It ended 4-0 at the Parc des Princes last month and almost ninety-nine percent of the football world believed PSG had sent the title favourites crushing out in the first knock out stage of the 2016/17 Champions League tournament. A Barcelona comeback was never on the cards and PSG suddenly was reckoned to have joined the European elites by many after a what happened to be a wonderful home performance. No team ever in the history of Champions League had ever turned a 4 goal deficit until FC Barcelona, arguably the best team of the previous decade, rewrote the history at the Camp Nou.
88 minutes into the game, riding on Cavani’s volley for the crucial away goal, it seemed as though Unai Emery and his men had done the job to seal the place in the quarter-finals. But two goals from Neymar and a last gasp winner from Sergi Roberto denied the French outfit and most importantly sent Barcelona once again into the history books.
After a poor display in France, Luis Enrique opted to change his side’s system and adopted the 3-4-3(diamond). He fielded his side in the 3-diamond-3 for the first time against their title rivals Atletico Madrid after their loss to PSG. He experimented this 3-diamond-3 along with the 3-1-4-2 in the games against Sporting and Celta Vigo in which they scored eleven goals and this proved to be a great attacking system for the side. The key was with the wingers who were stationed very wide(Rafinha and Neymar) which allowed Messi to drift into the centre along with Suarez to play as the second striker.
Messi played at the top of the diamond and fell back in certain situations to collect the ball from deep down to carry the ball with pace and even dribble at times. This meant that Rakitic would often slot forward(space left by Messi). If Messi and Suarez had interchanged their roles, then Messi would stay top and it was now Iniesta who would carry the work of Rakitic by moving forward.
This is how the 3-4-3 worked in most instances and for the later stages of the game Turan came on for Iniesta while Sergi Roberto and Andre Gomes replaced Rafinha and Rakitic. After the substitution of Rafinha, Turan went into his natural position to play in the right wing.
One of the most important things in this system is the positioning of the players and their connectivity on the whole. The wingers stayed very wide and two forwards were always in the middle to keep the defenders busy. Here the ball near full back would mark the ball near winger and the two players in the middle will occupy the three defenders which would leave the ball far winger free. Also the positioning of Suarez is beautiful to watch as he is ready to run beyond his marker and Neymar has to just cut in the ball for Suarez to reach it out. Here Pique can be seen partnering Suarez so that the presence of his tall figure would be advantageous in the box as he is stronger and sharper in the air.
Messi’s positioning in the dying minutes is one thing to note as he often drifted from being at top to orchestrating the team’s play from the centre of the park. Here he is seen to have two or more passing options but he does what he often does best. He collects the ball from the defender and dribbles it forward which moves the opponents backward rather than pressing it out from him. After Neymar’s goal from the free kick, Messi took this responsibility of arriving from the centre and this provided dividends as expected. Messi here collected the ball and as this forced the opponents to backwards, he played a brilliantly lofted long ball into the path of Suarez who with very minimal contact from the defender claimed a penalty and was awarded with one. Neymar who had scored the previous goal came up with the goods once again and changed the scoreline to 5-1.
The search was on for the next goal which would mark the greatest comeback ever in Champions league knock out stage history. Needing only one goal Messi played further forward moving out from the space in the centre and the moves that took place depended on Messi and Busquets. When Messi joined the forwards, it was Busquets who dictated the play and was able to find the wingers in the right positions.
As we can see from the above instances the search for final goal started with the movements of Busquets as Messi joined the high offensive line opted by Barca. It was Neymar once again who collected the ball as a result of these movements and played a brilliant ball into the box and a timely run of Sergi Roberto to score the goal created history in Spain.
Much should be stated about Barcelona’s pressing in the middle and PSG’s defensive set up in the last 10 minutes. PSG were quite content with their away goal and at one stage needed to see off only a handful of minutes and in return Barcelona had to score 3 goals which PSG never saw coming. PSG couldn’t free itself through long balls as Cavani joined in the defensive duties since they defended in a 4-5-1-0/4-3-3-0 shape and it was the movements in centre which allowed Neymar to collect the ball from the centre and play it into the box.
Image credits: fourfourtwo.com/statszone
One of the most staggering features of the last 10 minutes was the pressing made by Barcelona and the possession maintained. PSG were content with their work and wanted to defend their way out of the game. Hence Barca played in the 2-2-6 block in most occasions which allowed them to keep the ball high and circulate the ball as high up the pitch as possible without giving it to the Parisians. As soon as they lost the ball in very few occasions and to gain the ball back from the kick off, they pressed in a 3-3-2-2 shape. This allowed them to keep the ball well and they maintained 85% of the possession in the last 10 minutes. They allowed the French outfit only to pass the ball nine times during the last 10 minutes and only three were successful in it. And for a fact, those 3 successful passes were from the kickoff after three Barcelona goals. This brilliant comeback in the dying minutes ensured Barcelona a place in the quarterfinals and marked one of the most beautiful Champions League nights ever.
Featured image credits: Barca Blaugranes