Neymar bags brace as Barca cruise past into Champions League semis
Paris Saint-Germain’s nemesis Neymar struck again Tuesday night to scuttle the French side’s dreams of Champions League glory. The Brazilian star’s double led Barcelona to a 2-0 win (5-1 on aggregate) and a berth in the UEFA Champions League semifinals at PSG’s expense.
PSG, who have had the misfortune of facing Barcelona four times in this competition this season, have now seen Neymar score five goals against them, making him the bête noire of the Ligue 1 side. Already in a two-goal hole entering the game, Neymar made sure the French side’s hopes were extinguished after only 14 minutes, with the striker rounding Salvatore Sirigu to slot home.
It was a clinical finish, but the goal was created by a sublime run from Andres Iniesta, who darted through four PSG players — including Edinson Cavani, left on his rump — to slide the ball between the center-backs. With David Luiz caught looking the wrong way, Neymar collected, juked left and made what was actually a technically difficult strike look routine.
Neymar would then compound PSG’s misery in the 34th minute when he headed home from a Dani Alves cross. David Luiz — who has endured a miserable two legs — was again caught ball-watching, and allowed Alves’ cross to loop over him to a waiting Neymar. Again, the finish was sublime but there will be real questions about how such an important and expensive defender could concede off such a schoolboy error.
PSG had little to offer in return. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had one fine touch on the ball in the first half, but was far offside when the ball came to him; he knew his goal would be waved off even before it ruffled the back of the net. Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore also fought gamely, but with the Catalans pushing high up the field whenever PSG collected the ball — and essentially throttling their play — there was little they could do to right the ship.
”We had a great start to the game, it was decisive,” said Barcelona boss Luis Enrique. ”I don’t want to look too far ahead, but I hope the best is yet to come. That’s what my players have been playing for this season, to be in the position to win titles.”
Let’s be clear, PSG didn’t look fluent, didn’t look positive and generally looked lethargic. But that wasn’t because they weren’t trying — it was because Barcelona were putting on a clinic. Notably slower in possession, the Parisians labored to get the ball upfield under constant pressure, which only allowed Barcelona to get back, re-set and take the ball back.
After the hour mark, Barcelona would take their foot so far off the pedal they nearly came to a dead stop. Verratti would be gifted a free hit under no pressure at all, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen was somewhat fortunate to see the midfielder scuff it well wide. Ibrahimovic would have a fine chance on the trot that ter Stegen did well to bat away with 20 minutes to play, but that shot only served to illustrate how far out of the game the Swede had been.
If there was a downside in this game for Barcelona – and candidly, you’d have to look long and hard to find one — it might be that Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi were both rather quiet during the game. But that’s small potatoes considering how effective Barcelona were all over the field. PSG’s midfielders were run ragged by Iniesta, Xavi and Ivan Rakitic, and this was without the Catalans even breaking a sweat. Barcelona look a truly dangerous team, at times reducing this match to little more than a training exercise.
For PSG, however, there will be questions aplenty. Yes, they were missing several key players in the first leg, including Verratti and Ibrahimovic, but for a side that has sunk hundred of millions of dollars into their squad, there were far higher expectations.
A number of their stars, most notably Luiz and Cavani, were terrible over both legs and there will be questions about manager Laurent Blanc’s tactical nous to boot. His attempt to stifle Barcelona at home was disastrous, and the end result is that the Parisians have now been knocked out at this stage for the third year in a row.
That’s simply not good enough for them, and while there is no shame in losing to a side as magnificent at Barcelona there are sure to be repercussions this summer.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report