Barca capitalize on PSG panic, make historic Champions League comeback
No statistic better captures the state of panic that was present among the Paris Saint-Germain players on Wednesday than the one revealing that they completed just four passes between Barcelona's fourth goal -- Neymar's free kick in the 88th minute -- and the final whistle. Three of those passes were from kickoffs following Barca goals.
4 - Paris Saint-Germain have completed only four passes between Barcelona's fourth goal (Neymar; 87:24) and the final whistle. Panic. pic.twitter.com/XmAB71tpsW- OptaCan (@OptaCan) March 9, 2017
If Barca -- through impassioned rallying calls from Luis Enrique, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique -- had managed to convince themselves, their supporters and the media they were capable of ac historic comeback, then they'd managed to convince PSG, too. From Suarez's third-minute opener to Sergi Roberto's 95th-minute clincher, the French champions crumbled in the Camp Nou cauldron.
It could have been so different, though. Edinson Cavani's goal just after the hour -- his eighth in the Champions League this season and his 38th of the campaign, matching his best-ever tally -- had appeared to put the Blaugrana comeback to bed. It was the first goal Enrique's side had conceded at home in Europe this season, and how costly it looked. A precious PSG away goal left their hosts needing to score three more in 28 minutes.
But this is a Barca side that had won their previous three games at Camp Nou in Europe this season: 7-0, 4-0 and 4-0 against Celtic, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach, respectively. Throw in Wednesday's 6-1 win over Unai Emery's side and Barca's aggregate score increases to 21-1 at home. That, perhaps, dignifies the use of the word fortress.
PSG's lack of composure was exemplified by their complete collapse in the final seven minutes, but it was largely in keeping with the pattern of the game. Barcelona (599) attempted over 300 more passes than PSG (250), who seemed clueless as to how to defend a lead that no other team in the history of the competition had failed to defend. In the first half alone, Barcelona attempted 235 passes in the PSG half, 184 more than their rivals (51).
235 - Barcelona attempted 235 passes in the opposite half in this game, 184 more than Paris SG (51). Siege. pic.twitter.com/gUsmIC47fv- OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 8, 2017
Les Parisiens ran more than their counterparts (110,427 km to Barca's 105,804 km), but that's of little meaning. It's what was done with the ball, the mistakes and the refereeing decisions that influenced the game.
In the middle of all the madness, Messi's 11th goal of the season in the Champions League -- which made it 3-0 Barcelona just after half-time -- and his 37th in the knockout rounds took him closer to two Cristiano Ronaldo records. Ronaldo holds the record for goals in a single campaign (17) and has also scored more than any other player in the knockout stages (44).
But for once, this was not about Messi. This was about them all. About a rejuvenated Sergio Busquets, who stylishly completed 89 percent of his 71 passes; about Javier Mascherano, who made six interceptions and never seemed to stop running; about an inspired Neymar, who Thomas Meunier will be having nightmares about for weeks; and about Pique, who according to UEFA's average positions for the final 15 minutes, was going from box to box, positioned way in front of Busquets.
Above all, though, it was about the seven minutes between Neymar's free kick and Roberto's winner. That time when PSG could only muster four passes.
Incredibly, the free kick that led to the final goal had been won in the PSG half by Marc-Andre ter Stegen -- the Barcelona goalkeeper who completed more passes than any single player on the other team (28).
When the initial chance was cleared, Neymar picked up the loose ball, feigned inside and lofted the ball into the box. Waiting there was Roberto, the midfielder who has been converted into a right-back. Seven hundred minutes had passed since his last Champions League goal 18 months ago. It was worth the wait.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.