PSG taught harsh lesson, bow out despite brave effort

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Paris Saint-Germain's 1-1 draw with Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Wednesday meant a painful 3-3 aggregate Champions League quarter-final loss on away goals, but it should take nothing away from a superb team performance over two legs.

- Delaney: Messi inspires Barcelona into semis
- Tomas: Hobbling Messi sends Barca through
- Press Pass: Has Barca's edge gone?
- Pique: Messi can change everything

Particularly in the return match, the capital club produced a plucky combined effort to almost edge their illustrious Catalan hosts on their own turf. The exit, though a bitter pill to swallow, provides PSG with plenty of reasons for future optimism on reflection of what has been an excellent first foray back into the Champions League after eight years away.

On the night, there were some superb performances all over the pitch as Carlo Ancelotti’s side looked to take the game to the Spaniards. The Italian had welcomed back Thiago Motta in midfield after a lengthy absence through injury. He partnered him with international teammate Marco Verratti, and the youngster was trusted with keeping his cool from the start in Barcelona.

To his credit he did, and he fared well alongside an unfit, Motta who fought determinedly to keep up for 90 minutes. Thiago Silva and Alex returned in defence after missing Saturday’s win over Rennes, the latter looking especially solid despite his lack of pace, and Christophe Jallet and Maxwell reprised their roles on either side. The Frenchman was pegged by the hosts as the weak link in the PSG side as they looked to exploit him, but he worked extremely hard as did Maxwell, who was impressive on the left.

Javier Pastore recovered from a slow start to the game, posting the lowest first-half pass completion rate in the PSG side, to put in a much-improved 45 minutes in the second period. The Argentine's 50th-minute strike, while well taken, was pretty much the extent of his contribution to the tie.

Yes, it was a vital one, and it would be harsh to say that he had a poor game. But his elusiveness for the majority of the 90 minutes is a continuing element of frustration -- as is compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi’s lack of clinical ability in front of goal. In terms of industry Lavezzi is one of PSG's most productive players; his whirling energy (particularly in the first half) caused the Catalan side plenty of problems, and he had a number of chances.

PSG knew before the game they had to take every opportunity that came their way, and that is where Lavezzi is perhaps better suited to the left and Pastore, in turn, better through the middle. That way there is less pressure on Lavezzi's finishing and a more central role for Pastore would ensure that he is more involved in games and doesn't drift in and out of the proceedings as often.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will no doubt face criticism for not managing to find the net against his former employers, but those critics might want to consider the four good opportunities that he laid on in the middle hour of the match when PSG could, and arguably should, have built up a bigger advantage over their hosts.

The Swede has so often been more creative in Europe than domestically and once again he brought his productivity to the fore, putting forward the argument that perhaps he needs to be supplying an out-and-out predator in some games for PSG to make the most of his many talents. Lucas Moura, though perhaps too quiet in the second half, showed glimpses early in the match of the splendid talent that the capital club have in their possession. A number of darting runs served a demonstration of what we can expect from the Brazilian in a full campaign next season.

Another sublime talent in Barcelona’s Lionel Messi made the vital difference between the sides though, being rushed on with Barcelona trailing by a goal to save them as they spectacularly lost their composure.

The Argentine's introduction, though not unexpected, was a huge boost for Barca. They looked to be losing their cool and authority in a match they had bossed in the possession stakes, but failed to turn into goals. Messi's arrival was equally a crushing blow to PSG, whose optimism was building by the minute until that point, and one that was almost impossible to avoid given the huge influence of the phenomenal talent.

However it was Pedro who struck the killer blow, haunting the French once more after his heroics at the Stade de France last month for Spain, scoring a goal that had increasingly looked unlikely for the hosts.

Ancelotti should feel proud of his players, though. They fought valiantly and dug deep to give their continental run every chance of being extended. It is a right that they have recently earned with some gritty league performances that have established what now looks like being an insurmountable gap at the top of Ligue 1.

The Italian has developed a strong core squad in the French capital, and going into next season he has the basis of a strong side in the likes of Ibrahimovic, Silva, Moura, Blaise Matuidi, Verratti, Pastore and Lavezzi. The Italian too deserves to be there next season for a second attempt at the competition, on course to achieve everything that was asked of him at the start of the campaign, and, crucially, having turned PSG into a genuine continental threat.

Les Parisiens exited the Champions League having not lost over two games with Barcelona. The telling difference was the rarest of players, a commodity very few, if any, other European sides have. It doesn’t change the fact PSG have only lost once in their last 10 games and are now looking like the team many expected them to be when Qatar Sports Investments arrived at the Parc des Princes in 2011. PSG can now justifiably enter next season's competition expecting to better this year's showing with the experience they have gained, and they will be amongst the favourites next time around.

ESPN Conversations