Barcelona 1 PSG 4 (4-6 agg) – Barcelona implode, Xavi and Araujo reds, Mbappe’s triumph

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Barcelona 1 PSG 4 (4-6 agg) – Barcelona implode, Xavi and Araujo reds, Mbappe’s triumph

Paris Saint-Germain advanced to the semi-finals of the Champions League after knocking Barcelona out on a dramatic night in which the home side had a player and their coach sent off.

The Catalan side led 3-2 from the first leg and an early goal from Raphinha at Montjuic (Camp Nou is under redevelopment) put them within sight of the last four.

However, Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo was sent off on the half-hour mark and goals from Ousmane Dembele and Vitinha drew PSG level on aggregate before Kylian Mbappe scored a 61st-minute penalty and then blasted home in the dying stages to send the French club through.

Barcelona manager Xavi was shown a red card in the second half for kicking out on the side of the pitch as his team’s Champions League dream crumbled.

Here, our writers analyse and evaluate the key talking points of an extraordinary game.

Why was Araujo sent off?

After 180 minutes of absorbing, end-to-end football — 59 shots, 10 goals, with countless sprinkles of superstar quality throughout — it feels a shame that this contest was not able to reach its natural conclusion, with 22 players on the pitch.

But the rules are the rules, and Ronaldo Araujo overstepped the line in a tangle with Bradley Barcola, leaving referee Istvan Kovacs with little choice but to intervene.

The game ebbed and flowed before the incident, starting and ending with an Araujo misstep; his pass into midfield was overhit, allowing Nuno Mendes to nip in.

With Barcelona caught in their build-up shape, one pass was all that was required to split the defensive structure and send the pacey Barcola away, bearing down on goal with only the Uruguayan for company.

Araujo argued that centre-back partner Pau Cubarsi was in a position to cover, protesting the interpretation that he was the last man, but that was waved away. He also claimed an innocent shoulder-to-shoulder, but closer inspection reveals multiple points of contact; a hand on the shoulder, a knee to the back of the thigh, and a clip on the back of the foot, to send Barcola to the ground.

Although he fell inside the penalty area, the contact was adjudged to have started outside. And as there was no “genuine” attempt to play the ball – only a blocking of progress – a straight red card and a free-kick is the recommended outcome.

An agonising end to Araujo’s night, and a harsh twist on which such a high-quality game eventually hinged, but these are the moments you invariably have to face at the business end of the Champions League – and that’s what makes it such a difficult competition to win.

Thom Harris

How did Xavi and Barcelona implode?

This was a huge night for Barcelona and their coach, a huge chance to make a first Champions LEague semi-final since 2018-19. Xavi had talked pre-game about how his team had to use their heads and make the most of the opportunity.

That looked far away when the coach was red carded for furious protests midway through the second half — right in the middle of the period when his team were self-destructing and throwing away their chances of progress.

Xavi reacted in a completely exaggerated fashion to what was a pretty routine refereeing call, a foul given near half-way. He jumped in the air, his frustration clear, shouting at the third official, and then kicking some UEFA branded furniture around a TV camera in the technical area.

Referee Istvan Kovacs was standing for none of it — and rushed over to flash the red card.

But Barca had already by now lost their heads. At 3-1 up in the tie, Araujo’s attempt to stop Barcala was really badly misjudged, as was his gesture as he left the park. With the tie neatly poised after half-time, Barca’s marking at a corner was awful, allowing Vitinha time to pick his spot and even up the aggregate score.

With their blood up, Barca tried to get back in the game, but it was not working. Blaugrana goalkeeping coach José Ramon De la Fuente was soon also red carded for over the top protests, when Gundogan went down claiming an unlikely penalty.

Cancelo’s concession of the penalty on Dembele was also completely headless.

But Xavi should have known better, and this was a really poor night for him and his team.

Dermot Corrigan

What does Champions League exit mean for Barcelona?

After the first leg in Paris, things suddenly seemed to be clicking for Barca. They went into this return game unbeaten in 13 games — ever since Xavi said he would leave in the summer — and with a feeling that their season could have an unexpectedly positive end.

The Barca hierarchy had stopped looking for a Xavi replacement, instead working on trying to convince him to stay. The emergence of young players like Pau Cubarsi and Yamine Lamal was enthusing fans, and the club hierarchy keep claiming that they have turned the club’s finances around.

Knocking out PSG could have boosted Barca into next weekend’s Clasico, where a win against leaders Real Madrid would pushed right open the La Liga title race. And a UCL final would have loomed — with Barca favourites against either Borussia Dortmund or Atletico Madrid in the semis.

But instead Xavi and Barca are looking at one of the worst nights in their European history. That it was Paris Saint Germain, their ‘bete noir’ for many, will make it even tougher to take. Ousmane Dembele returning to twist the knife at the club where he felt so badly treated added further still to the pain.

Luis Enrique is still liked by most Barca fans, but his digs through the tie at the current team’s style of play will also now be remembered. That does not bode well for Xavi, whose future is now back up in the air — and Sunday’s Clasico becomes even more important.

Finally, Xavi and his players probably were not thinking too much about this, but the defeat means Atletico Madrid and not Barca will play in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup in the US. That tournament is worth at least €50m which the heavily indebted Catalans really need.

Dermot Corrigan

What does victory mean for PSG?

If you wanted to see what it meant to PSG, look no further than two key moments in the final 10 minutes. The first saw captain Marquinhos, a player who suffered greatly during La Remontada, blocked a Robert Lewandowski shot and celebrated furiously, punching his arms. Then there was the final blow inflicted by Kylian Mbappe, leading to the emptying of the PSG dugout to join him in wild euphoria behind the goal, sharing in a famous win, with a big scoreline.

PSG may have needed the assistance of a red card but that will not tarnish the joy at this result. They have completed a comeback in Barcelona’s backyard, which has all kinds of ghostbusting ramifications (note, the scars are still felt even if La Remontada was seven years ago and they have won in the Camp Nou since) as well as reaching their first semi-final since 2021. There will be some, if cautious, belief that they might just be able to reach the final. And while the potential opponents are daunting, once there, who knows?

Winning the Champions League was not the be-all and end-all for PSG and Luis Enrique this season. Their big summer of change last year, where 13 new faces were recruited, was billeted as a switch to the ‘long term’ in their focus. “The Champions League is not our obligation” said Fabian Ruiz ahead of the Round of 16 tie with Real Sociedad. There are other mitigations; it has taken them time to adjust to Luis Enrique’s particular, possession-based style and at times they have not always looked cohesive or as controlled as the Asturian would like. They are certainly not yet the fluent, perfect article. This tie clearly illustrated that.

But to say there was no pressure would be to distort the picture. They are the perennial French champions, set for victory again, and they did still spent more than 250 million euros on players. While the pressure was not necessarily as acute from on-high, the kindness of the draw, after escaping the group of death, also suggested a run might be possible.

For their star player, it was this season or bust. Mbappe faced down the prospect of playing his final Champions League game for PSG at Montjuic, Barcelona’s temporary home. His final home appearance will not be his anonymous display in the first leg. He has a chance to end in a different way.
Indeed, his finale could still be the greatest of highs. Their treble hopes are, just about, still alive.

Peter Rutzler

Was Xavi right to take off Yamal?

Remember when Barcelona scored the first goal of the night, Montjuic erupting with unbridled joy, as Xavi’s team went 4-2 up on aggregate? Did that happen tonight?

In a game of dramatic twists and cruel turns, it once looked as if 16-year-old Yamal would be the star.

The hosts had to bide their time throughout a tough opening 10 minutes, shifting from side to side in a compact 4-4-2 block as PSG flew out of the traps. Barcelona saw just 21 per cent of the ball in that early spell, relying on the duel-winning quality of their wide defenders in one-v-one after one-v-one, looking slightly bereft of ideas when the ball broke their way.

As he has so often this season, however, the youngest man on the field provided the inspiration, and not just with his mesmeric dribbling skill. It was Yamal’s challenge on Nuno Mendes, moments before the goal, that seemed to lift the intense spell of pressure, and allow his side to breathe.

Ultimately bundled home by Raphinha, Barcelona’s opener was all about the assist. Receiving a clipped ball out wide, controlling with his head, and instantly taking on Mendes to drive into the box, Yamal’s fearless approach dragged his side into the game.

The young winger can cut inside or steam towards the touchline, stand up a cross or whip a shot into the far corner; who knows what he might have been able to produce with another hour up against Mendes on that right-hand side?

Xavi had to sacrifice somebody following Araujo’s red, and given Yamal’s age and relative lack of experience, his withdrawal was probably the sensible choice. As glum as he looked on the bench, hood up, looking on longingly with a Champions League ball on his lap, this will not be the last we will see of him in this competition.

Thom Harris

What did Xavi say?

We will bring you the Barcelona manager’s latest thoughts once he has spoken in his post-match press conference.

What did Luis Enrique say?

We will bring you the PSG manager’s latest thoughts once he has spoken in his post-match press conference.

What next for Barcelona?

Sunday, April 21: Real Madrid (A), La Liga, 8pm UK, 3pm ET

What next for PSG?

Sunday, April 21: Lyon (A), Ligue 1, 8pm UK, 3pm ET

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(Top photo: xxxxx)