Humiliation for Barca as Di Maria leads rout
Paris St-Germain 4 Barcelona 0
There is always a danger in proclaiming the end of anything, especially when it comes to the most influential European club of the 21st century, but there is no question that Barcelona were given a glimpse of what the future might look like if they are not careful, and it was not pretty.
Luis Enrique's team have 90 minutes at least at the Nou Camp on March 8 to try to claw this tie back and if they do so it will be the greatest Champions League comeback in history. No-one has ever come back from a first leg four-goal deficit in the competition and, although this is the Barcelona of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, they are up against a Paris Saint-Germain team who seem finally to have cracked it.
This was the greatest European result of the Qatari era at PSG, bigger than their two successive eliminations of Chelsea over the two previous seasons, and bigger than their single previous 3-2 victory over Barcelona in 2014.
The first of two goals from Angel Di Maria on 18 minutes were the culmination of a blitz in the early stages that Enrique's team could not withstand, and each time Barcelona tried to come back, PSG just found another gear.
There were more from Julian Draxler, a thorn in Barcelona's right side all night, and also Edinson Cavani, European football's most prolific goalscorer and yet there were fine performances throughout the side.
Right-back Thomas Meunier had a superb night, making Cavani's goal for him, and in midfield it was another Frenchman, Adrien Rabiot, who stood out for 90 minutes in such stellar company.
For the past nine seasons, Barcelona have never failed to make the quarter-finals of this competition and while their famous front three surely cannot be as poor again, turning around four goals will be an unforgiving task.
It seemed they were found out by PSG's Spanish manager Unai Emery who, at the 24th time of asking in his coaching career, found a way to beat the Barcelona machine at last.
The home team took their foot off the pedal for a short period, after Di Maria had been allowed to score far too easily with an 18th-minute free-kick but, like all good pressing teams, PSG turned the pressure back on as quickly as they had turned it off.
They had their second goal with five minutes of the half to play and by the break it was Barcelona hanging on for the bell.
It takes a brave team to attempt the full press on Barcelona because they wrote the book on the art of escaping pressure. But PSG's midfielders took turns to launch themselves at the Barcelona passing generals of Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
By comparison, Barcelona looked ponderous and flat-footed with their goalkeeper Marc ter Stegen obliged to make a couple of fine one-handed saves from Blaise Matuidi and then Draxler before his fellow German scored PSG's second.
Emery had organised his team to attack the right side of Barcelona, with Andre Gomes and full-back Sergi Roberto both struggling in the first half. Against them were Draxler and the French left-back Layvin Kurzawa, who dominated on that wing, and it was down that side that Matuidi's chance came on 11 minutes, played in by Rabiot.
Ter Stegen saved Barca that time but he could do nothing about Di Maria's free-kick, chiefly because Suarez seemed to duck out the way of the right-foot strike which beat the goalkeeper easily.
There was a lot of possession from the away team after that but not much of a cutting edge unless you counted Neymar, the pick of the front three.
The second goal was a beautifully worked move, starting with Messi of all people, being robbed of the ball in midfield and Marco Verratti bearing down on goal before switching the ball right to Draxler who disguised his right-footed shot to catch Ter Stegen off balance.
Di Maria's second goal was another worked quickly from back to front, with the Argentinian making space in front of Ter Stegen's goal and striking a fine left-footed shot out of the reach of the Barcelona goalkeeper.
Whether PSG sat back and absorbed the Barca pressure, or pushed high up the pitch, it was clear that the visitors spent the night being dictated to, rather than running the show. The fourth was made by Meunier, who fed Cavani down the right channel, and he finished with aplomb.
There was one just one worthwhile attempt by Barcelona, a header from Samuel Umtiti that struck the post, and over 90 minutes they managed just one shot on target.
The task for Barcelona next month will be colossal, and at the very least it promises to be a game no one will forget in a hurry. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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