PSG vs. Barca: 6 Things We Learned

Jonathan Johnson@@Jon_LeGossipFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2013

PSG vs. Barca: 6 Things We Learned

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    Blaise Matuidi’s late strike salvaged a 2-2 draw for Paris Saint-Germain against Barcelona at the Parc des Princes and has now provided the capital club with hope ahead of next week’s second leg in Spain. Matuidi will miss out through suspension, but his strike could prove crucial for PSG, as it kept them in the tie, though they did allow the Catalans two away goals.

    Lionel Messi opened the scoring against the run of play in the first half, netting from an acute angle after a sublime outside-of-the-foot pass from right-back Dani Alves. Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasn’t to be denied his share of the headlines though; he pulled Carlo Ancelotti’s side back into it with a contentious equaliser with 12 minutes remaining.

    As if that wasn’t enough late drama, Barcelona were then awarded a penalty when Salvatore Sirigu felled Alexis Sanchez. Captain Xavi stepped up to convert, but there was still time for one last twist. Matuidi, consistently one of PSG’s best players this season, scored a vital last-gasp equaliser after his low shot deflected off Marc Bartra and past the helpless Victor Valdes.

    The result was no more than PSG deserved, but the nature of it will hurt Barcelona. In truth though, the hosts should have won the match with a string of good chances early on, the best falling to Ezequiel Lavezzi.

    David Beckham starting in place of the talented but inexperienced Marco Verratti proved a masterstroke from Ancelotti, not because of what the Englishman did in a steady but unspectacular 70 minutes, but just because he was there.

    A pulsating encounter finished 2-2, and the result raises plenty of talking points.

    Here are six things we learned from the clash.

Ancelotti Was Right to Start Beckham

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    PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti's decision to start David Beckham was nothing short of brilliant given the circumstances.

    Whilst there is no question that Thiago Motta would have played if he was fit, the 37-year-old was the correct choice for this match—and this match only—in place of the diminutive Italian.

    There is no question who is the more effective player when comparing Beckham and Verratti on current ability and fitness, but the Italian does not have the experience necessary to start a big match like this one.

    Undoubtedly, he will in the future as he develops, but it would have been too large a risk from Ancelotti to start with Verratti in a key position prone to yellow cards and indecision.

    As the 20-year-old showed when he replaced Beckham with 20 minutes left, there is still a hesitance on the ball that is holding back his maturity. It will be remedied in time, but Ancelotti couldn’t take any chances against a side that preys on opponents' indecision and is lethal when possession is given away.

    The Englishman was not necessarily more effective than Verratti would have been, but he was certainly less erratic. That is what Ancelotti needed. He wanted Beckham to be there, reassuring his teammates around him by his mere presence. That is, instead of the more experienced members of the side having to carefully watch Verratti, keeping him in check and recognising when he is about to boil over.

    Beckham fulfilled that purpose excellently and rarely put himself at risk. His presence, not his contributions, is part of the reason that PSG settled into such a big game so quickly.

Irony Not Lost on Barcelona

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    I am not for one minute going to argue that Zlatan Ibrahimovic was onside when scoring the first equaliser for PSG against Barca, but there is something ironic about seeing Barca vilify the man who is often painted as the Catalan’s saviour (particularly in Madrid).

    Wolfgang Stark made some big calls in the match and got at least one of them wrong with the Swede looking clearly offside for the hosts’ first goal. The second was potentially the penalty given against Salvatore Sirigu for his foul on Alexis Sanchez, although any contact in a situation like that should be expected to result in a spot-kick.

    Over the course of the match, those inequalities arguably evened themselves out. Yes, Barca can rightly feel aggrieved that they were subject to some dubious refereeing, but they were also largely dominated in the first half and took the lead completely against the run of play.

    Tito Vilanova’s side may feel hard done by, but in reality, they should see it as a draw gained because for large parts of the match (particularly once Messi had departed) PSG looked the better side.

PSG Must Be More Clinical in Spain

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    This evening, PSG got away with being wasteful in front of goal, as they eventually secured the 2-2 draw they deserved even if it did come rather fortuitously.

    What is also not beyond doubt is that the scoreline will not be as forgiving next week if the capital club continues to pass up some of its best opportunities.

    Les Parisiens’ industry was impressive at times, and there were moments when you felt they were going to carve the Spaniards apart, but those openings were not fully capitalised on. It will not be the same away from home.

    Arguably, PSG play better when away from home, particularly thanks to their counterattacking strength, so you feel that they will create chances at the Camp Nou. Ezequiel Lavezzi must do better with his early chance, Zlatan Ibrahimovic must be more clinical too and Javier Pastore must be bolder when faced with shooting opportunities.

    All missed decent opportunities at the Parc des Princes, and if PSG are to stand any chance of progressing, then those chances have to be converted into goals.

Victor Valdes Absolved of Blame

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    He has many critics, but one thing that must be recognised from Tuesday night’s performance is that PSG’s equaliser is not down to goalkeeping negligence.

    From the stands, it looked like a howler, but having watched the replays (as I also did with Zlatan’s equaliser), it is harsh to put the blame on Valdes’ shoulders. The shot deflects from close quarters off Marc Bartra, who did his best to block the effort. The Spanish international was left totally flat-footed, and recovery at that point was almost impossible, as evidenced by his body’s posture in conceding the goal.

    Valdes put in a steady performance, making a number of important blocks and was unlucky with both goals. Deceived by the post for the first and by his own man for the second, the 31-year-old has his detractors.

    Partly because of his decision to leave Barca at the end of his current contract and partly a handful of shaky performances, now is hardly the time to vilify a player who has otherwise been a reliable presence on the team for a long time.

If PSG Lose This Tie, It Will Be on the Flanks

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    PSG’s main weakness on Tuesday appeared to be their full-backs. Both French international Christophe Jallet and Maxwell put in a shift, but given the pace and width employed by Barca and the success they enjoyed there during their approach play, the Catalans will look to exploit those areas even more next week.

    Either player against the likes of Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez, David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Pedro or even Cristian Tello will be viewed as the underdog. The duo fared admirably for the majority of the match but were bailed out by the godlike Thiago Silva, who put on the performance of his life, marshaling the PSG back line.

    Silva will be required to repeat his colossal performance next week, but away from home, Jallet and Maxwell are unlikely to survive the multiple threats Barca pose from wide. Because of this, Alex’s lack of manoeuvrability will likely be exposed, forcing him to play out of his comfort zone.

    There is a danger that the side could get overrun, particularly given how much Lucas Moura will push forward and how high a position Pastore took in the first leg.

The Absence of the Matuidi Menace Next Week Is Barcelona’s Biggest Plus

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    Barcelona dominated possession once again, as expected, but PSG utilised the extreme pace in attack as the capital club often went from one end to the other, turning defence into attack.

    The reason they are able to do this so effectively is largely thanks to Blaise Matuidi. The French international was a thorn in the Catalans’ sides all evening with his destructive play, and coupled with Silva’s incredible wall-like block job at the back for the hosts, PSG often killed the game through the middle for Barca. Particularly once Messi departed.

    Without Matuidi there next week, Barca will have free reign over the middle of the park. They will be able to better orchestrate when they go out wide and when they play through the middle, with or without Messi, by virtue of Matuidi’s absence.

    There is also little PSG can do to offset this, as Ancelotti has no alternative to Matuidi no matter how encouraging Beckham was, no matter how tenacious Verratti is and no matter how composed Thiago Motta could be.

    Plenty will be made of Messi's potential absence once the extent of his injury is known (per BBC Sport). But Matuidi is irreplaceable for PSG, and Barca know it.