Neymar’s double sees Barcelona through with minimum of fuss

PSG hardly make a ripple at the Nou Camp as Luis Enrique’s side clinch semi-final spot

Barcelona forward Neymar  scores his second goal during the Champions League quarter-final second leg against  Paris Saint-Germain at the Nou  Camp. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

Barcelona forward Neymar scores his second goal during the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Paris Saint-Germain at the Nou Camp. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

 

Barcelona 2 PSG 0 (Barcelona win 5-1 on agg)

Barcelona are in the semi-final of the Champions League for the sixth time in seven years. For Paris Saint-Germain, there was no comeback and no chance of one; there was not even much of an attempt.

It took just 12 minutes for Barça to score the first goal here and although that left PSG much the same task as they had faced at the start – needing three to overturn the 3-1 defeat suffered at the Parc des Princes six days ago – they never embarked upon that task and were never allowed to either.

Both of the Spanish side’s goals came from Neymar, inside 34 minutes. The tie was all over, if it had not already been when Luis Suárez took the ball through David Luiz’s legs for a second time in Paris. Luis Enrique’s side eased their way into the semi-final; the doubt is whether it really was easy or they just made it look that way. This was a superb performance that rendered the second half superfluous.

Laurent Blanc had insisted that Barcelona are a “consolidated” team with “exceptional players”, which appears increasingly true, even in Luis Enrique’s first season. Meanwhile, he claimed that PSG are still in construction. That may be less true and patience is a virtue for which a club that invests so heavily may not have time. The failure is not being knocked out but the way it happened, the fact that they did not rebel against that fate.

Blanc said that they had come to show what they could not in the first leg, when they had missed key players, but they did not show anything until it was far too late and they did not show much even then. It took until the 83rd minute to even force a corner. They’d been only slightly quicker to fire off a first shot on target.

PSG welcomed back Zlatan Ibrahimovic, banned in Europe and banned in France for describing it as a “shit country” that didn’t deserve PSG. “He’ll be rested,” Blanc said. There was also a return for Marco Verratti, the man Luis Enrique described as a superb player who would always have a place in his team. There was context to the comment: he had been accused of turning down the signing of the Italian. “We’re realistic: we know it is difficult, but we’re not here on an excursion,” Blanc said.

With their return, the three-goal target was more plausible. The problems may be at the other end. Blanc had said that scoring goals would be possible; preventing Barcelona scoring goals, on the other hand, was “virtually impossible”. Particularly without Thiago Silva, injured in Paris. Luiz, on as a substitute and then victim of a double nutmeg from Suárez in the first leg a week ago, started at centre back here.

Blanc excused Luiz: “He knows he did not play well, he was not physically ready,” the coach said. But he was booked after just two minutes, diving in on Ivan Rakitic in his desperation to recover following a dreadful attempted control.

Still, at least the first time he faced Suárez, a moment later, the ball did not go through his legs – although it was not that far off. And the early moments suggested that Barcelona scoring was more likely than PSG doing so. There was certainly no sense of them waiting for the visitors, nor of PSG going for them. Instead, Barcelona pressurised high up the pitch, as if they were the ones chasing the game.

The opening goal, though, came from deep and it was beautifully made by Andrés Iniesta. Receiving the ball 20 yards inside his own half, and with his back to the PSG goal, he glided away from the first challenge, turning inside. Edinson Cavani came to him, but he stepped over the Uruguayan’s leg and continued. Verratti slid in, but he went over the Italian’s legs too. Off he went, fast but seemingly effortlessly through the middle leaving no footprints.

Approaching the area, Iniesta slipped the ball into the box for Neymar, running in behind Luiz and going past goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu with two touches before rolling home. It was his fifth Champions League goal of the season, four of them coming against PSG. And he added another just after the half hour, when he leapt to nod in Dani Alves’s left-footed delivery.

By then, Ibrahimovic had managed to put the ball in the net but was rightly ruled out for offside. In truth, though, for much of the half it was only the whistles from Barcelona’s fans that signalled his presence on the pitch. He, like the immense majority of his team-mates, was an irrelevance. Verratti alone offered some resistance.

Barcelona dominated, and they did so collectively. This was not all about Messi. Busquets, Rakitic and Iniesta controlled and all of them took a step forward too, winning the ball high, the back four squeezing up behind them and the full backs running beyond them. Suárez probably made more tackles than anyone else. Alves, Neymar and Messi had shots; PSG did not. Not one.

They had not even offered resistance: they had committed just four fouls by half-time. Barcelona doubled that. Their only concern now was to rest players for the Catalan derby at the weekend; Iniesta was withdrawn at half-time, Busquets soon after. Ibrahimovic and Verratti carved out a good chance for the Swede which Marc ter Stegen saved with 20 minutes to go. It was his first save and PSG’s first shot of a night that was always likely to be hard and was quickly impossible.

(Guardian service)

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