Raphinha shines in Mbappe’s Paris | Football News - Hindustan Times

Raphinha shines in Mbappe’s Paris

ByDhiman Sarkar
Apr 11, 2024 05:22 PM IST

Xavi’s changes help Barcelona overcome PSG’s second-half tweaks, erase lead and win 3-2

Having lived through one and experiencing another this season, Ilkay Gündogan knows a thing or two about squad transitions. Early last month, the midfielder had said things were better at Barcelona now than when he was Pep Guardiola’s first signing at Manchester City in 2016. And though retaining La Liga might be difficult, compensation could come in the form of a Champions League quarter-final, Gündogan had said during an interaction with journalists from the Asia-Pacific region.

Barcelona's Brazilian forward Raphinha leaps in the air as he celebrates scoring Barcelona's second goal during the UEFA Champions League quarter vs Paris Saint-Germain (PSG)(AFP)
Barcelona's Brazilian forward Raphinha leaps in the air as he celebrates scoring Barcelona's second goal during the UEFA Champions League quarter vs Paris Saint-Germain (PSG)(AFP)

Wednesday’s 3-2 win against Paris St-Germain (PSG) means Barcelona can do one better. They are now a draw at home away from their first semi-final in five seasons.

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PSG supporters at Parc des Princes – the Eiffel Tower glowing in the night sky provides a picture-postcard backdrop to their home which is within walking distance of a rugby stadium and Roland Garros –could be ruing that a lick of paint prevented the first-leg from being another 3-3. Ousmane Dembélé’s shot grazed the upright and went out in the 74th minute. Three minutes later, Andreas Christensen headed home the winner.

Unless PSG win away on Tuesday, this could be Kylian Mbappe’s last European night in Paris. If that happens, the man who has scored 40 goals in 61 games for PSG in Champions League, including three against Real Sociedad in the last round, would have had a quiet farewell. He shinned an early attempt, had no shots on target, was off-side thrice and had one completed dribble. In other words, Mbappe endured a night worse than Erling Haaland did in Madrid on Tuesday.

Operating in the half-space on the left, Mbappe would move inside whenever Dembele worked the right flank. But 17-year-old Pau Cubarsi and Ronald Araújo never allowed him space. And when Mbappe tried to shift wide, Jules Koundé and Araújo combined forces with Lamine Yamal to rein in the Frenchman. What Barcelona did on Wednesday wasn’t new as this is how they usually contain Real Madrid's Vinicius Jr. Their deploying a low block too helped in getting players behind the ball.

In a match with a few sub-plots – the clubs are at different ends of the Super League project, Barcelona’s remarkable turnaround in 2017, PSG eliminating them four years later and Dembele’s $53.7m move after Neymar Jr and Lionel Messi had left for the French capital – that changed in the second half. PSG manager Luis Enrique jettisoned the idea of a false nine to introduce Bradley Barcola and got Dembélé to play as No.10. Barcelona's full backs were occupied either with Mbappe or Barcola and ceded space in the middle. Tracking midfield runs are more difficult and from trailing from Raphinha’s goal, PSG led after Dembélé (48) and Vitinha scored, the latter from a fabulous Fabián Ruiz reverse pass in the 50th minute.

Then, Xavi, once Enrique's enforcer at Barcelona, reacted. He got on Pedri and then Christensen and the substitutes contributed to helping Barcelona draw level through Raphinha and then nose ahead. With their first touches.

“Pedri came on and helped us a lot. I’m very proud of the team. Christensen also came on and helped,” Xavi said.

“Paris est magique” glowed on one side of the roof. Raphinha will agree. The Brazilian showed he could play on the left to accommodate teen prodigy Yamal and became the first player since Lionel Messi to score twice in a knockout game in the Champions League for Barcelona.

Raphinha was denied by Gianluigi Donnarumma early as Barcelona went direct and then a Nuno Mendes goalline save was needed to keep PSG on level terms. Raphinha’s first goal in the 37th minute came after Robert Lewandowski found Yamal after a strong run. As Lewandowski ran up to meet the return pass delivered delightfully by Yamal's outstep, Donnarumma, never sure with his collection, palmed the ball and Raphinha did the rest with a lob. Near half-time, Raphinha had worked up the left side again, found Yamal who wasted the move with a poor shot when a pass to Lewandowski may have helped cement Barcelona’s superiority. But television cameras catching Raphinha smiling and Mbappe hurrying off the pitch told the story of the first half.

It was Donnarumma's poor distribution that fetched the equaliser in the 62nd minute. The ball reached Pedri and after being out for nearly a month with injury, he dinked it for Raphinha whose volley was nearly as good as Federico Valverde’s on Tuesday. By the time, Christensen nodded in Gündogan’s corner-kick, Donnarumma’s night had turned into a nightmare. Like against Real in 2019 and Bayern last season, his errors could again hurt PSG’s quest for a first Champions League title.

“We made things a bit difficult for ourselves. We managed to turn things around in the second half and could have had a third (goal),” Enrique said. “We still have the spirit to go to Barcelona and win.”

Like Thomas Tuchel and Juergen Klopp, Xavi will leave in the summer. It could be after winning the Champions League and La Liga in successive seasons. “We should be proud to say Barca is alive,” he said.

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