The heroics are complete, the lights at the Camp Nou are shut, the crowd has returned home and there has been ample time for Barcelona and PSG players to digest what happened on Wednesday night in Catalonia. From what started as a near-impossible task or quest for a miracle, it turned into an even bigger one around the hour mark. And yet the comeback was complete courtesy a home-grown talent. A player who has been part of the Barcelona setup since 2006 – then 14 years of age. With Barcelona since the youth ranks, Sergi Roberto, got the most important touch and quite possibly his biggest goal so far. With the 25-year-old from Tarragona sliding in inside the box, Roberto got the right foot on the ball and sent it into the back of the net past Kevin Trapp.
Despite the three goals in 7 minutes 16 seconds late on, with Neymar getting the other two and helping Barcelona to an incredible 6-5 win on aggregate against PSG, one can argue that PSG called it on themselves. Unai Emery summed it up well in the post-match press conference, “In the last few minutes we lost everything we had worked so hard for, and there’s no explanation for what happened in the final minutes, it was all or nothing. We have to accept that we had an opportunity to grow after playing so well in the first leg and gaining a lot of confidence and we didn’t take it. You learn from negative experiences in the future and this is a very negative experience for the players, for me and for the staff.”
PSG won the first leg 4-0 in Paris and had complete control on the tie. They had the momentum even with Luis Enrique naming a strong, attacking lineup. No wingbacks in Jordi Alba or Roberto meant Barcelona were going to remain compact at the back with Javier Mascherano and Rafinha chipping in with support. This allowed a 3-4-3 formation with Lionel Messi at the top of the diamond while enjoying option to move the ball to Luis Suarez, Neymar and Andres Iniesta.
However, PSG weren’t undone by Barcelona’s formation or Messi but by themselves. The 4-0 lead, a massive one, looked to be their undoing than their advantage. The extra cushion made PSG complacent from the word go. Suarez sprang highest to head it beyond Trapp in the third minute which was a sign that things weren’t going to be plain sailing for the French champions.
Edinson Cavani tipped the scale back in PSG’s favour in the 62nd minute with an away goal that might as well count for two but instead of mounting on the pressure, Les Parisiens opted to sit back and soak in the pressure which is never a good idea when playing Barcelona. Emery’s side tried to play their way out of trouble on many occasions with some intricate passing but were rarely successful. It didn’t help when Cavani missed a chance to score another only to be denied by Marc Andre Ter Stegen.
Three late goals – and another drop in concentration – shifted things in the Catalans’ way. Neymar found the back of the net first with a free kick that crept in from the near post, then the Brazilian was on hand once again to slot in a penalty when Suarez was brought down by Marquinhos. Now the game is in the 92nd minute with three minutes to be played.
PSG make a roll of the dice to steal Barcelona’s momentum with a substitution. The change could have been slower and players could have taken their time to get off the pitch – a tactic employed by many teams and quite within the rules of the game. Krychowiak came on for Meunier. However, that attempt at time wasting and shifting momentum didn’t work with Neymar’s delivery into the area finding Roberto unmarked and he made no mistake in scoring.
The remarkable defeat and conceding three goals in seven minutes is what separates a European football workhorse with plenty of experience under its belt – especially in crunch situations – from a side that is still trying to make a mark on the grandest scale. And with the loss in Barcelona, their earliest exit under the new regime, the experience garnering will have to wait until next season.