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Analysis: How Barcelona defied odds to beat PSG in the Champions League

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Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Barcelona delivered a remarkable performance in their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg clash against Paris Saint-Germain, as despite facing tough odds, the Blaugrana secured a thrilling 3-2 victory.

At first glance, the statistics might suggest Barcelona had a tough time, with less possession, fewer passes, and lower accuracy. 

However, delving deeper into how Xavi orchestrated and adjusted the game reveals a completely different story. Let’s take a closer look at how Barcelona’s strategy unfolded during the match.

Collective defensive effort

The smart move of positioning Jules Kounde as the direct opponent to Kylian Mbappe showcased excellent tactical acumen. 

Jules Kounde got the better of Kylian Mbappe against PSG.

Kounde, a Frenchman who has played with Mbappe, effectively anchored Barcelona’s defensive strategy, demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of various defensive concepts.

For once, he was perfect in one-on-one situations. Secondly, When Marco Asensio moved lower, neither Ronald Araujo nor Pau Cubarsi chased him, opting to maintain their positions.

Araujo, for his part, positioned himself closely behind Kounde, while Sergi Roberto stayed nearby on the side.

On the other hand, Joao Cancelo stayed put more often to prevent quick transitions by the opposition. Furthermore, the likes of Lamine Yamal and Raphinha consistently took on the PSG full-backs on their own.

Lamine Yamal and Raphinha did their defensive duties against PSG.

Strategic attack

In response to PSG’s relentless pressure, Barcelona decided to play the long-ball tactic. 

By half time Marc-Andre ter Stegen had played 12 long balls primarily targeting either Robert Lewandowski to break through PSG’s defensive lines or seeking openings for Raphinha or Yamal. 

Interestingly, the average distance of these passes from the goal was 22.8 meters.

Marc Andre-ter Stegen targeted Robert Lewandowski against PSG.

Barcelona’s strategy heavily relied on Lewandowski’s prowess to navigate through PSG’s pressure, and he proved his worth, especially during the first half when PSG’s pressure was most intense and their defensive lines were tighter.

The Pole positioned himself adeptly to receive passes, evading Lucas Beraldo’s attempts to intercept, retaining possession when necessary, and driving forward when opportunities arose. His contribution was pivotal in Barcelona’s 1-0 lead.

Where did Barcelona falter?

As the game progressed, PSG made tactical adjustments, swapping Marquinhos and Beraldo’s positions and repositioning Ousmane Dembele further inside. Yet, it was Barcelona’s defensive lapses in the second half that truly cost them.

Barcelona defenders were at fault for both goals against PSG.

For once, Kounde was hesitant and Araujo could not make a decision in time. For the second goal, Roberto, Cubarsi and Cancelo’s delayed reactions allowed PSG to execute the move smoothly.

Xavi’s decision worked wonders

Xavi showcased his brilliance both before and during the match, particularly in handling challenging situations with quick thinking. 

Despite trailing 2-1 at one point, the Barcelona manager did not lose hope and it was his calmness that defined the game at the end.

For what it is worth, he wisely refrained from making drastic changes to counter Mbappe, demonstrating his ability to navigate pressure effectively. His swift and precise adjustments were instrumental in aiding Barcelona when they were under pressure.

Pedri assisted Raphinha’s goal

His tactical tweaks of introducing Pedri and Andreas Christensen directly resulted in an assist and a goal, proving to be crucial in the 3-2 victory.

Lastly, it is worth noting that Raphinha delivered an outstanding performance, scoring two goals and executing numerous skillful plays with impeccable timing and precision. 

His excellence was not limited to just one game as he has consistently performed at a remarkably high level over the past four matches. It is to be noted that his performances have come at a time when his future is still uncertain as the transfer window looms.

Raphinha’s heatmap vs PSG.

Against PSG, his stats include 40 interventions, with 18 out of 22 successful passes (82% accuracy), 2 successful dribbles out of 3 attempts, 3 key passes, and 2 goals.

In conclusion, Xavi tailored a sheer masterclass against PSG in Paris and if the players can put their heads up, the team from Catalonia can indeed be considered as favourites to win the UEFA Champions League.

Edited by Ash Reyna

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