How Barcelona blew up against PSG: four goals, three red cards, one meltdown

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How Barcelona blew up against PSG: four goals, three red cards, one meltdown

Barcelona had the Champions League semi-finals in their grasp.

Having beaten Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 in the first leg of their quarter-final at the Parc des Princes last week, a spot in the final four for the first time since 2019 beckoned after Raphinha bundled the ball over the line after 12 minutes on Tuesday.

It should have been straightforward from there – 4-2 up on aggregate, in front of a home crowd, and with PSG there for the taking.

But this is Barcelona, a club that doesn’t do straightforward. Whether it be Lionel Messi’s emotional departure, teaching the football world about financial “levers,” or the emergence of a generation of La Masia graduates with the potential to rival the all-conquering group of the 2000s, Barcelona have regularly fluctuated from brilliant to basket case since that historic semi-final collapse at Liverpool in 2019.

And this was one of their crazier nights – not quite up there with their Anfield nightmare, but a painful one nonetheless. Here’s how it unfolded.

29mins: A needless red card

Having just received a pass from midfielder Frenkie de Jong in his own half, defender Ronald Araujo had several passing options ahead of him.

Jules Kounde was an option on the right with a lofted pass over PSG left winger Bradley Barcola, and Robert Lewandowski was also there in support if Araujo could find him beyond PSG midfielder Fabian. To his right was Ilkay Gundogan, retreating into space to receive a pass.

Araujo opted to play to Gundogan, but his pass was poorly executed. It dropped into the path of PSG left-back Nuno Mendes, who hit a perfectly weighted first-time pass for Barcola, who charged down the left wing and towards the Barcelona penalty box.

Instead of retreating to defend his goal, Araujo ran directly towards Barcola, a decision TNT pundit and former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand described as “overconfidence in his physical capabilities.”

Had he been “less naive”, according to Ferdinand, Araujo would have sprinted closer to the goal and away from the ball, which may have meant Barcola would have had to beat him in a one-on-one — an area Araujo excels at. In Ferdinand’s view, Araujo panicked in trying to win the ball back immediately, and the effects were costly.

Barcola got to the ball first and executed his first touch perfectly, knocking it across the defender and towards goal while still being in his stride. Realising his man was bearing down on goal with only Marc-Andre ter Stegen to beat, Araujo collided with Barcola, leaving Romanian referee Istvan Kovacs with no option but to send him off.

Without Barcelona’s most experienced centre-back, PSG’s talented front line grew more influential. Eleven minutes after Araujo’s red card, Barcola crossed for former Barcelona man Ousmane Dembele to smash home inside the box, drawing the scores level on the night.

54mins: Set-piece sloppiness

Despite Xavi getting his players in at half-time with a one-goal aggregate advantage, Barcelona lacked structure and organisation in the second period. While PSG’s pace in attack can hurt any side, allowing players to roam dangerous positions uncontested is inexcusable, even with 10 players.

PSG’s second on the night came through a quick corner routine. Fabian went close to Dembele, the set-piece taker, drawing Barcelona defenders away from the centre of the box, but Dembele played a longer pass to Achraf Hakimi, positioned near the edge of the 18-yard box.

Gundogan converged quickly on Hakimi while De Jong shadowed him, leaving Vitinha in yards of space on the edge of the area

Hakimi then passed inside to Vitinha, who drove a powerful low effort into the bottom right corner. Now, PSG were level and scenting their opportunity.

56mins: Xavi loses the plot

It was now that Xavi, having seen his players lose their discipline, decided to follow suit.

After De Jong was judged to have fouled Dembele near the halfway line, Xavi kicked a board protecting the cameraman between him and his opposite number, Luis Enrique.

With just under 40 minutes left to play, Barcelona were down their star central defender and head coach and now had to score at least once after Vitinha’s goal drew PSG level (4-4) on aggregate.

59mins: Cancelo’s moment of madness

Four minutes later, Joao Cancelo decided he wanted to compound the chaos by giving away an inexplicable penalty.

With Dembele going away from goal, the sensible decision would have been to cut the space and guide him towards the corner flag, allowing time for reinforcements from other defenders to deal with his one-on-one threat.

Instead, Cancelo charged towards Dembele and attempted a sliding tackle, failing to win the ball because the PSG and France winger protected it with his left foot.

Mbappe then fired the penalty beyond Ter Stegen, putting PSG 3-1 up on the night and 5-4 on aggregate.

66mins: Another red card…

Having scored so many big goals for Manchester City, it was no surprise to see Gundogan pushing Barcelona in pursuit of an aggregate equaliser. He came close again shortly after Mbappe’s first goal and had a penalty shout waved away by the officials despite replays showing that his foot came in contact with Vitinha’s leg.

Shortly after, with no Xavi there to protest to the fourth official, goalkeeper coach Jose Ramon De La Fuente took the responsibility on this occasion. Kovacs handed him a red card for his troubles, the third he brandished on the night.

89mins: The final blow

Despite a valiant effort following PSG’s third goal, the tie was put beyond reach in the 89th minute.

Mbappe won the ball on the edge of his box from a corner and passed it to Hakimi, who charged ahead into space after the Barcelona defence had vacated their defensive responsibilities in search of an equaliser.

Hakimi set it back for Mbappe, who had charged ahead of the retreating Barcelona defenders into their box, but his shot was saved by Ter Stegen.

Marco Asensio’s shot on the rebound is kept out again by the German, and the ball fell into Kounde’s path to make a sliding clearance.

However, he sliced his attempted clearance into the path of France teammate Mbappe, who hammered home from close range with his left foot.

From a goal up, Barcelona had contrived to lose 4-1 on the night and 6-4 on aggregate: a destructive collapse almost entirely of their own making.

Game over, tie over, season over.

(Top photos: Getty Images)