Barcelona’s claim on the Champions League can start to feel inevitable after matches like Wednesday’s game against PSG. They prospered where Chelsea laboured, inflicting on PSG their first home European competition defeat in 34 games and nine years. For once Luis Suarez eclipsed Lionel Messi as chief tormentor — Suarez’s goals were sumptuous, giving his team a sense of serene progress in the quarter final first leg match.
Barcelona’s dissection of PSG’s raised expectations following their elimination last month of the Premier League champions-elect was ruthless. PSG might have been makeshift and patched-up following suspensions and untimely injuries, but there was still something of a gulf in class. At times, Laurent Blanc’s team looked utterly limited as they heaved without success to contain their slippery opponents.
Fans looking to buy UEFA Champions League tickets after this match can safely focus on Barcelona if it’s excellent soccer they’re looking for — Luis Enrique called this most recent performance “spectacular” on both attack and defense, though of course despite their familiar and slick possession, Suarez’s incise interventions following the interval was what took everyone’s breath away.
Suarez had been ball-starved until then, though he rarely manages to stay peripheral for very long. Midway during the second half, as PSG was sensing a route into the tie again with a still-slender deficit, the former Liverpool forward drifted to the right flank and collected possession off Martin Montoya. A little from David Luiz and a burst that took him away from Marquinhos, the striker held off Maxwell just before he converted Barcelona’s 400th goal inside Sirigu’s near-post. The home players were left puffing out their cheeks despairingly.
Luiz had been taken off the bench right after Neymar’s opener, where he replaced Thiago Silva after a thigh injury. Still Luiz was rushed from hamstring problems himself and Barca’s vibrant approach left him dazzled; by the end of the match bringing him in seemed cruel.
Suarez, who was playing his ideal number 9 role, dropped into the deep 11 minutes after time to collect off Mascherano and repeat the nutmeg on Luiz, sprinting clear and leaving the Brazilian marooned before he conjured a glorious finish beyond Sirigu for Barca’s third. It was Suarez’s 11th goal in 11 games, bringing a sort of praise from Barcelona manager Enrique, who called Suarez “special in his own way.” But, Enrique noted, it wasn’t just Suarez — the whole team were superb across both defense and midfield.
Barca set the match’s tone early, weathering the initial urgency from PSG which left Javier Pastore kicking the air where he could have scored and letting Barcelona impose their rhythm. PSG’s attempts to clog their half with bodies left them unperturbed — the visitors’ control and ability to make it through the tightest spaces while emerging in possession set them apart. Barcelona targeted in particular Gregory van der Wiel, who was so eager to push up the flank he left tantalising space to his back which Neymar was able to exploit.
There’s no shame in the way they performed but even in their depleted state PSG will have hoped to have delivered more than they offered in Wednesday’s meek showing. They will be travelling to Spain quite wary of what is awaiting them. Playing in the form they did, Barcelona might seem untouchable.