Paris Saint-Germain’s determined 1-1 draw with Barcelona at the Camp Nou wasn’t enough to prevent them exiting the Champions League on away goals. But a 3-3 aggregate draw represents progress for PSG, who did not lose to the Spanish giants over the two legs and refused to be overawed.
Whilst an exit from the competition stings like any other, Carlo Ancelotti’s side don’t have much to rue upon their departure. They gave the tie everything over two legs and even managed to stay focused on their domestic duties in Ligue 1, a habit they have quickly mastered.
The side from the French capital created plenty going forward while remaining responsible at the back. Ancelotti’s tactics were spot-on to get the best out of his side’s attacking prowess and Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta held the midfield together, despite the latter’s lack of fitness.
Defensively, the returning Thiago Silva and Alex marshalled the PSG backline well, and Christophe Jallet and Maxwell put in impressive performances out wide considering the immense pressure they were put under.
Going forward, Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all combined well in parts and showed a glimpse of what they are capable of together.
Pastore was arguably quiet with the exception of a well-taken, beautifully worked goal; Moura too was muted after a lively opening. Lavezzi was tireless once again creating plenty of chances, particularly in the first half, and Ibrahimovic showed his selfless side with a creative performance that saw him lay on four good opportunities throughout the match.
Ancelotti can be proud of his side for competing with Barcelona, forcing them to introduce a half-fit Lionel Messi before they wanted to and even more proud of the fact that they exit the competition having only lost once. That defeat came in Porto, and to go unbeaten against arguably the best side in world football over two legs of a quarterfinal in your first time back in the competition for eight years is impressive.
The character shown in defeat bodes well for the future. There are a number of players in this PSG side that will now form the spine of what should be a more successful team next season. The likes of Ibrahimovic, Silva, Moura, Lavezzi, Matuidi, Verratti and Pastore all form a solid base to the current side, and with the added maturity they will have from this experience, they go into the future in a strong position.
Arguably a few changes need to be made to the current squad, but only minor ones. A lot will depend on what happens regarding the domestic talent in the squad over the summer that will likely force Ancelotti’s hand, but the Italian already has the structure of a potential winning side.
Crucially though, the Champions League now holds no fear for them. More than anything this season, PSG have learnt to deal with expectations at the highest level and are now comfortable dining at Europe’s top table.
The players, too, finally have the vital continental experience needed under their belt. Before this year’s edition got underway it was only Ibrahimovic, Silva, Alex, Maxwell, Motta, Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez who had Champions League experience. Now the entire squad has some, which will be crucial next season in facing a no doubt less favourable draw than they experienced this time.
Players like Verratti and Pastore in particular will have matured thanks to this encounter. Both are tremendously gifted players, but are members of the side who have struggled at times to impose themselves upon games or to replicate the early season form with great consistency. Both are young and will enter next season’s campaign with a remarkably higher level of maturity. Pastore made improvements in his consistency and Verratti in his discipline, thanks to this learning curve.
That crucially is what PSG needed this Champions League campaign to be. I’m not saying they had no hope of reaching the latter stages at the start of the season, but a deep run in the competition was not an immediate priority. As the season developed, it became more of a target and further progress became tangible. They needed the experience of a match of the biggest occasion to now be able to advance to the next stage of the project.
In reaching the quarter-finals, Ancelotti has done what was asked of him at the start of the season and in running Barcelona so close, has arguably exceeded it for now. The Italian deserves the chance to better that finish next year, when expectations will be higher. But for now, he and the club’s owners can be proud of what PSG have achieved this season. The dream, despite the exit, is bigger than ever.