Spanish giants Barcelona suffered a major scare against PSG in the quarter-final of the Champions League last night.
The Spanish league leaders progressed to the semi-finals, but only on the away goal rule after they drew 1-1 with the nouvre rich French outfit at the Nou Camp.
For the majority of the first half the visitors looked in control of the game. They created better chances, they kept the ball better, but they did not find a goal during this first half dominance.
PSG did eventually take the lead early in the second half, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Javier Pastore combining well for the latter to chip the ball over Victor Valdes into an empty net. In truth that was the least that the visitors deserved.
However, Carlo Ancelotti’s team paid for their lack of cutting edge in front on goal in the 71st minute, more on that later. The Parisians teams’ performance on the night was impressive and as a team, they will have learnt a lot for future competitions.
Magic is the only word you can use for Lionel Messi. The diminutive Argentinian picked up a hamstring injury in the first leg of this clash and probably should have sat out the second leg.
However, he was named on the substitute’s bench, even though he was not fully-fit. His entrance half way through the second half completely changed the game and the tie.
Prior to his entrance Barcelona looked short of ideas and inspiration. His appearance lifted everybody in a Barca shirt and lifted the Barcelona crowd. The psychological affect Messi’s appearance must have affected the PSG players.
Their previous confidence and belief seemed to ebb away. Messi did not just have a psychological effect on the game though. The World Player of the Year had a hand in Barcelona’s vital equaliser.
Messi combined with David Villa and Pedro for the goal that took Barcelona through to the semi-finals on away goals. The moment was a rare glimpse of what Barcelona has become renowned for in recent years.
Last night was proof of Barcelona’s dependency on Lionel Messi. They may not be a one-man team, but Messi is the player that provides the inspiration and special ingredient to the team.
Any team would miss a player of Lionel Messi’s undoubted talents, but Barca looked like a completely different team without the Argentine. Messi’s appearance off the bench gave everybody in a Barcelona shirt a lift.
They all of a sudden started to press more and believe in themselves again. That self-belief was badly missing without Messi on the pitch.
Barcelona has another weakness. They appear weak at the heart of the defence. It has been a problem for a few years now. Inspirational leader and captain Carlos Puyol has struggled with injuries for the past couple of seasons.
Other first choice centre-back Gerard Pique has not been in the best of form this season, but has had to hold the defence together. Javier Mascherano is still looking like a central midfielder who is playing at centre-back.
Barcelona played with utility man Adriano at centre-back last night and was lucky not to have conceded more than once. The Brazilian is a very useful full-back or wide midfielder, but I don’t think he will be playing at centre-back too often in the future.
Youngster Marc Bartra does not seem good enough to fulfil the position now. The youngster had a decent game when he came on to replace the injured Adriano. However, he lacks first team experience at the highest level.
Rumours coming out of Spain suggest that Barca will put this problem right in the summer with the signing of Dortmund’s highly-rated centre-back Mats Hummels. In my opinion, Hummels would be a fine and crucial addition to the Barcelona backline.
Barcelona is not as imperious as they once were. All of a sudden, the team does have identifiable weaknesses. Teams used to be scared of Barcelona and that psychological effect defeated teams before they had even taken to the field.
Now there are slight chinks in the armour of the mighty Barcelona. The three other teams left in the Champions League all have the quality to exploit those chinks.
German giants Bayern Munich looked strong in their 4-0 aggregate victory over Italian champions Juventus. Bayern have impressed throughout the tournament and the three other teams left in the competition would not relish playing them in the semi-finals.
Currently Bayern probably looks the most complete team in the competition. They have been perennials qualifiers for the semi-finals in recent years, but have only won the Champions League once in their history, in 2001.
Bayern did claim the trophy three times in the old format though. This Bayern team looks to be the best that the Germans have produced in a long time. I am sure that most people connected with Bayern will be confident that their team can lift the trophy at Wembley in May.
Will Barcelona show their weaknesses in the Champions League semi-finals?