Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain raised many interesting issues. Barcelona’s dodgy away kit, PSG’s elevation into the upper tier of continental heavyweights, Lucas Moura’s development, David Beckham’s ability to perform at 107 (or whatever), and the ferocity of the Parc des Princes crowd.
However, one of the most intriguing sights was the continued fragility of the Barcelona defence. While at the Nou Camp, Barca can dismantle pretty much any team in the world, away from home the side from Catalonia looks susceptible at the back. A defence that contains Gerard Pique, Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, with Victor Valdes in goal, contains a lot of quality but there is a softness at their core. Two clean sheets in their last 17 games speaks for itself, especially considering Barcelona dominate possession in most of the games they play.
As Arsene Wenger said before the game in his Eurosport column: "They are more vulnerable in defence and I know PSG have the offensive ability to take advantage of this little vulnerability that Barca haven't had in previous seasons."
AC Milan and Celtic both beat Barcelona away from the Nou Camp but succumbed to defeat in Spain. While their home form could see them get to the final at Wembley in a straight up battle on neutral ground against Bayern Munich or, god forbid, Real Madrid, Tito Vilanova’s side could be exposed.
One characteristic they do have as a collective is big match experience. Champions League finals, Clasicos, World Cups, European Championships, the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta have seen it all, and they also have the benefit of winning a Champions League final at England’s national stadium, two years ago when they beat Manchester United 3-1. However, on the flip side is fatigue, mental rather than physical, and it could be that their hunger has died down just a little. Barcelona are certainly missing the leadership qualities and no-nonsense defending of Carles Puyol, who could be out for the rest of the season after knee surgery.
Teams have also, as is always the case, worked out how to deal with Barcelona’s passing play, holding the centre of the pitch and sitting deep, allowing the Blaugrana possession outside the box and cutting off space for their intricate through balls, before hitting them on the break. Naturally, that plan can go awry when a player of Leo Messi’s ability decides to do something special, but it is becoming an increasingly effective tactic against the Spanish champions elect.
Both PSG’s goals on Tuesday were scrappy but that just adds to the sometimes haphazard nature of the Barcelona defending. AC Milan were well worth their 2-0 win in the San Siro in the previous round, and had a golden chance to settle the tie in the Nou Camp when M’Baye Niang hit the post when one-on-one with Valdes.
All this provides plenty of encouragement for Barcelona’s Champions League rivals, including Real Madrid who are unbeaten in the last five El Clasicos. Barcelona still have plenty of ability, and it would be no surprise if they won a fifth European Cup. However, if would be no surprise either if their defence ended up costing them at Wembley.
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