We all knew Barcelona were going to end up going through, didn’t we? But I don’t think anyone could have guessed just how well and almost perfectly tactically set-out Ancelotti’s PSG were going to be.
The game ended 1-1, but in all honesty that scoreline wasn’t true to PSG’s immaculate frontal display against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Having taken the lead early on in the second half through Pastore, PSG were only to be ridden of a Champions League semi-final spot by the inspiration of a half-fit Messi, who was subbed on with 30 minutes to go.
Ancelotti opted for a more than suitable squad to face a depleted Barcelona. Choosing Verratti over the demoted David Beckham, and with Motta back from injury, replacing the suspended Matuidi, PSG’s midfield was the perfect combatant to Barca’s exotic total footballing tempo.
Also, suiting the same front-three of Lucas behind Ibrahimovic and Lavezzi proved cunning at most times and too much for Barca’s ragged defense Typically, the same back four was assigned. Vilanova opted for the false-9, with Messi not fully fit and many other injured players, he struggled for a full team.
Opting a typical Alves/Alba wing-back scenario for Barca to attack PSG’s open flanks was always going to be the case; however, with Mascherano and Puyol out injured, Vilanova was forced to choose a center back pairing of Pique and Adriano. Adriano, predominantly a left-back, had a fairly reasonable game until he was injured.
Vilanova fielded a typical midfield of Busquets lying deep behind Xavi, and then Iniesta for Barcelona with Pedro and Villa as inside forwards on both wings, and Fabregas executing the false-9.
Right now, Thiago Silva is the best center back in the world, and alongside Alex, they have a special Brazilian partnership that isn’t easy to breakdown. Barcelona starting with a false-9 in Fabregas; they evidently struggled to create the flowing surge of tiki-taka that they usually do with Messi leading the lines.
Obviously, against Silva, Fabregas as a false-9 is going to be anything but effective; Silva’s mental awareness and experience overlapped Fabregas’ attempts to draw him or Alex out of the line to create a hole for Pedro or Villa to run into.
PSG’s back four was simply impressive for the full 90 minutes, and it wasn’t notable of a single anomaly the entire game. Ancelotti wisely had his defense drilled into a solid lateral line, proving no gaps and no expenses. Verratti sitting just above it, holding the midfield and covering LB/RB when going forward, did a sensational job breaking up Barca’s play, too.
Motta and Pastore, sitting just above Verratti, also had their sensational moments. Motta was the deeper out of the two, helping to provide cover alongside Verratti whereas Pastore typically went to aid Moura in distribution to Ibrahimovic and Lavezzi upfront.
PSG’s tactics were working well; they were playing with intelligence through the middle on the counter, taking advantage of a helpless trio of Pique, Adriano, and Busquets as typically Alves and Alba flanked.
As always, everything for Barcelona was midfield possession, inside off-the-ball runs, diagonal through balls, and blistering driving dribbles from Iniesta and Xavi. Typically, they had a fair bit of possession with a total of 63% at the end of the night and with a pass completion of 89%, and you could see why.
Barcelona exploited the flanks in the first leg with Alves and Alba overlapping as support and overpowering PSG’s centralized tactics, however, PSG sought out with a similar tactic this leg and saw Barca doing the same. Villa often cut in through the gap of Silva and Maxwell as Fabregas dropped deep and Iniesta/Xavi layed off to Alves, who took use of the open space Villa had created.
Altogether, they were driving to the byline and attempting cut-backs, likewise the left-side with Pedro and Alba. Although, for me, Pedro wasn’t offering any advantage points other than ending up scoring and being the tie-winner (typical). Xavi recorded a sensational 100% pass completion record that night, with a total of 96 passes which included 8 long balls.
PSG’s goal was sheer counter-attacking brilliance, which nested from Barca pressing very high. Pastore picked the ball up and drove forward with Ibrahimovic and Lavezzi ahead. Alves and Alba, nowhere to be found as having pushed up to flank, so it was 3 on 3 as Busquets drops to cover and protect the center-backs.
No organisation between the three and sitting very central and tight, Pastore drove centrally with the ball as Ibrahimovic was sitting in the middle. Ibrahimovic pulled off to receive a pass from Pastore while Lavezzi flanked round the back, distracting Adriano and proving him void. Ibrahimovic then completed the one-two with Pastore who was now past Pique and belting towards goal with Lavezzi in support.
However, he decided to go alone and eventually drove just wide of where he preferably wanted to be, still slotted home coolly, hitting his shot into the ground and then just getting enough spin to go over Valdes’ leg and into the net.
From here, PSG didn’t do the typical, which was to sit back and invite Barca on, as there was still 40 minutes to be played. In fact, they drove forward in pursuit of a second goal. Chances were coming and PSG looked more likely to score a second than Barca did a first for a while.
Then came the hour mark and it was time, Vilanova could wait no longer and of course, Messi was brought into the fray in replace of a struggling Fabregas. Obviously, this was a desperate attempt to win as Messi wasn’t fit, or he would have started, but nonetheless it succeeded.
The uproar was humongous as he trotted on and the entire stadium lit up, including the tempo of Barcelona’s play. Clearly, it was a superb tactical substitution. The spark was there, Barca just needed the right opportunity to arise and take hold of it.
Eventually, it did, as Barca scored a typical ‘Barcelona goal’ on the 70th minute. Created from deep-left and on the counter, Barcelona’s tie-winning goal was as formidable and unstoppable as any.
With most of PSG’s midfield at the other end of the field, Messi was deep in the gap left between them and the defense. Once he received the ball, Messi drove ferociously with it, taking on a player before slotting Villa through, who was closely watched and marked by Silva. Laying off to Pedro, unmarked at the edge of the box, he lashed a superb unsaveable shot into Sirigu’s net.
PSG attempted to get back into the game, but found no vantage point as Barcelona held off the formidable attacks and long balls for the remaining 20 minutes of the game. Eventually, the full-time whistle was blown, and Barca, who were no doubt the worse team on the night, were through to the semis on the away-goals rule.
Honestly, PSG played with a raw tenacity that I haven’t seen a team (other than Madrid) approach them with in a long time over two legs. They dominated in having better chances, and although not in possession and overall statistics, they were the better team on the night.
Ancelotti set them out with initiative tactics of a central mechanism that Barca were unable to cope with, especially against a front-man of Ibrahimovic at 6′ 5″; although doing nothing spectacular on the night, his hold up play and general distribution of the ball was sublime and was involved in the majority of PSG’s attacks.
Barca, typically using their wing-backs to flank, created a diversity of an overpowering tempo and distribution from the middle into the channels and round the back, eventually securing them a semi-final slot with the equalizing and tie-winning goal on the night.
Although, definitely not at their typical best this season, Barca are brewed with a winning mentality of Champions, and with Messi, they can still go all the way in the competition.
Written by ManToManMarking