A once-dominant Barcelona would have breezed into the quarter-finals of the Champions League by barely lifting a finger. However, any hopes of a stunning comeback effort were quashed by a spirited Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) on Wednesday night.
Barcelona was haplessly beaten at their Nou Camp fortress in the first leg of their last-16 tie last month, succumbing to Kylian Mbappe’s fine hat-trick in a 4-1 defeat. The return fixture saw Mbappe once again breach Barcelona’s impotent defence, helping PSG secure safe passage to the next round of the competition.
Lionel Messi had levelled the scoreline on the night, though PSG’s fine work in the first-leg proved enough to send the French giants through on aggregate. PSG, who have yet to really establish themselves as a consistent force in Europe, might not have unanimous backing to go all the way; but claiming such a prized scalp en route will stand them in good stead.
Under Thomas Tuchel last season, PSG reached the Champions League final only to be stopped in their tracks by Bayern Munich. Few would deny that the German giants are once again the favourites to win this year’s tournament, having yet to taste defeat thus far.
They won five games out of six in the group-stage, meanwhile, they take a 4-1 aggregate lead into their second-leg clash with Lazio next week. Lazio will need something of a miracle to overturn the deficit, so we can be safely assured that Bayern Munich will be joining PSG in the quarter-finals.
2018-19 winners Liverpool are also in the draw, having beaten RB Leipzig over two legs; as are both Borussia Dortmund and Porto. Heading out alongside Barcelona, meanwhile, are Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus, and Europa League strongmen, Sevilla.
Even though this Barcelona side is a shadow of their former selves, they are still a major hurdle to have overcome; as are Juventus. If you are one of those sides that have already booked their place in the next round, you’d be sitting perhaps a little more comfortably knowing both sides are out.
For PSG, while you can never underestimate anyone, it does their chances of going the distance a world of good. They’ve been one of the world’s biggest spenders for a number of years, and while they’ve run rampant in domestic competition, the Champions League remains that elusive dream.
There’s a determination there to exact their revenge on Bayern this term, and they must not pass up this golden opportunity to book their place in the final two.
Aside from Bayern, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are probably the next most feared opponent. With Liverpool, despite their recent European and domestic success, you just don’t know which side will turn up. They beat Leipzig in both legs, but they’ve lost six successive home games and are eighth in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid is not at their best either. They hold only a narrow advantage over Atalanta, and won’t be feared quite like the Galacticos of old. The final last-16 tie will mean an end of the road for either La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid or a resurgent Chelsea, so there’s potential for a favourable draw for PSG.
If they really mean business, they’ll have to succeed where they failed last year. Mauricio Pochettino has settled in well during his first few months in charge, having already secured the Trophee des Champions, though European success will ultimately prove the defining factor in his reign.
In Mbappe and Neymar, he has the talent at his disposal to achieve the task at hand. Can PSG now kick on from their Barcelona triumph and take out three more prized scalps?