PARIS, APRIL 16 – Barcelona coach Luis Enrique admitted he could scarcely have hoped for a better performance after his side blew away Paris Saint-Germain with a 3-1 victory in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.
The Spanish league leaders ended PSG’s 33-game unbeaten home run in Europe stretching back to 2006 as Neymar opened the scoring in the first half at the Parc des Princes before Luis Suarez added a superb double in the second half, leaving next week’s return leg looking like little more than a formality.
“We were superior in midfield, were dangerous going forward and defended well as a team. It was a very complete performance from us,” said Enrique, who was not too concerned about the late consolation conceded when Jeremy Mathieu deflected a Gregory van der Wiel shot into his own net.
“I would be happier if we hadn’t conceded the goal, but we didn’t get much luck with it. It caught out our goalkeeper, but I wouldn’t change our game tonight, even if a 3-0 would have been perfect.”
PSG will need to score at least three goals to stand a chance of progressing to the semi-finals when they go to the Camp Nou for the second leg next Tuesday.
Nevertheless, Barcelona are refusing to take anything for granted, especially as PSG will be boosted by the return from suspension of both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti for the second leg.
“They will get players back, so I am sure the tie is not finished yet. We are not going to make the mistake of thinking it is over,” said the coach.
“They will have nothing to lose. As always, we will try to win at the Camp Nou and clinch a place in the semi-finals.”
Enrique resisted the temptation to heap praise on Suarez, even if the Uruguayan’s two second-half goals ultimately made the difference.
The former Liverpool striker’s double in the French capital leaves him with 11 goals in Barcelona’s last 11 matches, including a crucial brace in the 2-1 last-16 first-leg win at Manchester City and the winner in the recent Clasico victory over eternal rivals Real Madrid.
In comparison, over the same period, Lionel Messi has scored eight times and Neymar merely four.
“I have seen Suarez score goals like that for Ajax and Liverpool. He is strong and finishes like a centre-forward. But all the players played their part tonight, and when we play like that it is difficult to beat us.”
– Suarez ‘clinical’ –
Suarez’s display put his fellow Uruguayan Edinson Cavani in the shade, with the latter toiling up front for PSG as the hosts struggled to wrestle possession away from Barcelona.
“They have the same nationality and they play in more or less the same position, but one was clinical tonight in a team that dominated,” admitted Paris coach Laurent Blanc.
Blanc saw his side produce a rousing second-leg display to eliminate Chelsea in the last 16 last month, but he knows the task facing them next Tuesday will be far tougher, especially after seeing captain Thiago Silva hobble off with a thigh injury early on to be replaced by David Luiz.
“That was when things started to go wrong for us. We replaced Thiago with a player who was still not fully fit either. To hope to get a better result against them you really need to be 100 percent in all areas and for my team it certainly wasn’t the case,” he said.
“There is a lot of disappointment. The players gave everything and are completely worn out. I hope the motivation for us will be to go to Barcelona, with certain key players back, and show a different face.”
PSG also lost top spot in Ligue 1 on Wednesday after title rivals Lyon beat Bastia 2-0, and before travelling to Barcelona Blanc must patch up his side for an important league game at Nice on Saturday.
“We will need to get four or five players back before we go to Barcelona, but first I have to send out a competitive team that is capable of taking three points at Nice.”