Matuidi's late goal gives PSG hope vs. Barca, while Bayern cruises
There was late drama in Paris as Barcelona was pegged back in an enthralling 2-2 draw at Paris Saint-Germain in a Champions League quarterfinal first leg which saw Lionel Messi leave injured at halftime. Bayern Munich won their tie against Juventus 2-0, but will also be worried by an injury to Toni Kroos. Here is the rundown of tonight's dramatic action:
1. Messi injury concern after Barca let it slip. For the third time in a row, Barcelona failed to win its first leg away from home in a European knock-out match, as a dramatic night in Paris ended with a 2-2 draw and an injury to talisman Lionel Messi.
Paris Saint-Germain might not have managed what Chelsea, in last year's semi-final, and AC Milan, last month, did; but it still stopped Barcelona winning, and scored two dramatic goals late on. Those strikes, and a suspected hamstring strain which might rule Lionel Messi out of the second leg, is something for it to cling to even if it Barcelona remains the favorite to reach the semi-final.
The visitors' relief at opening the scoring after 38 minutes of compelling action -- Messi running onto Dani Alves's curling pass over the top, smashing the ball across Salvatore Sirigu after Christophe Jallet had deserted his post, just as he had playing for France against Spain six days earlier -- soon turned to concern as Messi hobbled to the touchline with an injury. He did not appear for the second half, having been replaced by Cesc Fabregas.
It would have been worse for Barcelona if Messi's injury had come before the Milan second leg; at least it is ahead in this tie. But one facet so often overlooked in Messi's unbelievable scoring record is his lack of injuries. He has now scored 57 goals in 45 matches this season; this was his sixth consecutive scoring game and he is now only 12 goals behind Champions League all-time scorer Raul.
And yet just as impressive is this: his last significant injury was in September 2010 when Atletico Madrid's Tomas Ujfalusi stamped on his ankle. He was only out for two weeks then and has played nearly 300 matches since then without a serious breakdown. So Foot magazine claimed the incredible run without injury was down to Pep Guardiola playing him as the 'false nine,' further away from centerbacks, and changing his diet to incorporate more fish and no more fizzy drinks and chorizo sandwiches.
While the presence of Fabregas has at times given Barcelona a lop-sided feel -- as Iniesta is far more effective in the midfield three than on the left side of attack -- the irony of his substitute's appearance was that in the Messi position, he is a better fit than anywhere else. And it was his backheel late on that led to Barcelona's second goal.
Barcelona had done well to soak up the PSG pressure, and there was pressure, in the first half. The host could have been ahead after four minutes, when Ezequiel Lavezzi jinked inside Gerard Pique, and Sergio Busquets cleared the ball against his own post. Not long after, Javier Pastore tested Victor Valdes with a fizzer at his near post. Valdes did even better to push out Ibrahimovic's low free-kick; the Barcelona goalkeeper started the game so well that you wondered how the team would cope without him in the season after next.
Back in January, Valdes announced that he would be leaving Camp Nou at the end of his current contract, in June 2014, at which El Mundo Deportivo columnist Francesc Aguilar wrote: "The attacking football of Barça and Tito Vilanova begins at the hands and feet of Víctor Valdes." Valdes also watched as Ibrahimovic fired across the face of his goal after a super counter-attack from the pacy Lucas Moura.
For much of the second half, Valdes was a spectator: PSG was being overrun in midfield as David Beckham, a surprise starter, saw less and less of the ball. The yellow cards soon added up: Blaise Matuidi was booked, ruling him out of the second leg (a big blow) as was Beckham. And Barcelona had the better chances: Alexis Sanchez had two opportunities, but failed to test Sirigu. Dani Alves and Xavi both went close with free-kicks.
But then, controversy, and late drama: as two Barcelona players clashed heads in their own area, Valdes saved from Ibrahimovic; Barcelona wanted the ball back, the referee allowed the corner. Riled, David Villa conceded a needless free kick, which Thiago Silva headed against the post. From the rebound, Ibrahimovic, from an offside position, steered the ball home.
At that stage, PSG looked the likelier winner but Barcelona kept pushing and, after good work from substitute Cristian Tello, Fabregas smartly back-heeled the ball into the path of Alexis, who touched the ball just before Sirigu clattered into him. Xavi made no mistake from the spot but there was still time, with the last kick of the game, for PSG to score again. This time it was Matuidi, whose snapshot from Ibrahimovic's knock-back, was deflected by Marc Bartra past Valdes. The strike was probably no more than PSG deserved, and it sets up an enticing clash next week at Camp Nou.
In 1995, PSG met Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinal. The first leg ended 1-1 and PSG won the second leg 2-1. Will history repeat itself this time around? That may all depend on Messi's hamstring...
2. Bayern in driver's seat after comfortable win. Another injury overshadowed Bayern Munich's first leg win over Juventus after it emerged that Toni Kroos tore a muscle and could be out for the rest of the season. Kroos only lasted 15 minutes of the game, and while his replacement Arjen Robben ran the Juventus defence ragged when he came on, Kroos's absence is a serious blow to Bayern's hopes of European glory.
In the build-up to the game, billed as one of the competition's best attacks (Bayern) against the finest defence (Juventus), the Italians' goalkeeper Gigi Buffon claimed that the trio in front of him -- Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci -- was the best defensive team he's played behind. But it was Buffon who endured a wretched night as he was at fault for both goals -- and he will be bemoaning Bayern's left-back David Alaba, whose two long shots will give Buffon nightmares.
The opener came in the first minute, as Andrea Pirlo lost the ball and Alaba tried his luck from 25 yards out. The ball flicked off Arturo Vidal but the deflection was not huge; already Buffon was wrong-footed and the ball bounced fully eight yards in front of him and he still couldn't make up the ground.
Bayern continued in the same vein as its last league game -- when it destroyed Hamburg 9-2 -- and it could have scored plenty more in that first period, as Robben, twice, Frank Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger all could have doubled the lead.
It was, said Sky Italia pundit Gianluca Vialli, "the worst 45 minutes since Antonio Conte arrived at Juventus". The only saving grace was that the deficit was only one goal. But if Conte demanded a reaction at halftime, it didn't come: Bayern continued to push for a second, and was rewarded when Buffon could only parry another Alaba shot from distance; it fell into the path of Mario Mandzukic, whose cutback was tapped home by Thomas Muller.
Conte will come under pressure for his team selection; he left out Mirko Vucinic and Paul Pogba, and ended up subbing off Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri, his two strikers who were far from effective. Two other things will worry the Italian coach: Andrea Pirlo struggled against Bayern's tough pressing game, while Vidal, such a key performer this season, was booked and will miss the second leg.
This tie may have been tough to call before the game, but Bayern definitely has the advantage now.