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Paris Saint-Germain Gets Over the European Hump

Their Champions League throttling of Barcelona is a big deal

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Before Tuesday’s Champions League match, Paris Saint-Germain manager Unai Emery had squared off against Barcelona 23 times, as manager of Almeria, Valencia, Spartak Moscow, and Sevilla. In those 23 games, Emery had beaten Barcelona only once, 2–1, in 2015. Now he’s done it twice, with a dominant 4–0 victory against the defending La Liga champions.

PSG have been building to this moment since Qatar Sports Investments bought a majority share in the club in 2011. Since then, the club has spent €702 million in transfers, with signings like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani, and Angel Di Maria. They’ve bossed Ligue 1 for the better part of five years. Despite success in France, they’ve struggled in the Champions League, especially against Barcelona, with losses in 2013 and 2015. Now with Emery in charge, PSG have finally gotten the result they’ve wanted.

With Silva injured, 21-year-old center back Presnel Kimpembe was inserted into the starting XI for his very first Champions League match, facing off against Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar. The young Parisian held his own against the world’s best attacking trio, including some crucial tackles late in the match that helped PSG secure a much-needed clean sheet ahead of the second leg in Barcelona.

PSG’s midfield of Blaise Matuidi, Adrien Rabiot, and Marco Verratti set the tone early by creating chances offensively and making key tackles on the defensive end. Verratti stood out among the three and earned a 9 match rating from Squawka with 50 passes completed, 90 percent pass accuracy, and four tackles.

While Verratti controlled the midfield, PSG’s attack was worth every Euro. Each player in their front three scored. Julian Draxler scored in his Champions League debut for the club. Tuesday was both Edinson Cavani’s and Angel Di Maria’s birthday and both notched goals, including a brace from Di Maria highlighted by this free-kick beauty.

No one expected this outcome, even though Barcelona had struggled over the last month. Barça had won only three of its last five matches, with draws against Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey and Real Betis in La Liga. This was more than a hiccup, though. Barcelona had 57 percent possession but only one shot on goal. Of the dream team trio, Neymar looked the most lively, and caused more trouble for PSG’s back line than Messi and Suarez.

Before the match there were rumors that Emery would be fired after just one season in Paris due to struggles in Ligue 1 and players reportedly not buying into his system. Now he has a four-goal cushion over one of the best teams in the world as he heads into the second leg. Barcelona will need to score five goals and keep a clean sheet to advance to the next round. And PSG are one step closer to being a European football power.