Prior to their Champions League round of 16 second leg tie, no one could fault PSG for feeling confident. After all, Les Parisiens had given their fans plenty to celebrate about on Valentine’s Day. Not only had they beaten Barcelona, but they had crushed the Blaugrana. 4-0 was the final score-line by the time the dust settled, and Unai Emery’s men could even have had a few more.
It was arguably the worst performance by Luis Enrique’s troops this season, and by far Lionel Messi’s in a Barcelona shirt. For all intents and purposes, even the most ardent supporter of the Catalan giants had to admit that PSG already had one foot in the quarter-finals. Despite Barcelona being rated as one of the best teams of all time, no team had ever managed to come back from 4-0 down.
We have seen plenty of miracles in football. There was Liverpool’s amazing comeback after doing down 3-0 to AC Milan to win the Champions League on that famous night in Istanbul. There was Leicester City going from relegation candidates to Premier League champions in the span of one year. There was Greece winning the EUROs in 2004. Porto winning the Champions League that same year. And, to some extent, a highly unfavored Portugal clinching the EURO title last summer. And Barcelona have managed to come back from a deficit before; not too long ago, they overcame a 2-0 defeat to Milan to win the second leg 4-0.
But this was different. For starters, PSG are a far more superior side – on paper at least – to Milan, who have been unfortunately nowhere near the elite clubs in nearly a decade. Secondly, 4-0 is not the same as 2-0, and an away goal would effectively mean that Barcelona would be one of the shock exits in a tournament they are perpetually viewed as favorites to win.
Well, this past Wednesday, fans got to see the most epic comeback. Ever. Nothing has ever compared to the amazing match contested at the Camp Nou on March 8th, and it’s highly unlikely that any of us will see anything like it for years – possibly even decades – to come.
As Barcelona made history, PSG, however, suffered the most horrific collapse any football fan could have envisioned. From 4-0 up to 6-1 down on the night. It still doesn’t feel real, but the next morning, the score-line still read the same; Les Parisiens were out after losing 6-5 on aggregate.
So what went wrong for PSG in a game that all had been already decided?
Thiago Silva’s mental collapse
Thiago Silva surely will not forget this game in quite some time. Unfortunately, as the team’s skipper, some of the blame will be rested at his door. He’s been accused of mental frailties before; in 2014, by getting booked at the World Cup, he was unable to feature for Brazil as they were humiliated 7-1 by Germany en route to die Mannschaft. That was due to picking up another yellow card during a tie with Colombia.
Against Barcelona – a team that were pursuing him whilst he was with Milan – he appeared unsure of himself. And when the skipper is unsure, especially in the heart of defense, everything else goes awry. There’s no one to guide the ship through uncertain waters. Silva, unfortunately, was unable to rally his side after they were rattled with Barcelona’s early goal, nor was he able to inspire them as they went into the half-time break 2-0, nor was he able to light a fire under their feet as they shipped three, yes, three goals in a few minutes to throw away all the hard work they’ve achieved in Europe this season.
A major case of stage fright
Silva wasn’t the only player who seemed quite afraid to be featuring at Camp Nou. Pretty much the whole team seemed unsure and out of their element. With a 4-0 lead, there really was no reason for Unai Emery to sit deep – or park the bus – and give Barcelona the ball. In fact, that’s the worst thing that the Spanish tactician could have done. Players like Adrien Rabiot and Blaise Matuidi, who were titanic during the team’s 4-0 victory, were quite disappointing as they repeatedly turned the ball over in dangerous situations for the Blaugrana to pounce on.
And pounce on they did.
Yes, it’s common to moan about the referees, especially when one’s team loses. But in all fairness, the referee in this case acted like the 12th man for Barcelona at times. Javier Mascherano’s handball was somehow overlooked, but no infraction that PSG committed escaped his and his assistant’s watchful eye. Two penalties in a game certainly is questionable; we saw Juve receive two against Napoli, and it arguably will continue to raise questions. That’s not to take anything away from Barcelona’s brilliant performance – they thoroughly deserved to win. But there will remain questions as to some of Deniz Aytekin’s decisions on a historic night. After all, referees are football fans just like the rest of us. Managing such a titanic tie is never easy, especially not with close to 90,000 fans judging one’s every move and millions more around the world glued to their TV sets.
Ultimately, despite calls not going their way, PSG have themselves to blame as they had their quarter-finals ticket punched and ready to go after beating their opponents 4-0. So where do they go from here? Well, it’s back to domestic affairs. And even the Ligue 1 title is not a guarantee due to Monaco’s impressive form this term and Nice have shown they intend to have a say until the very end.
Sadly enough, this is the first time they’re failing to reach the quarter-finals in the past few seasons, but football, despite being called the “beautiful game” can be quite cruel. They will just have to pick themselves up and move on.
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