Catalan giants thrashed 4-1 in round-of-16 first leg fixture
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman insisted that the Blaugrana are still in contention following their 4-1 debacle at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 stage on Tuesday.
Kylian Mbappe was the star of the as he the five-time European champions Barcelona apart by scoring a stunning hat-trick to put the side on the brink of the Champions League quarter-finals.
He underlined his status as the rising superstar of world football with a ruthless display of finishing at Camp Nou that will go down as one this competition’s most devastating individual performances.
The 22-year-old eclipsed Barca’s Lionel Messi, whose opening goal from the penalty spot had been reduced to nothing more than a footnote by the final whistle.
Moise Kean also headed in midway through the second half, carelessly left unmarked from a free-kick as PSG pulled away to win this first leg, and perhaps the tie.
Barcelona will no doubt draw upon the spirit of their astonishing ‘Remontada’ in 2017, when they won the second leg 6-1 to overturn a 4-0 deficit from the opening game in Paris.
It will certainly serve as a warning for PSG but without fans, and with Mbappe, any hopes of a repeat for Ronald Koeman’s side from look faint at best.
Mbappe ran them ragged all night long.
“The great footballers write their stories in the biggest matches,” said Mauricio Pochettino. “We had no doubts before the game and even less now that we are seeing a top, top player.”
Koeman had gambled on the fitness of Gerard Pique, who had not played a game in almost three months due to a knee ligament injury. But to rub salt into the wounds, Pique trudged off late on just as PSG were running riot.
This was a chastening experience for Koeman’s youthful side, who had shown signs of a resurgence in recent weeks in La Liga but were exposed against an opponent of an altogether different class.
Koeman was even asked if he wanted to continue as coach but was defiant.
“I accept a defeat and go to work. If I was a person who was very happy when we win and then with a result like today said I have no desire to continue, that would be crazy. I know where we are, we have to change, we are not at the end of this road, we are halfway through.”
Even without the injured Neymar and Angel Di Maria, PSG were too strong, a breathless, entertaining first half giving way to a French obliteration in the second.
PSG’s new boss Pochettino pumped a fist at the end, after a huge early boost to his credibility.
The warning signs for the hosts came early as Mbappe sped in behind their central defence after 52 seconds, only for Marc-Andre ter Stegen to clear just in time.
For half an hour, the chances just kept coming, at both ends. Antoine Griezmann scuttled through but was denied by Keylor Navas at the near post and then Pedri made up for a miscontrol by dashing back to prevent Mauro Icardi’s finish from trickling in.
Messi’s pass led to Barca’s opener, a clipped ball over the top attracting the gaze of Layvin Kurzawa as he tracked back and inadvertently tripped Frenkie de Jong in front of him. Messi slammed the penalty into the top corner.
PSG were briefly shell-shocked and for the next five minutes, Koeman’s men chased a second, with Messi freeing Ousmane Dembele in the area but he failed to connect.
Yet as they gained in confidence, they also left gaps and PSG hit back. Mbappe had already seen a flicked finish blocked by Pique and moments later he made sure, taming Marco Verratti’s astute pull-back with one touch before feathering another expertly around Clement Lenglet in the six-yard box and unleashing past Ter Stegen.
Now the Parisians were on top, with Kurzawa thwarted by Ter Stegen’s fingertips and Barca relieved to reach half-time.
But Mbappe was relentless, motoring past opponents every time he got the ball and never letting up. Ter Stegen had to save a deflected shot from Kean before PSG took charge with two goals in five minutes.
Pique could only hack away Alessandro Florenzi’s cross to the feet of Mbappe, who clipped in his second, and then Kean headed home, left free at the back post by Lenglet.
Navas almost gifted Barcelona a lifeline when his clearance met Griezmann’s left foot and the ball drifted just wide of his own post.
Instead, Mbappe landed the knock-out blow, teed up on the counter-attack and curling beautifully in the far corner.
Defending champions Liverpool rediscovered lost form and seized the initiative against RB Leipzig with a 2-0 win in a chilly Budapest on Tuesday.
Clinical early second-half strikes from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, both courtesy of dreadful defensive errors, proved decisive and leave the German side facing a formidable task in the return leg on March 10.
The win moves Jurgen Klopp’s men to the brink of the Champions League quarter-finals and also ends a run of three straight defeats that has left the English champions 13 points behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League.
“It was a game we wanted it was a game we needed tonight,” Klopp told BT Sport afterwards. “Leipzig can be a real monster. The way they play in the Bundesliga they overrun teams, they can be really physical in everything and tonight we controlled them in an exceptional way. They had their moments because of the quality they have but we controlled the game so tonight I think we got the result we deserved.”
The first leg was moved from Leipzig to the Hungarian capital due to Germany’s strict Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Despite the enforced relocation, Julian Nagelsmann’s side, on a four-game winning streak at home where they are second behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, started briskly and almost went ahead on four minutes.
Marauding left-back Angelino teed up fellow Spaniard Dani Olmo for a close-range diving header past Alisson but the effort only rattled the post.
Soon after Angelino again exploited space on the left but his left-footed volley skewed harmlessly across the goalmouth.
Instead it was Liverpool, striving to reverse their slump and badly in need of a Champions League lift, who gradually created more chances, often benefitting from loose defending.
First, Salah, busy throughout, forced a block from Leipzig’s Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi on the quarter hour.
Ten minutes later Mane, outjumping Nordi Mukiele, headed a Firmino cross just over after the Brazilian striker and Salah had combined well on the right.
Shortly before half-time, Andy Robertson shaved the crossbar when his lob from distance almost caught out the Budapest-born Gulacsi dashing back after making a clearance outside his box.
Although Leipzig perked up on the restart with Alisson Becker saving from Christopher Nkunku, the German side, were made to pay for two calamitous mistakes early in the second half.
In the 53rd minute, Salah pounced on a sloppy back-pass by Austrian midfielder Marcel Sabitzer and ran unchallenged to smoothly slot past Gulacsi.
Five minutes later, Mane doubled Liverpool’s lead in similar fashion, smartly finishing after Mukiele had scuffed a clearance.
“We made two huge mistakes which would be punished at any level,” Nagelsmann told DAZN. “Mistakes happen, we didn’t play badly and we have to live with the result, we have to score twice just to take the game (return leg) to extra time, but we will try to do our best.
With Swedish playmaker Emil Forsberg sidelined by a knee injury and lacking a talismanic goalscorer, Leipzig rarely threatened to pull one back.
Liverpool were left to cruise to victory, keeping alive their hopes of silverware via Champions League glory this season despite their domestic woes.
“We were for two years really good and then this year we had some problems,” said Klopp. “That’s absolutely normal and I have no problem with that. It’s just a lot of people probably expected us to slip again because of the situation and the boys didn’t.”