Tuesday 20 March 2018

Neymar delivers knock-out blow as PSG are left chasing Barcelona shadows

Barcelona 2 Paris st Germain 0: Barcelona win 5-1 on agg

Neymar celebrates with Dani Alves
Neymar celebrates with Dani Alves
Barcelona's Lionel Messi in action with PSG's Marquinhos
Barcelona's Neymar celebrates after scoring his second goal against Paris Saint Germain at the Nou Camp last night
Barcelona's Luis Suarez in action with PSG's Blaise Matuidi
Paris Saint-Germain's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic vies with Barcelona's midfielder Andres Iniesta during their Champions League quarter-finals second leg match at he Nou Camp last night

Pete Jenson

Better Brazil's first-choice striker than their first-choice central defender - at least where Neymar and David Luiz are concerned.

Barcelona's brilliant Brazilian scored twice in the first half to leave his international team-mate floundering and rubber stamp his team's progression to the semi-finals.

After a week of nightmares about being nutmegged by Luis Suarez, Luiz needed to make a strong start to the game, but he didn't.

Inside five minutes he was booked for a studs-up challenge on Ivan Rakitic, then Suarez hit the ball against him to win Barcelona's first corner.

PSG were chasing shadows in the opening exchanges and when Andres Iniesta eluded his markers on 13 minutes, it led to the first goal.

The man who delivered one of Barcelona's most important goals in this competition at Stamford Bridge in 2009 is often criticised for not scoring and creating enough goals, but this was assist of the season.

He effortlessly drifted away from Edinson Cavani and then past Marco Verratti. When he played in Neymar, the striker still had work to do, but it was Luiz standing between him and Salvatore Sirigu's goal and he left both defender and goalkeeper floundering with a calm finish.

If PSG's idea was to reach the break with a narrow lead, that would set Barca nerves jangling, but the plan was binned and they threw caution to the wind.

Luiz began to play with even less restraint and on 17 minutes Zlatan Ibrahimovic had the ball in the net. He was a yard offside when Blaise Matuidi slipped him through and the flag was rightly raised to rule out the goal.

Barcelona continued to ping the ball around the PSG penalty area and from one Suarez lay-off, Lionel Messi fired over.

Iniesta looked to have grown a couple of inches with his sensational run and pass for Neymar's goal and he was running midfield. Dani Alves was also inspired, perhaps sensing the chance to impress a potential suitor in what will probably be his last Champions League campaign for the Catalan club. He tested Sirigu from distance as Barca probed for the second goal.

When it came, it was again scored by Neymar - and this time it was made in Brazil, too.

Alves put another couple of bullet points on that PSG application letter with a fine left-footed cross and Neymar rose to head unmarked past Sirigu. It put a game that was already beyond PSG before the match started now completely out of sight.

The French champions had been poor but Barca had punished them with that old combination of ruthless pressing and pristine passing that once made them unmatchable.

Suarez and Alves snapped at tackles and gave up no loose ball without a fight, while Neymar and Iniesta provided the lighter touches. It was so good that Messi wasn't even the star. Gerard Pique almost got in on the act just before the break, heading Rakitic's corner just wide.

He had the first shot of the second half, too, which Sirigu gathered. Messi then tried a clever chip but again the PSG keeper collected comfortably. Laurent Blanc's side looked more comfortable as Barca's intensity dropped.

The home team were so at ease they had brought Xavi on at half-time for Iniesta, while Sergio Busquets also earned an early cut with a league still to be won, starting this Saturday with the Catalan derby against Espanyol.

A name from Barcelona's past - Pep Guardiola - was on most supporters' lips as news reached the Nou Camp that his Bayern side were mauling Porto and could be waiting for them in the semi-final draw.

It would be hard on Guardiola and his injury-ravaged Bayern team to have to face his old club in this form. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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