Hobbling Messi to the rescue as Barca reach sixth consecutive semi

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona secured a place in the Champions League semifinals after drawing 1-1 against Paris Saint-Germain at the Camp Nou on Wednesday. The aggregate 3-3 scoreline helped the Catalans qualify on away goals. Pedro Rodriguez scored for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 61& of possession, created 20 goal-scoring chances and attempted 12 shots, two on target.

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The favourable result achieved at the Parc des Princes in the away leg seemed to give Barcelona a false sense of security in the early stages Wednesday. The team was definitely not in need of an epic comeback, as was the case in the previous round against Milan, and started far too casually, as if everything was under control -- it certainly wasn't.

Les Parisiens showed much more desire from the initial whistle and their relentless approach stopped Barcelona from developing their traditional pass-and-move game comfortably, giving star players such as Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura and Zlatan Ibrahimovic plenty of opportunity to use their talents against the hosts' weakened back four, who often looked exposed and struggled to get back when dispossessed.

The Blaugranas' inability to control the game was evident, with passes being clumsily missed in the middle of the park, a frustrating overall lack of concentration or collective defensive pressing that made the Camp Nou faithful fear the worst unless the team's attitude changed radically.

The fact the Cules could not take a shot on target during the first 45 minutes meant there was an obvious need for much a more orderly, meaningful and incisive style. Unfortunately, the situation worsened shortly after the halftime break, with Javier Pastore finding the net by taking one of the many chances created by the tenacious French side.

At that point, there was only one answer: There was simply no way the Catalans could afford to keep Lionel Messi watching impatiently from the bench any longer. The Argentine wizard had been initially reserved so that he could rest his injured hamstring, but, with the club's chances to win the biggest European competition on the line, taking a risk seemed necessary.

The impact was instant. Only a few seconds after substituting for the unimpressive Cesc Fabregas, La Pulga began beating rivals, weaving plays across the park, combining with others and rotating in the mesmerising way the Camp Nou has been lucky to witness so often in recent times.

A clear example: Pedro's decisive goal came as a result of a clever assist by David Villa, but the fact Messi had already beaten a couple of players at the beginning of the play shows how No. 10's mere presence on the pitch attracts many rivals defenders and, automatically, creates spaces that benefit his teammates enormously, making their task much more achievable.

In short: Leo changed a game that, from a Barcelona point of view, seemed destined toward mediocrity. Messidependence? Well, you could say so but, honestly, Cules can count themselves lucky to have such a deadly weapon in their squad and it would be stupid for them not to maximise his potential.

All in all, a tremendous achievement after an incredibly difficult tie. Credit must be given to an extremely competitive, courageous and brave opponent. The fact the Catalans were unable to beat PSG in either of the matches speaks for itself. As long as the current level of investment continues, the French will definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the not-too-distant future.

It was certainly not the Blaugranas' prettiest or most commanding victory, but it did help them qualify for the semi-finals of the biggest competition in European football for a sixth consecutive season.

The much-desired final at the legendary Wembley is potentially only 180 minutes away. If the Blaugranas have managed to come this far in the competition, there is no reason to think the team can't go all the way.

Sure, the three possible rivals in the semifinals (Madrid, Munich and Dortmund) are all incredibly tough, but I seriously doubt any of them would be willing to come to the Camp Nou next.

Player Ratings (0-10; 10=best)

Victor Valdes (7) – Intervened with several crucial saves, especially in the first half.

Dani Alves (4) – Bombed down the right flank constantly, but his crosses weren't always accurate. Repeatedly caught up defensively.

Adriano (5) – Chosen to cover up in central defence after several weeks out due to injury, often looking insecure due to being out of position.

Gerard Pique (6) – The most reliable defender left in the squad led the Blaugrana back line with a solid display despite the obvious threat posed by PSG's forwards.

Jordi Alba (6) – A courageous performance, contributing at both ends of the pitch. Attacked more prolifically in the second half, overlapping confidently.

Sergio Busquets (4) – A surprisingly poor display. Unable to cover the gap behind the more creative midfielders, often beaten and guilty of some unusual clumsy passes.

Xavi Hernandez (6) – Found it difficult to impose his commanding play in the first half but, luckily, stepped up to take control when the team needed it most.

Andres Iniesta (7) – Became more mobile and incisive when PSG took advantage after a fairly slow start. Combined better and looked more eager to make things happen when things turned ugly.

Cesc Fabregas (4) – Despite his undeniable efforts, he failed to build on his recent hat-trick performance in his preferred False 9 position. Unfortunately for him, the fact that his substitute changed the game can't be a good sign.

David Villa (6) – Stretched the pitch wide when needed, then threw diagonal runs to get involved in quick one-twos with other forwards when possible. Not always able to run free from his marker but managed to assist Pedro for the all-important Blaugrana goal.

Pedro Rodriguez (7) – Largely ineffective throughout most of the match but happened to be in the right place at the right time, boosting his team into the next round with a valuable, confident strike.

Substitutes: Marc Bartra (6), Lionel Messi (8 and Man of the Match), Alex Song (6)

Have your say

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I welcome and appreciate all respectful feedback.

For more news and opinion notes on Barcelona, follow Francesc Tomas at @Barcablog_com and Facebook; 33,000 Cules have already joined.

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