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PSG and Barcelona turned a Champions League feast into a soggy appetizer – Defector

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PSG and Barcelona turned a Champions League feast into a soggy appetizer – Defector


If you only looked at the bare facts, you might think Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final clash between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain was a classic. There was stakes: a place in the semi-finals of the tournament was at stake, and with it, by virtue of being on the easier side of the draw, a golden opportunity to waltz all the way to the final. There were big names: one of the biggest clubs in football, Barcelona, ​​and the greatest player in football, Kylian Mbappé. There was narrative intrigue: PSG boss Luis Enrique returning to the city where he made his name as a coach; PSG winger Ousmane Dembélé returns to the city where his name has lost its luster; Mbappé’s (possible?) last hurray with PSG in the only competition that matters to him, and against the biggest rival of his probable future employer elsewhere; the memories of Barcelona’s famous comeback against PSG in 2017. There were goals – five in this one, matching the five from the first leg. There were big moments that changed destiny: an early goal from Barça that strengthened their advantage in the draw, an early red card from Ronald Araújo that changed everything, an important goal from Dembélé, two important goals from Mbappé, several near misses in Barcelona. Despite all that, Tuesday’s game felt strangely mundane and unsatisfying. PSG overturned Barca’s 3-2 first-leg advantage by driving into enemy territory and beating the Blaugrana 4-1, and somehow that phrase is way more exciting than the game itself.

Maybe this shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, none of these teams are particularly great. Barcelona, ​​under Schrödinger’s lame duck Xavi Hernández, has been what it has been for a few seasons now: a decidedly un-Barcelona team that wins most of the time, loses sometimes, but whose play neither dazzles nor impresses. inspired. PSG is what Mbappé did: a large mirror which serves to intensify its own light but which struggles to find illumination when it does not shine. Win or lose, Barca matches don’t tend to leave a lasting impression either way; PSG are capable of beating or losing to anyone, but unless Mbappé himself goes nuclear, there’s usually not much reason to worry. That makes for a combo that doesn’t exactly scream “equal for the ages,” even under Tuesday’s otherwise auspicious circumstances.

In fact, our best bet for a memorable result from Tuesday’s game came from what most unites these two clubs in recent years: their shared affinity for Champions League embarrassments and the football world’s shared love for laugh at their falls. You might be able to make out some of it here, at least in the margins. Personally, I was snickering as I watched Barcelona take on PSG during that sequence between the first goal and Araújo’s red, rejoicing at another expensive, put-together soft-power vehicle along the lines of the Cybertruck. I’m sure other viewers, whose emotions are less hopelessly tied to Barcelona’s fate than mine, might find pleasure in Araújo’s stupid challenge that earned him the red card or in João Cancelo’s stupid challenge who awarded a penalty or the team’s general ability to snatch. defeat of the jaws of victory. But even the comedy factor couldn’t elevate the match into something truly entertaining.

More than funny, Araújo’s red (one of those discretionary, borderline calls that you couldn’t be too angry about, no matter which way it went) was downright disappointing in that it ruined this which was an incredibly balanced match; Barça’s performance in the first leg, the commendable display of fight when they were down to 10 in the second leg, and the unfortunate but deserved nature of the red card prevent the defeat from being described as humiliation. PSG’s weak and anxious defense despite their numerical advantage ultimately did not affect the result, and in the other direction, Mbappé’s otherwise anonymous contributions to the game apart from the two goals gifted to him ensured that the -it’s not that low. one of the Frenchman’s emblematic releases. For a while it looked like Barcelona was going to win, then red came and it looked like PSG was going to win, and neither team hit notable enough highs or lows for the game to matter outside of the result.

But obviously, the result counts. For Barcelona, ​​this defeat is another disappointing European night to add to the list. If the first-leg victory seemed to have exorcised the demons accumulated during what is now a nearly decade-long parade of Champions League indignities, Tuesday’s defeat proved that the house remains haunted. For Xavi, the result hurts, but does not kill, his chances of staying for another season. If Barça had qualified for the semi-finals, I am convinced that Xavi would have “let himself” be convinced to change his mind about leaving at the end of the season. Losing, and doing so from such a strong position, makes it more difficult to justify maintaining it. It’s coming this weekend Classic could be decisive: a victory for Real Madrid would probably mean the real end of his future with the club.

The situation with PSG is much more interesting. Luis Enrique’s first season in charge of the team was inconsistent to say the least. This semi-final should be enough to save his job, although the fact that PSG enters this tie as heavy favorites against Borussia Dortmund means that falling to the Germans could cost him his job. As for the PSG star, reaching the semi-finals should strengthen Mbappé’s legacy at the club, or at the very least, it should help him stay in the good graces of PSG fans until the end of the season. Doing right by PSG fans appears to be important to Mbappé, and taking the team to places French clubs rarely manage should help him achieve that goal.

What if PSG reached the final? What if their opponent was none other than Real Madrid? Could Mbappé’s ego let him swap Paris for Madrid if the Whites had just beaten him in the final, perhaps handing the Ballon d’Or to Vinícius or Jude Bellingham, two of the Frenchman’s biggest rivals for generational supremacy, making Mbappé’s arrival in Madrid not the coming of the savior but like a flashy but probably foreign bauble? Could a PSG victory convince Mbappé that he can really have it all in Paris and get him to stay? Or would a PSG title simply make it easier for Mbappé to leave, having accomplished everything he came for and leaving the club and its fans happy before seeking new adventures elsewhere?

Just thinking about the potential directions this could take is enough to make you lick your lips. Unlike the Barça-PSG match itself, let’s hope that the actual play for the rest of the tournament is up to par throughout.

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