Preventing La Remontada 2.0 – How PSG fended off Barcelona in the second leg of the UCL last-16

PSG vs Barcelona. (imago Images)
PSG vs Barcelona. (imago Images)

How PSG fended off Barcelona in the second leg of the UCL last-16

PSG beat Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie against FC Barcelona in the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League season. What followed in the second leg at Camp Nou has haunted the club ever since. Barca scored 6 goals to hand Paris Saint-Germain a 6-1 defeat and went into the quarter-finals on a 6-5 aggregate.

And while PSG beat Barcelona by a 4-1 scoreline in this year’s UEFA Champions League season, fear of another second-leg comeback could not be prevented. Barcelona are, of course, without some key players from their 2017 triumph, but they are still a club to be feared. And with Lionel Messi still in their ranks, you just never know.

Preventing La Remontada 2.0

La Remontada (The Comeback), as the 6-1 result at Camp Nou against PSG is called, did not happen again in 2021. PSG did not even lose the second leg, as it ended at 1-1. The Parisians have advanced through to the last-8, but their effort in the second leg of the last-16 should not be overlooked. Let’s see just how it happened.

The formation

PSG set up with a 4-3-3 formation, something that they have done all season. This was in opposition to Barcelona playing in a very attacking 3-4-1-2, with Frenkie de Jong, a central midfielder by trade, starting as a third centre-back on paper.

This can obviously be called foolish on the part of PSG because they did not look like they wanted to defend and counter Barcelona’s attacking formation. But the match told a different story.

PSG seemingly assumed a narrow 4-4-2 formation where the full-backs were tucked in and there were four PSG midfielders in the centre of the pitch. This is evident in the average player positions (refer to the image below) at the end of the second leg.

(WhoScored)

Getting men back – a team effort

PSG were committing men back at will. This is something that everyone would expect considering Barcelona’s attacking formation. The La Liga club dominated every aspect of the game. From shots to possession, they dictated the play. And thus, it was understood that it was going to be defence against attack.

Barca were dominant in the game in attack and in possession. (SofaScore)

Now these stats warranted a backs-to-the-wall performance off the ball, and the PSG players delivered. In the image below, their narrow and deep defensive strategy is clearly visible.

It was also a great effort from the midfield three of Idrissa Gueye, Leonardo Paredes, and Marco Verratti to drop back and help in defence. This is evident in the images below.

The midfield trio in the image below (all in black circles in the triangle) are visibly dropping deep to defend. Paredes, a central midfielder, also had the most interceptions (6) and tackles (7) in the game.

The trio’s heatmap (refer to the image below) in the match shows the work they did together. Comparing that to the heatmap of Barca’s central midfield duo of Sergio Busquets and Pedri, it is evident the PSG midfielders knew their duty of defending.

And of course, the more players are behind the ball, the lesser chances of them giving space to the opposition to create chances.

(WhoScored)

Even the attackers dropped back to help. Just look at the front three’s heatmap in the game and it becomes evident how deep they were dropping to help out their team off the ball.

(SofaScore)
Barca’s players formed a 6-man defensive line at times, making sure the wings are marked (red and yellow circle) and there are men in the middle to close down space.

A statistically great effort in defence

Barcelona got shots away. They had chances to score. But it was always going to happen because they wanted at least 4 goals on the night. Despite that, PSG were up for the task.

They defended more and hence had better defensive statistics. The most impressive one is the clearances stat. The French side pelted the ball away from their third 29 times! They intercepted more and tackled more. The combative PSG side were up to the task off the ball. (Refer to the image below)

(SofaScore)

A goal to rub the salt in Barcelona’s wounds

PSG scored around the 30th-minute mark. They got a penalty which resulted from a very good breakaway after winning back possession. It resulted in a cross and Mauro Icardi was tripped by Clement Lenglet (in black circle in the image below).

This bravery to counter and commit men forward for the attack saw them get an early goal which calmed some nerves. Although Barca still needed to score 4, a goal for PSG meant that they would not lose even if the Catalan club actually scored 4 times.

Poor attack from Barcelona and no help for Messi

Lionel Messi was always going to be the man to watch out for, and he stamped his authority on the game in the first half when he scored one of the greatest Champions League goals in history.

And he was by far the best Barcelona player on the night. His stats (in the tweet below) tell the whole story.

But he had no help from his attacker. Yes, he did miss a penalty just before half-time but in spite of that, the team had a bucket-load of chances to score from.

Shots taken by Barcelona players. Wasteful to say the least. (SofaScore)
Shots attempted by Barcelona against PSG in the second leg. A big chunk of them came inside the box. (WhoScored)

Substitutions

One brilliant thing done by PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino was his substitutions, especially that of Abdou Diallo. Kurzawa was getting rinsed by Barca’s men down the right-wing and conceded the penalty on Antoine Griezmann, which was ultimately saved by Navas just at the stroke of half-time.

Abdou Diallo’s half vs Barcelona in the second leg vs Kurzawa’s half. A great substitution. (SofaScore)

Man of the Match performance from Keylor Navas

And it is impossible to conclude the analysis without highlighting a player who was so important in PSG not capitulating. Even when teams defend well, there are spaces to exploit and the goalkeeper can be called into action.

PSG’s Navas was more than active in this match. The French side defended a lot but were occasionally breached due to the sheer overload in attack done by Barca. But they had their Costa Rican stopper to save them.

He saved Messi’s penalty, which was crucial psychologically as well as statistically. While Barcelona would have still needed 2 goals had the penalty been converted, the boost it would have offered could have been crucial, especially just before half-time.

Apart from that, Navas had a memorable game with 9 saves, 8 of them coming from shots inside the box.

(SofaScore)

Verdict

It is clear what PSG did right. They fielded a balanced side and the players were ready to defend. Even Angel di Maria, their substitute winger, was deep inside his own half trying to help out (as shown in his heatmap below).

(SofaScore)

Of course, PSG were helped by Barcelona’s bad finishing and Navas’ inspired form, but their immense defensive effort should not be ignored. They deserved the result and would hope they can go one better this year and win the tournament.

(All match footage taken from DAZN)

Written by Aniket Rai

An ordinary football fan, doing what he loves.

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