Paris Saint-Germain eased the pressure on coach Laurent Blanc by inflicting a first defeat on new Barcelona boss Luis Enrique to take charge of Champions League Group F. After a poor start to the season, both in France and in Europe, goals from David Luiz, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi secured the three points against the visiting La Liga leaders in a thrilling encounter at the Parc des Princes.
Coming into the match Barcelona hadn’t conceded a goal in any of its seven outings in all competitions this season. But it took just 10 minutes for that to change when Brazilian defender Luiz found the net with a low shot following a free-kick. Not for the last time, Barcelona produced an immediate response, when Lionel Messi stroked home an eye-pleasing equalizer just a minute later. Yet the visitors’ set-piece defending let them down once more as an error from goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen allowed Verratti to head his side back in front in the 26th minute before Matuidi extended the advantage after the interval. Neymar instantly brought Barcelona back into the reckoning, but PSG, just, held firm.
The win takes the French champions onto four points following their disappointing opening draw at Ajax and will take some of the scrutiny off Blanc. It was a win that will be made all the sweeter by the fact that they were missing star man and former Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic as well as captain and defensive lynchpin Thiago Silva. As it was, PSG’s center-backs who did take the field had a major say on the match’s outcome. Not only did Luiz get the opening goal, but Marquinhos made a sensational goal-saving block late on to deny Jordi Alba. Adding insult to injury, both players had been defensive targets for Barcelona in the past. Enrique’s first loss since taking charge over the summer means the Catalans remain on three points, ahead of their clash with Ajax at the Camp Nou in three week’s time.
Before a 6-0 win over Granada on Saturday, Barcelona had been largely solid rather than spectacular so far this season, embodied by a narrow 1-0 win over APOEL Nicosia two weeks ago. Yet that new-found defensive assuredness was quickly undone by a PSG side that had not exactly been full of goals in recent weeks.
Lucas Moura chipped a free-kick into the box to find Luiz, who was able to hold off Javier Mascherano, turn and fire a low left-footed shot that left Ter Stegen rooted to his spot as the ball found the back of the net. Rather than being alarmed, Barcelona could not have responded any better to conceding for the first time this season. Straight from the kickoff they pulled level, thanks to the type of attacking fluidity that so overwhelmed Granada. A fine passing move culminated with a wonderfully quick interchange between Messi and Andres Iniesta and the brilliant Argentinean guiding the ball first-time effortlessly into the corner.
In an illustration of the burgeoning relationship between Messi and Neymar, the Brazilian was close to putting Barcelona in front when stretching to volley over the crossbar after a divine scooped pass from his fellow forward. Instead, in a continuation of the end-to-end nature of an enthralling match, it was the hosts who quickly took the lead.
Germany international Ter Stegen was again starting in the Champions League having had to watch Claudio Bravo stand between the sticks in La Liga. But he did nothing to enhance his prospects for more regular starts having got nowhere a corner from former Barcelona midfielder Thiago Motta and, with Ivan Rakitic also being caught out, allowing 5-foot-5, Verratti to head home.
Had Edinson Cavani been sharper, Paris Saint-Germain may have even had a more comfortable win. The Uruguayan slipped when appearing to have a clear sight of goal at the start of the second half. But when the third goal did come for the hosts it was well worth the extra wait. Dutch full-back Gregory van der Wiel’s cross was perfectly delivered low along the edge of the six-yard box, inviting treachery for Barcelona’s defenders and goalkeeper to allow Matuidi to get ahead of Dani Alves anf finish at the far post.
Once more, there was immediate action down the other end. Alves made amends for his fault by delivering a cross that fell for Neymar, whose control and finish was exemplary. And Barcelona applied desperate pressure in attempt to force an equalizer late on but Marquinhos’ heroics ensured a memorable win.