On Monday night time, Kylian Mbappe received to step onto the Camp Nou pitch for the primary time. He’d by no means been there earlier than; not solely had he by no means performed on this well-known floor, however he’d by no means been as a spectator both. He discovered it lovely and did not really feel an oz of concern or nervousness about taking part in Barcelona on Tuesday night time.
You’d have forgiven him if he did, although: PSG have been with out Neymar and Angel Di Maria for the Champions League last-16 first leg, and had turned in a string of common performances earlier than the conflict with Lionel Messi & Co. away from residence.
PSG did not arrive in Catalonia filled with confidence and momentum. Throughout Monday’s coaching session, the French prodigy had a chat with Mauricio Pochettino. “What number of occasions have you ever gained right here, boss?” he requested him. “Solely as soon as, after I was at Espanyol,” the supervisor responded. “There can be a second time tomorrow,” he then advised the Argentine coach, with a smile.
Mbappe relished the problem. His first recreation on the Camp Nou, his first recreation towards Barcelona, his first membership recreation towards Messi (having performed him when France met Argentina within the 2018 World Cup) and his first recreation within the Champions League with out Neymar and Di Maria all on one night time. He was on a mission, although Pochettino did not need him too excited or nervous in regards to the prospect. Within the dialogue they’d previous to the sport, the PSG supervisor made positive Mbappe did not suppose or really feel that he needed to win it on his personal; he did not need his star to strive too onerous to do all of it by himself.
Paris needed to be a staff to win in Barcelona and to win massive. Marquinhos stated after the 4-1 win that “soccer is a staff sport. However when a staff is robust, it’s the people that shine.” This was PSG’s motto on Tuesday. Solely with a robust collective might the likes of Mbappe, Marco Verratti or Marquinhos shine. And shine they did.
Mbappe was magnificent. At 22, his hat trick, making him the primary away participant to attain three on the Camp Nou in a Champions League recreation since Andriy Shevchenko in 1997 with Dynamo Kiev, is a reminder of what an unimaginable expertise he’s. However it was additionally a affirmation that he can personal an enormous recreation like this and carry this staff if wanted. At a time when Mbappe continues to be brazenly undecided about his future, such a win can solely be good from a PSG perspective to persuade him to remain.
Seeing PSG play underneath Pochettino since his arrival on Jan. 2 had been extra disappointing than anything. But Tuesday was the night time to place issues proper, each for the brand new coach and for his staff. Regardless of the difficulties, regardless of the absences and regardless of Messi lining up reverse them.
Pochettino had a meticulous plan for Barca, and his gamers executed it completely. The aim was to play balls for Mbappe and Moise Kean, whom Pochettino most well-liked to Pablo Sarabia with nice impact, into the half-spaces round Mauro Icardi and drive the Barcelona full-backs, Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, to observe them in-field, which in flip left PSG full-backs Alessandro Florenzi and Layvin Kurzawa free to assist in assault. Each of them have been key on the primary and third objectives after nice passes from Marquinhos and Paredes.
Verratti occupied a extra central function, greater up and between the traces in possession, but additionally very environment friendly defensively on the left to remove virtually all defensive tasks for Mbappe.
Defensively, Paris have been excellent too. Kean and Florenzi blocked Alba from getting ahead on his flank, whereas Icardi did an amazing particular person job on Sergio Busquets to forestall him from having some affect on the sport. Collectively, PSG additionally stopped Messi and Pedri from persevering with their productive relationship, proscribing the duo to simply 5 passes between them. All of it labored so nicely. Seeing the efficiency ranges of Paredes and Icardi, Pochettino’s Argentine compatriots, additionally reveals the work the PSG boss has performed to raise his gamers.
It is true that Barcelona have been poor on Tuesday night time, however it’s as a result of PSG have been so good. Barca’s struggles are why nobody contained in the membership, nor among the many gamers, is keen to devalue the win. The Spanish facet usually are not what they was once, however no opponent has overwhelmed them so simply and convincingly this season. Nobody had scored 4 objectives towards them this season till Tuesday night time — not Real Madrid, nor Atletico Madrid, Sevilla or Juventus. (Although it have to be stated Juve’s 3-0 win within the group stage, with two penalties, was spectacular and meant they completed high of their group and the Catalans second, which received them the PSG draw. Barca had overwhelmed Juve 2-0 earlier this season in Turin, too.)
Craig Burley says the grass might not be greener at one other membership ought to Lionel Messi depart Barca this summer time.
Clearly, this can be a vital victory for Pochettino and PSG. As a brand new supervisor in cost just for six weeks, it is so essential to get massive wins and massive performances immediately, constructing momentum for the staff and getting vindication for the coach’s route. Even when, till Tuesday, the staff’s degree of play had not been nice, they’d overwhelmed Marseille twice underneath the Argentine already and now, they’ve a press release win in Europe. Whereas Thomas Tuchel is doing nicely in his first weeks at Chelsea and the stress was enormous on Pochettino earlier than Tuesday night time, the previous Spurs boss will take pleasure in this. It even means a bit of extra to him given his days taking part in for and training Espanyol.
There may be nonetheless a second leg to be performed, in fact, and hopefully, Di Maria and Neymar can be again for the sport in Paris on March 10. The distinction with earlier than is that everybody within the dressing room after the primary leg was already targeted on the return fixture. They know the job isn’t performed, and the ghosts of the Remontada in 2017 are nonetheless there. The scar continues to be seen. Provided that they knock Messi and Barca out in fashion subsequent month will the nightmare of 4 years in the past go away.
Within the dressing room on Tuesday night time, there was no additional jubilation. Mbappe, sat subsequent to Sarabia, had the match ball and the person of the match trophy by his facet. Each PSG participant signed the ball, and it’ll certainly be centre stage in Mbappe’s trophy room at residence in Paris. Paredes and Icardi, subsequent to one another, having fun with their mate. Happiness was in every single place, however nothing was excessive.
As nice as Tuesday night time on the Camp Nou was, they’re nonetheless not by means of to the quarterfinals and are nonetheless solely second in Ligue 1. There may be a lot extra work to do nonetheless this season.
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