Football Features

Barcelona lose their heads as Luis Enrique and Ousmane Dembele get one over former side

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:14, 16 April 2024

Barcelona only had themselves to blame as they gave up a 3-2 aggregate lead to be knocked out of the Champions League quarter-finals by Paris Saint-Germain.

The Blaugrana were well worth their win at the Parc des Princes last week and many expected them to hold onto the advantage. Although they have all-but dropped the La Liga title, this is a team that looked more comfortable in the Champions League — a lot closer to the sides Xavi played in.

Things got even better when Raphinha made it 1-0 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate, tapping in after Lamine Yamal won his battle against Nuno Mendes. The 16-year-old was a bright spark as always, taking the ball to the byline before cutting the ball back to Raphinha, becoming the youngest ever player to provide an assist in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

But Lamal’s match lasted just 34 minutes as he paid the price for one of his teammates’ mistakes. PSG weren’t offering much in terms of a genuine goal threat but Barcelona were caught out by a ball over the top with Bradley Barcola closing in on goal. Ronaldo Araujo hauled him down from behind, just outside the area, and was sent off for the last-man foul. It was one of those where, even if it had been in the box, there would have been a case for a red card with Araujo making no attempt to win the ball.

Unnecessary, and borne out of poor communication between Araujo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, this was the start of Barcelona’s downfall. Yamal came off a few minutes later, to be replaced by Inigo Martinez, but that didn’t offer Barcelona the defensive solidity they would have hoped. Eleven minutes after Araujo’s red card, Ousmane Dembele was the man at the far post to finish from Barcola’s cross, netting his second goal in as many games against his former club.

In fact, Dembele has now scored as many Champions League knockout round goals against Barcelona as he did for them. The game went into the break level, but PSG knew it was in their hands. And Barcelona gift-wrapped it.

First PSG did take the lead on the night, levelling the tie on aggregate. It came through Vitinha with an effort from outside the box, as Barcelona had failed to heed the previous warnings of giving him space as PSG played it short from corners. No Barcelona rushed out to close him down, allowing Vitinha to send his low shot into the bottom corner.

Just two minutes later, Barcelona had another red card, this time to manager Xavi. The former Barcelona midfielder was clearly unhappy with something and kicked water bottles in disgust, while also being penalised for “foul and abusive language”. Down to 10 men and a manager missing, Barcelona shot themselves in the foot once more when Joao Cancelo took Dembele out with a rash tackle inside the box.

Kylian Mbappe had been quiet for parts of the game but his penalty was emphatic, stepping up when PSG needed him most, to put them ahead on aggregate. Within five minutes, Barcelona had gone from 1-1 and a man down to trailing 3-1 and losing their manager. In the 65th minute, there was a third red card, this time to a member of the Barcelona staff.

“I think PSG have to thank Araujo for the red card,” Rio Ferdinand told TNT Sports after the game.

“Maybe a rush of blood, backed himself too heavily I think in that duel and came out second best. The red card changed the game on its head. Absolutely spun the game out of control.

“I thought, at that time, at that point Barcelona were the team that were going to go through. They were the most confident, more complete team at that point. But as soon as the red card happened, you have to say, it’s not always as easy as they made it look, PSG. Sometimes teams go down to 10 men and it’s hard to break them down, they make it hard for you.

“But PSG looked like a team that were really in control and the confidence went through the roof. The big players stepped up, Mbappe, Marquinhos with two game-saving tackles, Vitinha conducting everything in midfield from the sending off. To a man they came out the better team, but Barcelona played their part in a fantastic two-legged tie.”

There was still time for a fourth at the end, as Mbappe scored his sixth goal against Barcelona — only Thomas Muller (eight) has scored more against the Blaugrana in the Champions League. The win made Luis Enrique the first ex-Barcelona manager to knock out the Spanish side in a Champions League knockout tie. He’s also just the third Spanish manager to knock Barcelona out after Rafa Benitez with Liverpool in 2006/07 and Vicente del Bosque with Real Madrid in 2001/02.