
• Christian Pulisic of Borussia Dortmund is the sixth American international to play in the Champions League knockout stage, and the first since Jermaine Jones in 2013.
Stats courtesy of Opta

THREE STARS

1) Angel Di Maria, Paris Saint-Germain: The mercurial Argentine scored two gorgeous goals, and was at the heart of PSG’s probing attack vs. Barcelona.
2) Marco Verratti, Paris Saint-Germain: The industrious Italian was brilliant at both ends of the pitch—helped out defensively and was dangerous in transition.
3) Adrien Rabiot, Paris Saint-Germain: The young Frenchman was sensational in central midfield, the perfect combination of elegance and physical domination.

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