PSG takes big step forward in Barca draw

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

For 37 minutes of the first half against Barcelona Tuesday, Paris Saint-Germain produced the best football I can recall in the Qatar Sports Investments era so far. Carlo Ancelotti's side did what so many teams in Spain and Europe have failed to do -- dominate the Catalans.

Although on reflection the 2-2 draw is a fair result, a small number of naive mistakes in defence cannot take away from what was a heroic performance, and one worthy of one of Europe's top teams. The collective came of age at the Parc des Princes with a perfect blend of experience and youthful exuberance and Ancelotti and the PSG fans can be proud of the team for their fight, spirit and ability to raise themselves for the greatest of occasions.

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All across the pitch, almost every member in Parisian colours gave everything for the cause and contributed to an enthralling game that will soften even the hardest of the capital club's cynics.

There were, however, some exceptional performances that warrant particular individual praise. It is impossible to choose who was more important to the result between captain Thiago Silva and midfield general Blaise Matuidi as both were immense presences for the hosts. Ezequiel Lavezzi was impressive, particularly in the first half, as his dynamic attacking play almost produced an early goal.

Lucas Moura was also particularly dangerous every time Les Parisiens advanced into the Catalan half, his running and neat footwork evidently shocked the Barca players who are normally used to such talent training and playing alongside them. Alex and Christophe Jallet also deserve special mentions for putting in an excellent shift.

Silva perhaps shades it in the man-of-the-match vote though by virtue of an almost-flawless performance that was comfortably his best for PSG to date. The Brazilian reacted to Marseille midfielder Joey Barton's cowardly comments from afar with the perfect riposte: the performance of his career that fully justified his price tag and status as the world’s best defender.

The 28-year-old was indomitable in the centre of defence aided by the physicality of compatriot Alex, and was always one step ahead of the game and first to every ball as his tremendous reading of the game came to the fore.

Matuidi then ran a close second, and it is fitting that the French international should be the man to score one of, if not the most important goal of PSG’s season. Unfortunately he will now miss the return leg at the Camp Nou next week, but if there were any lingering doubts over Matuidi;s top-level credentials pre-match, there can no longer be any now.

After a slow start to the match, the former Saint-Etienne man grew into his role and served up a now-regular all-action performance. The parallels drawn with Ancelotti's assistant Claude Makelele are more than accurate; Matuidi’s box-to-box nature was amplified as he sought to keep control of the midfield battle with the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. He was flying into vital challenges, keeping the ball intelligently and getting forward when the opportunity presented itself. He will be sorely missed in Spain next week, even if it does mean a deserved break for the 25-year-old.

Ancelotti's decision to start David Beckham over Marco Verratti alongside Matuidi was also justified. There can be no doubting the Italian player's potential and capability to fulfill Beckham’s role equally, if not more effectively.

But Carletto did not make his decision based on ability alone ahead of the match -- he chose Beckham solely because of his experience and his veteran presence. Physically, Beckham is not in shape to withstand the dizzying array of talent he was faced with at the Parc des Princes now at 37, but he didn’t have to.

The Englishman rarely contributed to PSG's best spells and often did not touch the ball for large periods of time, but his presence alone was enough for the side from the capital. The midfield is awash with talent, through relatively inexperienced. In order to accommodate the likes of Moura, Pastore and Matuidi, Ancelotti needed an experienced hand in the middle of the Parc.

Just by being there, Beckham’s presence guided those players through the potentially rocky opening phase that was crucial to PSG’s hopes of obtaining a positive result over the two legs. Beckham likely won’t start in the second leg, particularly as Ancelotti will be compelled to attack Barcelona because of the absence of Matuidi that arguably loses the midfield battle before it has even started, but he did his job on the night.

Verratti demonstrated immediately after coming on exactly why Ancelotti couldn't risk him from the start. A split-second hesitation on the ball midway between the halfway line and the PSG goal went unpunished, but from the start and under high pressure, the match could have been decided by that smallest of margins.

Plus, with the added potential liability of the 20-year-old receiving an early booking, Ancelotti's decision was vindicated.

Beckham’s starting though was hardly the only story; Zlatan Ibrahimovic finally should have put to bed the criticism that he can’t score against the biggest sides at this level. Scoring against Barcelona -- no matter how fortuitous -- you can’t wish to score against a greater opponent in world football (although some would have you believe otherwise as he is yet to score again against a Premier League side).

The Swede made amends for a few errors in judgment throughout the match to provide when it really mattered, the fuss over his potential suspension beforehand therefore fully warranted.

PSG might not have made history with a famous win as the pre-match Twitter campaign was hoping, but in the eyes of the fans and the owners they made a huge statement of intent in Europe and demonstrated the strong credibility of the project under construction in Paris.

It is hard to single out individuals when the team performance was so complete, but given the level of criticism that the team regularly face regarding their perceived lack of unity, if this is what a work in progress can achieve, then just imagine the finished article.

PSG head to Spain still in the tie -- and, crucially, still with a chance to make history. To be the best you have to beat the best, and the capital club has proved that they can live with them. After Tuesday's performance, the dream is bigger than ever, regardless of next week’s result.

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