Barcelona staged the greatest comeback in UEFA Champions League history, beating Paris Saint-Germain on a mesmeric night at the Camp Nou to progress through to the quarter-finals of the competition for the tenth year running. In doing so, they overturned a 4-0 first leg deficit.
Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez gave Barcelona the perfect start, putting his side ahead after two and a half minutes. Wave after wave of Barcelona attack followed throughout the first half, and eventually PSG couldn’t cope as the hosts doubled their lead shortly before the break — a sublime back heel from the virtuoso Andres Iniesta forced Layvin Kurzawa to put through his own net.
They were in no mood to stop either. In the second half, the men in red and blue flew out of the blocks as quick as they did in the first, and it didn’t take long for them to extend their lead. Thomas Meunier brought down Neymar in the penalty area, and Lionel Messi converted in emphatic style.
Barcelona tortured their French counterparts, but the visitors soon got their break when Edinson Cavani netted his 38th goal of the season, firing into the roof of the net past a helpless Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
Roles were soon reversed, however, as Cavani went through one-on one but was denied by the left boot of the German goalkeeper. The game became increasingly stretched as the second half wore on, and star of the first leg Angel di Maria broke away but failed to convert — he and PSG would be made to pay.
A late onslaught from Barcelona turned the tie. A marvellous, trademark free-kick from Neymar seen the seemingly impossible task back on track, before Suarez was fouled by Brazilian defender Marquinhos two minutes later, earning his side a controversial penalty.
Marquinhos’ international compatriot Neymar converted his spot kick as Messi had done, and then turned provider for substitute Sergi Roberto to complete an unbelievable comeback. A comeback which will undoubtedly live long in the memory.
It was one of the best European nights ever seen, and Neymar was the instigator of the colossus comeback. He was Barcelona’s best player in a miserable night in Paris three weeks previously, but in the return leg he grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. It was perhaps the Brazilian superstar’s best game in a Barcelona shirt.
Neymar was PSG’s chief tyrant, but the whole team played their part in an amazing night in Spain’s second city. Suarez’s never say die attitude was evident right until the very end, and Messi was constantly plugging away trying to create chances.
Iniesta was withdrawn with around 25 minutes to go, but in the time, he was on the pitch he instigated proceedings in typical fashion. Barcelona’s back line was much better than in the first leg, justifying Enrique’s selection to go with three defenders.
Second half substitutes Arda Turan and Andre Gomes added fresh legs, playing their part, and needless to say, Sergi Roberto’s name will be forever edged into Barcelona tradition. The togetherness of Enrique’s warriors got them over the line.
In many ways, the game at the Camp Nou was reminiscent of the game at the Parc des Princes, with the tables turned. Barcelona absolutely suffocated their opponents from start to finish, just as PSG had done to them in the first leg. The result marked redemption, it was no more than Barcelona deserved.
Enrique courageously, or rather sensibly, changed his formation, perhaps something he should have done in France. The extra man at the back made Barcelona more durable, allowing them to cope effectively with PSG’s attacking threat.
Remarkably, Barcelona’s defensive trio of Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti spent more time in PSG’s half than in their own half over the course of the 90 minutes (51-49%).
Offensively, the attacking players were granted greater freedom with Sergio Busquets playing faultlessly in front of the three defenders. This meant that lethal the attacking South American trident of Messi, Suarez and Neymar could play closer together, and the midfielders gained more space, with the licence to push further up the pitch.
The change in formation made all the difference, and it is a system they could use later in the competition as they bid to win the European Cup for the sixth time.
The extraordinary result means that Barcelona joined Spanish rivals Real Madrid, along with German teams Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in what already looks like a mouth-watering quarter-final line-up.
The result also proved that nothing is beyond Luis Enrique’s side, and as well as beating PSG in ruthless fashion on the night, the Blaugrana sent a firm message out to the rest of Europe’s teams — we’re coming for you.