Barcelona ease past PSG to put one foot in semis

Neymar and Luis Suarez guide Luis Enrique’s side towards Champions League last four

Neymar gave Barcelona the lead in their 3-1 win away at PSG in the Champions League quarter-finals. Photograph: Reuters

Neymar gave Barcelona the lead in their 3-1 win away at PSG in the Champions League quarter-finals. Photograph: Reuters

 

Paris Saint-Germain 1 Barcelona 3

Barcelona’s claim on this competition can feel irresistible on nights such as this. The Catalans prospered here where Chelsea had so laboured, Luis Enrique’s team sweeping beyond wounded opponents with Luis Suárez for once eclipsing Lionel Messi as their tormentor-in-chief.

The Uruguayan’s brace was sumptuous, his team’s progress serene. Quite how Paris Saint-Germain, a team whose elimination of the Premier League’s champions-elect had been born of as much defiance as quality, can hope to triumph in the Camp Nou next week is a mystery. Patched up and makeshift they might have been, but there was a gulf of class in evidence here.

Laurent Blanc’s players heaved to contain slippery opponents but were made to look utterly limited at times. For all the elegance of their attacking play, Barça are essentially brutal in their dissection of rivals’ aspirations.

The French side, even depleted by untimely injuries and suspensions, had approached this tie with relish. These sides have become familiar foes in recent seasons, and had even claimed a victory apiece in the autumn’s group stage, but PSG – in this Qatari-owned guise – attacked, convinced they had become contenders.

Last month’s elimination of Chelsea had suggested as much, the resilience demonstrated in securing that 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge with their number depleted enough to pep belief.

“That result showed we are a big club, and that we can beat other big clubs,” said the president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi at the time. Even the loss of the leadership of Ligue 1 earlier in the evening, courtesy of Lyon’s victory over Bastia, had not dampened local enthusiasm. Their quandary here was whether to seek out a first-leg advantage to which to cling at the Camp Nou next week or attempt, primarily, to nullify the visitors’ considerable threat. Certainly there was a desire to choke Barça, the home side initially sitting deep and clogging up their own half as best they could as those in fluorescent yellow monopolised possession, with PSG’s forays into enemy territory largely conducted on the counterattack.

Some were menacing. Javier Pastore, watched by his parents, who had flown in from Argentina, mistimed a shot from Blaise Matuidi’s centre, while Edinson Cavani, upon whom such huge responsibility had been placed in the absence of the banned Zlatan Ibrahimovic, dawdled when free near the edge of the Catalan club’s penalty area. Javier Mascherano duly recovered to clear. By then, however, the hosts were playing catch-up in the tie and their priorities seemed clearer. This Barça team are unperturbed by clutter, their players’ close control and ability to wriggle into the tightest of spaces and emerge in possession still setting them apart.

They had clearly targeted PSG’s right-back, Gregory van der Wiel, whose eagerness to push up the flank left tantalising space at his back for Neymar, in particular, to exploit.Lionel Messi had already struck the outside of the post from distance, having hoodwinked his former club-mate Maxwell with a sway of the hips to leave the full-back disorientated, when he gathered from Andrés Iniesta just after the quarter-hour mark. Barça’s No10 scuttled forward into the area vacated by an absent Marquinhos and liberated Neymar behind Van der Wiel. The Brazilian’s touch was assured, his finish accurate, and Barça led.

It was a ruthless if apparently simple blur of passes, stemming from Sergio Busquets’ pilfering of the ball from the young Adrien Rabiot. PSG clearly missed the suspended Marco Verratti’s snarl though they lost their captain, Thiago Silva, to a thigh injury as they digested the concession, forcing David Luiz into the fray less than two weeks after he damaged a hamstring in Marseille. Their response was urgent, the home support whipped up into a frenzy not least by David Luiz’s return, with Pastore forcing Marc-André ter Stegen into a save early in the second half and Rabiot belting another straight at the young German goalkeeper.

Yet too many of PSG’s more promising attacks faltered when the ball was fed to Cavani, the Uruguayan an industrious worker but too ponderous when his team poured forward on the counter.

His compatriot in the opposition ranks was more decisive. Just as the French sensed Barça were drifting, Martín Montoya fed Suárez down the right. The former Liverpool forward burst inside David Luiz and away from Marquinhos, holding off Maxwell before converting inside Salvatore Sirigu’s near post. It was a glorious goal, the Catalan club’s 400th in this revamped competition leaving home players left puffing out their cheeks in despair. Cavani immediately drew a fine save from Ter Stegen at the other end but the game was long since up.

When Mascherano slipped Suárez free moments later, the 28-year-old nutmegged a struggling David Luiz to burst clear on goal, lofting his finish high into the net with Sirigu helpless to provide an 11th reward in as many games.

Van der Wiel’s consolation, deflected in off the Barça substitute Jérémy Mathieu, felt like false hope for the hosts. They will travel to Spain wary of what awaits. In this form, Barcelona can appear untouchable.

(Guardian service)

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