Despite the well known danger every team is faced with against Paris Saint-Germain, very few people could have predicted the absolute thrashing of Barcelona in the French capital.
Paris Saint-Germain didn’t start the season with its usual dominance of the French league, possibly missing the new Mancunian Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but had been improving in form and chemistry, culminating in a brilliant performance that translated to four unanswered goals against the European giants.
Barcelona is famous for its eye-pleasing offensive style and frequent sharing of the ball, drawing natural comparisons to the Golden State Warriors. But much like its NBA counterpart, Barça can be rattled by more physical teams that pressure their fine artists and take advantage of the hubris and oversharing that sometimes show.
Physicality and aggressiveness are often brushed aside when judging the genius of a player, for some reason, but were the driving force in PSG’s big victory. Particularly, Angel Di María and Julian Draxler are powerhouses in the midfield that are able to drive to the opposing box with remarkable speed and technical prowess.
Zlatan’s departure opened up space for Edinson Cavani as the main striker, and Cavani’s skill set is actually better suited for this style of play, having scored 37 goals in 36 games at the club level in 2016-17.
A 4-0 first leg deficit is not new for Barcelona, having faced that scenario in 2012-13 against Bayern Munich. The second leg wasn’t much better then, losing 0-3 at home and completing one of the biggest humiliations in team history.
In order to meet a different fate, Barça will have to summon whatever another American counterpart did in February — the New England Patriots, the most dominant NFL team of the century, who came back from a 21-3 halftime deficit to win the Super Bowl, avoiding embarrassment and making history in the way.
The Patriots comeback was product of a combination of factors: the team ramping up its intensity and focus, the best player in the world playing at his absolute peak, and the opposition tightening up due to imminent danger, heightened by the legacy of paid dues. Barcelona has the tools to recreate such setting, having the chance to make history in the version of football they excel in.
The crowd at Nou Camp will undoubtedly be vibrant from the get-go, and it will be interesting to see how much Barcelona pushes the pace in the initial minutes. The Spanish side can’t overexpose itself to PSG’s lightning fast counter attacks, but scoring in the first half will be crucial for the Catalans.
Barça hasn’t been eliminated in the Round of 16 since 2006-07, and failing to advance could remove Lionel Messi from Ballon D’Or contention — unexpected stakes so early in the season.
Fortunately for Messi, Suárez, Neymar, and the entire Barcelona squad, they can show brilliance even on the heels of an unstable coaching situation, and are able to score multiple goals against any team in the world, as demonstrated in their recent 5-0 victory against Celta Vigo.
Barcelona playing for all the marbles and Paris Saint-Germain trying to establish itself as a European staple makes for a riveting match that won’t end up short of storylines.