Xavi gets the better of Luis Enrique as Barcelona edge PSG

PARIS — In a week that has seen some of the best clubs in world football facing each other and offering some superb games, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona did not disappoint at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday night.

Without reaching the height in intensity and quality of Tuesday’s 3-3 draw between Real Madrid and Manchester City, Barça’s 3-2 win was another rollercoaster of emotions and of domination. But as the Catalans left the stadium and the French capital to head back to prepare for the second leg next week, they will be the ones feeling boosted, while the Parisians will head home with bags of anxiety.

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Each team had their moment, each manager had their moment, and the game can easily be summed up as the tale of two coaches. PSG boss Luis Enrique was quite brutal with his counterpart Xavi Hernandez in his pre match press conference, dissing his former captain’s performances as manager compared to his own. But Xavi got his revenge on the pitch. His plan, using striker Robert Lewandowski as a focal point — a job he did marvellously well — and Raphinha as a runner off him, worked perfectly.

Since Xavi announced that he planned to leave at the end of the season a few weeks ago, pretty much everything has gone right for Barcelona. His tactics work, his team are playing great, and his players are fully on board and delivering for him. On Wednesday, after PSG’s storm at the start of the second half, Barça found themselves 2-1 down in the space of three minutes. Xavi was able to rectify things by bringing on Pedri and switching Raphinha from the left wing to the right. The impact was immediate with a wonderful pass from Pedri for the Brazilian to make it 2-2. And to prove that everything is going Xavi’s way, he sent Andreas Christensen on after 75 minutes and, with his first touch — a header on a corner — the former Chelsea defender gave Barca the win. The great Xavi momentum was very much on show.

The same can’t be said about Luis Enrique. Wednesday’s match was PSG’s first defeat in 27 games — a streak held since the start of November — but the Paris manager will have to take the blame for this loss. His initial plan to start Marco Asensio as a false 9, despite hardly playing lately, Lee Kang-In in midfield, and Marquinhos at right-back didn’t work at all. Luis Enrique changed everything at half-time, bringing Bradley Barcola on for Asensio, having Lucas Hernández and Marquinhos switch in defence, and getting Ousmane Dembélé and Lee to play between the lines. It worked for 15 minutes. PSG took the lead with two great goals, but it didn’t last for long enough, even if they did hit the woodwork twice.

Xavi won the tactical battle in the first round of this tie. There is a second round coming up and the PSG head coach will have to find the right answers this time and not getting pretty much everything wrong like he did on Wednesday.

“I was not surprised by Xavi’s tactical plan,” Luis Enrique said after the game. “I knew [Barcelona] would play long on Lewandowski to beat our press.”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, yet Luis Enrique was incapable of finding a way to nullify Barca’s tactics.

One of the answers the PSG boss will need to find for the second leg will be how to get Kylian Mbappé in better positions. Because Wednesday was not his night, not at all. It is rare when Mbappé fails to impact a game but, against Barcelona, he was spectacularly ineffectual. The Paris born-and-bred superstar lost the ball 13 times, had three shots, none on target, only had one successful dribble out of five, and only won three duels out of 12. He had long spells in the game where he was anonymous and, when he was on the ball, he kept making the wrong decisions.

Throughout this Champions League campaign, the France captain has been PSG’s main guy and the one making the difference for his team. His six goals so far in the competition were key to Paris reaching the quarterfinals. He carried his team more often than not but, on Wednesday, he was a hinderance. Mbappé never looked like he was connected to the rest of the team. Maybe the fact that he has been playing less lately in the league — like against Marseille when Luis Enrique took him off after 65 minutes — was a problem fitness-wise on Wednesday?

It’s not really an excuse for his off display. And when Mbappé is not having a good day, PSG feel it. He scored a hat trick the last time he was in Barcelona with Paris, so maybe it will be different next week?

Regardless, Mbappé and PSG will have to do something they have never done before: Five times in their history, they have lost the first leg of a Champions League tie and five times they were knocked out after not being able to turn things around in the second leg. If they want to reach the semifinals, they will have to make history and do it for the first time on Tuesday in Barcelona. Their own Remontada, basically.