No Lionel Messi, No Excuse: Barca Can't Win the UCL Without a Pressing Game

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterApril 10, 2013

Barcelona progressed to the UEFA Champions League semifinals on away goals after a scintillating 90 minutes at the Camp Nou. Paris Saint-Germain were the better side on the night, but the 2-2 scoreline at the Parc des Princes came back to haunt them.

Many neutrals watching will have been been surprised to see some astounding statistics: PSG registered 16 total shots and fashioned around five clear-cut chances to score.

What happened to Barca? Why were they in such porous form?

The truth is, the defence was just as vulnerable as always, but only this time the midfield pressing game was positively absent.

Much was made of Lionel Messi's absence and the subsequent lack of creativity up top. Throughout the first half, the Blaugrana barely threatened Salvatore Sirigu's goal, and PSG looked far more likely to score.

But the real talking point should be the lack of energy in the midfield.

Another poor showing from Cesc Fabregas on a monumental occasion saw the Spaniard fail to spark anything from the false-nine position. He offered nothing with the ball at his feet (zero successful dribbles) and also nothing tracking back (zero tackles).

David Villa also performed poorly, Xavi barely got tight and PSG played on the opposite side of the pitch to Andres Iniesta. Only Pedro put in a proper shift.

Absent pressing, Barca looked human.

Sergio Busquets was left in the middle of no man's land while the impressive Marco Verratti picked out passes to the left and right of him.

Scything balls set Les Parisien's speedsters away down the flanks, and given time to play the right ball, PSG have the ability to hurt you.

The lack of pressure on Javier Pastore was astonishing. He was given a license to surge forward, completed 39 passes (high for an away side at Camp Nou) and scored the opening goal.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic played a bit-part role as the French representatives drove forward with their dribblers, but somehow the hitman was allowed to make a whopping five key passes in Barca's half.

Barca were saved by Messi's match-winning cameo. The Argentine was not fit, barely ran and did not track, but provided the spark that Cesc could not.

But the Blaugrana were lucky PSG turned up in a profligate state. Of the 16 shots, Ezequiel Lavezzi could have bagged a brace on another night. Les Parisiens could have gone into halftime 2-0 up.

The lack of energy and pressing led to Barca exposing their own biggest weakness—a rocky defence that doesn't enjoyed being counterattacked.

The Catalan club now moves into the semifinals to face attacking delights more cultured and clinical than PSG's. Jose Mourinho already exposed Barca in early 2013 using the Xabi Alonso-Cristiano Ronaldo connection.

Many will still view Barca as favourites to lift the trophy, citing Messi's absence as the reason for an abject showing. But that reasoning is misguided, and Tito Vilanova simply has to drill his midfield for a risky performance.

Statistics via, and