Too many people were questioning if Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) would even stay close to Barcelona in their first leg of the Champions League Knockout Round of 16 due to Neymar not being able to play due to injury. For some strange reason, the pundits forgot that striker Kylian Mbappe plays for PSG.
When I was watching the pregame of this match on CBS Sports, analyst Alex Scott stated that she thought Barcelona was going to win the match. Then, I realized that PSG was going to win. PSG even let Barcelona score first, but ended up routing Barcelona 4-1 in Barcelona. Mbappe turned Camp Nou into Camp No with a hat trick.
Barcelona struck first in the 27th minute when Barca midfielder Frenkie de Jong was tripped by PSG defender Layvin Kurzawa while going after a long pass inside of the penalty area. The penalty shot was slotted in easily to the right side of the net by Lionel Messi to put Barcelona ahead 1-0 past the outstretched arm of PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Normally, a hot Barcelona start leads to a rout because they continue to roll once they gain the lead.
Unfortunately for Barcelona, that penalty kick was the only time Navas was tested during the entire match because PSG began to go on the attack. Mbappe scored his first goal of the match five minutes later when he took a pass from Marco Verratti and went around three Barcelona defenders to tie things up at 1-1.
The match was still up to grabs with the score being tied at halftime, but Mbappe scored again in the 65th minute when he ran up on a deflected pass in front of goal to put PSG up 2-1.
Then, Moise Kean put PSG up 3-1 five minutes later off of a free kick when he was totally unmarked near the right goal post. The lack of defense hurt Barcelona on this set piece because they only had twenty minutes left in the match to make an attempt to come back from a two-goal deficit.
Navas almost let Barcelona back into the match in the 82nd minute when a Navas pass to a defender was deflected by Antoine Griezmann right in front of goal, but the ball narrowingly went wide.
Nevertheless, Mbappe scored three minutes later on a counterattack when PSG's defense deflected a shot and cleared it out to Julian Draxler. Draxler was in the middle of a three-on-two breakaway with Mbappe to his left. Draxler waited until both defenders committed to him before passing the ball to Mbappe. Mbappe then one-timed the kick into the right side of the net for the 4-1 victory.
Things now look bleak for Barcelona because they have to win the second leg of this match-up by four goals in March. However, Barcelona has come back against PSG before in Champions League play. In 2017, Barcelona lost their first leg to PSG 4-0 in the Knockout Round of 16, but came back with the 6-1 upset in the second leg to advance to the quarterfinals.
The issue is that PSG remembers that choke from four years ago, so the team should be better prepared against falling complacent once again. Plus, Neymar should be back from injury for the second match in March.
To see someone score a hat trick against Barcelona at home in the Champions League is rather rare. The last time a player garnered three goals against Barcelona at Camp Nou was Andriy Shevchenko back in 1998. (Chelsea fans just cringed when they saw Shevchenko's name).
PSG played the best match of the season due to the tactics of coach and former PSG defender Mauricio Pochettino. The strategy that eventually worked was to position Mbappe along the left wing, but having him attack between the right central back and the right central defender for the majority of the match. This tactic alone ensured that PSG would triumph against Barcelona.
Unfortunately for Barcelona, coach Ronald Koeman was an awesome player, but has not been a stellar coach. In his previous coaching stints, he almost coached Southampton and Everton into relegation in the English Premier League. However, he will have three weeks to remove that stigma and to figure out how to stymie PSG's offensive attack along with their counterattacking. Barcelona will have to fix some things in order to salvage the season and to ensure that Messi does not have added incentive to leave Barcelona after this season is over.
Here are the starting lineups from the match. Both teams played with a 4-3-3 formation. Here are the starting lineups from both teams.
Barcelona -- Goalkeeper: Ter Stegen. Defenders: Dest, Pique, Lenglet, Jordi Alba. Midfielders: Busquets, de Jong, Pedri. Forwards: Messi, Dembele, Griezmann.
Paris Saint-Germain -- Goalkeeper: Navas. Defenders: Kurzawa, Marquinhos, Florenzi, Kimpembe. Midfielders: Verratti, Gueye, Paredes. Forwards: Kean, Icardi, Mbappe.
Substitutions for Barcelona: Mingueza for Dest in the 71st minute, Puig for Pique in the 78th minute, Pjanic for Busquets in the 78th minute, Trincao for Pedri in the 78th minute, Braithwaite for Griezmann in the 85th minute.
Substitutions for PSG: Ander Herrera for Gueye in the 46th minute, Draxler for Verratti in the 73rd minute, Danilo Pereira for Kean in the 85th minute, Kehrer for Florenzi in the 89th minute.
In regards to Barcelona's substitutions, Mingueza had to come in for Dest because Dest was chasing Mbappe around for 70 minutes. Puig, Pjanic, and Trincao were brought in as the team went all-in at the 78th minute. Braithwaithe was brought in for Griezmann late because Griezmann was all over the field for the match.
In regards to PSG's substitutions, Herrera was substituted for Gueye because Gueye picked up a yellow card in the 20th minute and almost picked up a red card before halftime on a borderline tackle. Draxler was brought in to bring more pace to the midfield. That sub worked really well because Draxler picked up an assist. Pereira and Kehrer were brought in for defensive purposes at the end of the match.
Image is from Pixabay.com. Video is from YouTube.com courtesy of CBS Sports.
I do apologize for the horrible Chris Berman styled pun in the title.