A costly draw in Paris

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona achieved a costly 2-2 draw against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes in the away leg of the Champions League quarter-finals. Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez scored the goals for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 63 percent of possession, created 14 goalscoring chances and attempted nine shots, four of them on target.

As predicted, the returning Tito Vilanova decided to field the most successful eleven this season and instructed his players to display the attacking football which has made the club so successful in recent years.

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The team's commitment was obvious from the start, with the Catalans using that extra gear in order to move the ball across the park from the initial whistle, while looking for eventual openings within the well-organised Parisian back-line.

After investing a huge €257 million in the last two seasons, it can come as no surprise that the mobility of Lucas Moura, work-rate of Ezequiel Lavezzi and the constant presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic upfront caused the Blaugrana numerous defensive problems. In fact, the French hosts were able to challenge Barcelona throughout the whole match, often interrupting the traditional longer possessions and building speedy counter-attacking plays shortly after.

Fortunately for the Cules, a spark of genius from the tiny wizard that never hides, aka Lionel Messi, unbalanced the game in Barcelona's favour after taking advantage from an isolated, rare goalscoring opportunity after a weak clearance by the PSG defence, which Dani Alves quickly transformed into pure gold for the Blaugrana.

Not happy with that, La Pulga continued to push for a second goal when, tragically, the Argentinean forward picked up a thigh muscle injury, which early reports suggest will sideline him for at least three weeks. Let's be clear here: Any team on Earth would certainly be affected by losing the best footballer to ever play the game, but the only way to overcome this terrible blow is for the remaining members of the team to step up in his absence.

During the second half, the introduction of Cesc Fabregas as a false nine and the momentary positive result turned Barcelona's focus slightly more towards retaining possession rather than frantically aiming to extend the lead.

To be perfectly honest, the plan seemed to be working until the officials gifted PSG with an illegal goal after 80 minutes: The fact that Ibrahimovic took advantage by starting his run from a clearly offside position is undeniable. While I fully understand that refereeing is an incredibly difficult task, it is hard to believe that someone who has been given the responsibility at the highest European level can miss such obvious offside.

Either way, the damage was done and Barcelona players were right to keep fighting until the end. The team's insistence and desire eventually paid off when Alexis Sanchez was clearly fouled inside the area, allowing Xavi to score from the penalty spot with an impeccable strike with only minutes to go.

And then the unthinkable happened. Once again, Barcelona were unable to keep a favourable result in the dying moments and allowed their rivals to stretch across the Catalans' defensive third. Sure, goalkeeper Victor Valdes was only beaten because Marc Bartra deflected Blaise Matuidi's initial shot but those who play with fire are more likely to get burnt.

Sure, the Blaugrana are potentially only 90 minutes away from booking their place in the semi-finals and have managed to get a positive 2-2 draw from an extremely difficult stadium, but knowing the final reward should have been better and, most importantly, the possible long-term loss of key players Messi and Javier Mascherano, makes accepting this frustrating result that little bit more difficult.

Player Ratings (0-10; 10=best)

Victor Valdes (7) - An impressive performance which was painfully stained by being beaten by an unfortunate deflection after 94 minutes.

Dani Alves (7) - Man of the Match - Performed well at both ends of the pitch. Seemed more focused defensively than usual, which helped the team as a whole. His brilliant assist allowed Messi to write his name on the scoresheet.

Gerard Pique (6) - Mostly solid despite being faced with an incredibly difficult task. Defended the talented, powerful Ibrahimovic fairly well, despite picking up a very early yellow card.

Javier Mascherano (6) - Focused, well-positioned. Tackled well whenever needed and generally had the upper hand against the very mobile PSG forwards. Picked up a serious knee injury that will sideline him for at least six weeks. Terrible news. You will be missed!

Jordi Alba (6) - As Alves, made defending his main priority and, as a result, his attempts to join attack and overlap team-mates were less frequent than usual.

Sergio Busquets (6) - Always eager to provide Xavi and Iniesta with an extra passing option while building the next attacking movement. Challenged defensively, especially whenever the hosts managed to counter-attack via long balls.

Xavi Hernandez (6) - Contributed greatly to the Blaugrana passing game, always trying to ensure the ball flowed across the field at the required speed. Scored the team's second with an elegant shot from the penalty spot.

Andres Iniesta (7) - The most creative midfielder, as seems to be the norm this season. Rotated freely across the pitch, alternating short combinations with those around him with some classy dribbling. A constant threat.

David Villa (5) - Took a more central role in an attempt to bring players' away from Messi and create space for his attacking teammates. Unfortunately, El Guaje was rarely able to escape his markers and failed to create any remarkable danger as a result.

Lionel Messi (7) - The quadruple Ballon d'Or winner did what he does best: Score decisive goals whenever his team need it the most. Great effort to get involved in the build-up process by dropping deep into midfield too. Had to be substituted at half-time with a right hamstring injury. Get better soon, the team needs you!

Alexis Sanchez (6) - As always, seemed determined to make things happen with his aggressive nature, anarchic mobility and desire. Sure, he could have done better to put the clearest chance of the match away but that can't hide the fact that his refusal to give up gave Barcelona a late penalty.

Substitutes: Cesc Fabregas (5), Marc Bartra (5)

Have your say

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I welcome and appreciate all respectful feedback.

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