On Wednesday March 8, Barcelona fans and football fans alike witnessed one of the greatest sporting comebacks ever seen. A comeback against a team, despite their tendency to bottle big European nights, who are definitely considered Champions League heavyweights, Paris Saint-German. Coming back against the Parisians at the Camp Nou always felt far fetched, but never impossible. The French side, who have regularly showed their weaknesses in big moments in Europe, seemed very vulnerable from kick-off in the second leg in Catalonia. Tonight we saw that Juventus are no Paris Saint-German.
Juve came to the Catalan capital with confidence in their game plan, something PSG completely lacked. We all know the footballing cliché that Italian sides are incredibly difficult to break down, and Massimiliano Allegri’s side only added to that stereotype tonight.
From kick-off it was clear that Luis Enrique’s men were going to go for the kill. That was a necessity; it only takes a second to score, but against Juventus it can take an age to find that vital second for the ball to pass the white line between the posts and under the bar.
It feels unnecessary to discuss the match in chronological order, as the base patterns of play saw similar instances. Barcelona spent the vast majority of the match playing the ball around, from Gerard Piqué to Samuel Umtiti, out wide to Sergi Roberto or Jordi Alba, who would try and find the creative outlets in the team and one of those players would eventually shoot high, wide, against a Juventus warriors’ body, or lose possession attempting to carve out a moment of individual brilliance.
The only real expansion of this pattern happened slowly as the game progressed. Piqué ghosted forward into the centre-forward position as he so often does when Barcelona are chasing a game/tie, Paco Alcácer joined the action in place of Ivan Rakitić, adding to the number of FCB bodies in and around the penalty area, and Javier Mascherano was lumped on the field, yes that is the Mascherano who has never scored for the club, to try and at least get one goal.
In a remuntada of this proportion against such a solid defensive unit, it felt vital for Barça to score a goal within the first 15-20 minutes of the match. After that time passed the mood within the players seemed to shift from belief to desperation, with most of the men in blaugrana screaming for every call, trying to do everything within the laws to get back possession, often failing to do so, and snatching at chances that would so often find themselves in the back of the net on a normal occasion.
A wonderful moment during the night where many were glum was seen in the stands. The Barcelona fans waving their flags like the score was 4-0 as the game came to a close. The support showing that despite the failure to deliver on the night, the efforts of everyone was appreciated, the fans understanding of how big a task this really was.
The chances of Barcelona finding themselves in the semi-final draw on Friday always felt like a dream too far. The PSG comeback was an incredible time, one of the best moments I have had as a fan of the club, but Juventus are on another level. If I came to writing this review and Barcelona had done the unthinkable and beaten Allegri’s men by four or more goals, I think the shock of such a result would mean typing would be quite an issue.
The whole club will be very disappointed after this tie, but the truth is that the structure of the team in a footballing sense in a very strange place at the moment. Staying in the Champions League would have been an illusion for many that the squad is in a strong position, but in actual fact it needs quite the rejuvenation, and we are now entering another transitional period which will see many changes.
At the end of the day, everyone can look back on the 16/17 Champions League campaign as an entertaining one. Unbeaten at home, some incredible goals, and a game that will go down in not only footballing but sporting history. It is no shame to go out to a Juventus side who could very easily go on to win the competition, and I’m sure many of us will be cheering them on to prevent Real Madrid from becoming the first team to retain ‘big ears’.
Now Barça will be left fighting for the small matter of a league and cup double. Hard life, eh?