[dropcap]F[/dropcap]acing Barcelona in their current mindset is a thankless task, with most of their opposition in the last three months faced with 90 minutes of being second best across the pitch.
Paris Saint-Germain’s name can be added to this growing list of defeated teams, as the French capital city side were outplayed by the classy Catalans at the Parc des Princes last night, losing 3-1 on home soil.
The result all-but guarantees that Luis Enrique’s men will take their place in the draw for the Champions League semi-finals, with the Blaugrana still in the hunt for a momentous treble.
For the defeated hosts, this clash was a harsh lesson in their ambitions of becoming one of Europe’s truly elite clubs.
The finest of margins dictate the victor at the top level, with mistakes punished with unnerving ruthlessness.
For PSG to go one step better than they did at the same stage of the competition against the La Liga outfit two years ago, Laurent Blanc’s men needed to put in an inspirational and near-perfect performance; in truth they simply did not compete.
The injury to talisman Thiago Silva robbed the French team of one of the world’s best defenders, while a half-fit David Luiz was cruelly exposed as his replacement.
But, without placing the bulk of the blame on the outlandish former Chelsea centre-half, all three goals came through PSG mistakes.
The opener materialised as the hosts lost the ball in their own half, while midfield anchorman Yohan Cabaye was caught out of position.
This allowed Lionel Messi to drift in from his flank undetected and release Neymar; 1-0.
Although the second Barca goal showcased the individual brilliance of a reinvigorated Luis Suárez, the PSG rearguard had a number of opportunities to dispose the tempestuous Uruguayan, while Salvatore Sirigu did not cover himself in glory.
Luiz’s failure to clear his lines led to a world-class finish from Suárez for Barcelona’s third, while PSG were lucky that a fortuitous deflection helped them to register a goal.
In truth, PSG would have been a more daunting proposition for the Catalans had three of their most important players been available – two of which used to play for Barcelona.
Edinson Cavani cut a forlorn figure in the home side’s attack and failed to take advantage of any of the half chances that fell his way; had proven winner Zlatan Ibrahimović been on the end of these opportunities the scoreline may well have been different.
However, it was in midfield where the home team struggled to get to grips with the Camp Nou outfit, with Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Ivan Rakitić and later Xavi bossing affairs.
Thiago Motta is certainly not the most glamorous member of the PSG set-up, but his positional discipline, aggression and leadership were sorely missed.
The veteran’s presence would have seen PSG as a pricklier opponent, especially as the midfielder would have had a point to prove against his former club.
Marco Verratti also sat out the clash, with his role as one of PSG’s most influential players highlighted by his absence.
The Italy international, who is blossoming into one of Europe’s best in his position, played a major role in PSG’s heroics against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge; his energy, work-rate and ability on the ball would surely have closed the gulf in class between the respective midfields.
Cabaye, who has not played consistent and regular football this season, looked off the pace, while Adrian Rabiot is a prodigious talent but not yet ready to go toe-to-toe with some of the game’s best.
PSG will need to regroup and wait another 12 months for a shot at the big time, with it clear that the big-spending French side cannot be adjudged as a member of Europe’s very top tier just yet.
The Barcelona juggernaut continues to gather pace however, with just where it will be stopped, if at all, remaining to be seen.
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