Paris St Germain (PSG) have just demolished Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of the round of 16 in the Champions League. PSG have been knocked out twice by Barcelona in the Champions League since 2013, with the French outfit last winning in Group F in 2014, 3-2. In a game featuring the competitions top goal-scorers Lionel Messi (10, one goal every 45 minutes) and Edinson Cavani (6 before kick-off) goals were assumed, but from both teams. So on Valentine’s night in the Parc des Princes, Paris – how did PSG win 4-0?
Watching the game, PSG’s defence was remarkable without Thiago Silva (much different to the 7-1 Germany vs Brazil semi-final at the 2014 World Cup), their beating heart and General. 22 year-old Marquinhos was an exceptional leader in the centre of defence, making some key blocks. Layvin Kurzawa, who appears to have matured since his move from AS Monaco, made Messi (albeit he was having an off night) look poor. 6’ 3” summer signing Thomas Meunier was brilliant at right-back as he both quelled Neymar’s attacks and heavily contributed to PSG’s attack. The star in the back-line however was 21 year-old Presnel Kimpembe who was making his first ever Champions League start, as he made crucial tackles, including a terrific double-tackle against Messi. The French youngster is highly thought of in Paris and has made two Champions League appearances prior to the match, as well as 11 appearances in Ligue 1. Kimpembe covered Kurzawa when he was getting forward brilliantly, with heat-maps showing he was present across the whole left-side of the defence. A defence with the average age of 23 successfully stopped the most prolific strike force in world football, which has scored 264 goals in 30 months. This stat is testament to Les Parisiens sensational defence.
PSG’s midfield was stellar this evening with one player in particular impressing me ; Marco Verratti was incredible, playing multiple key balls throughout the night as well as covering the defence but Adrien Rabiot was something special tonight. Rabiot is a tall, quick centre-midfielder who was all over the park. He made the most touches (79) out of any PSG player and was a real catalyst, driving PSG forward as well as adding strength in numbers at the back tonight. His intelligence was on par with someone much his elder, with his timing of passes and knowledge of when to pass and when to run setting him apart from Verratti. An 88% pass success rate coupled with 4 successful dribbles shows his class, whilst he also out-tackled his Catalonian counter-part Sergio Busquets. The only PSG player to be carded, Rabiot achieved a whoscored.com rating of 8.34 and my Man of the Match award.
PSG’s performance was capped off by a highly successful counter-attacking tactic. Knowing they’d be out possessed (57%-43% as it turned out) they decided to sit deep until they won the ball and then they would spring forward. Blaise Matuidi blended midfield into attack and was seen up and down the pitch and Julian Draxler abused Barcelona’s weak spot at the right of the defence, with Sergi Roberto (a good example of a Swiss-army-knife footballer)stepping in for the injured Aleix Vidal. The two birthday boys (Ángel Di María and Edinson Cavani) were the focal point of the PSG side and they were the ones who secured the victory. Di María had an electric hour on the pitch before being subbed off. The now 29 year-old, who previously flopped at Manchester United, whipped in a free-kick and curled a shot past Marc-André ter Stegen from similar positions – with the latter goal subject to poor defending from Barcelona.Di María outshone compatriot Lionel Messi who will want to quickly forget his Valentine’s Day. Edinson Cavani took nearly a third of PSG’s total shots and clinically finished a near-post attempt after Thomas Meunier skipped past Neymar and ran the length of the pitch to gain himself an assist.
The ultimate reason PSG won this game though was because of manager Unai Emery. The three-time winner of the Europa League overshadowed Luis Enrique. Emery motivated his side more as they worked much, much harder than Barcelona. Emery was also much more animated on the touch-line, constantly shouting and engaging with his players. Emery also outclassed Enrique with his tactics. Emery instructed his players to sit back and allow Barcelona to attack them, with the Catalans never progressing through the rigid defence. With a blanket of Rabiot, Verratti and occasionally Matuidi, even the four-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi would not dribble through that wall. Emery’s counter-attacking style worked very well. PSG worked harder than Barcelona, especially in midfield, and this can be seen by the heat-maps. PSG’s heat-map is much more spread out compared to Barcelona’s, suggesting more areas of the pitch being exploited. PSG’s full-backs also attacked the Barcelona defence, much like Liverpool and Tottenham, with Meunier and Kurzawa each registering an assist.
The Pont des Arts Bridge is the traditional French spectacle on Valentine’s Day, but this evening in the City of Love, Les Rouge-et-Bleu deserve all the attention.