Barcelona 1 PSG 4 (4-6 agg) – Barcelona implode, Xavi and Araujo reds, Mbappe’s triumph

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Paris Saint-Germain advanced to the semi-finals of the Champions League after knocking Barcelona out on a dramatic night in which the home side had a player and their coach sent off.

Barcelona led 3-2 from the first leg and an early goal from Raphinha at Montjuic put them within sight of the last four.

However, Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo was sent off on the half-hour mark before goals from Ousmane Dembele and Vitinha drew PSG level on aggregate. Kylian Mbappe then scored a 61st-minute penalty and blasted home in the dying stages to send PSG through.

Barcelona manager Xavi was shown a red card in the second half for kicking out on the side of the pitch as his team’s Champions League dream crumbled.

Here, our writers analyse and evaluate the key talking points of an extraordinary game.


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Why was Araujo sent off?

Reflecting on 180 minutes of absorbing, end-to-end football — 59 shots, 10 goals, with countless sprinkles of superstar quality throughout — it feels a shame that it ended without 22 players on the pitch.

But the rules are the rules, and Araujo overstepped the line in a tangle with Bradley Barcola, leaving referee Istvan Kovacs with little choice.

The game ebbed and flowed before the incident, starting and ending with an Araujo misstep; his pass into midfield was overhit, allowing Nuno Mendes to nip in.

Barcelona were caught in their build-up shape, so one pass split their defensive structure and sent the pacey Barcola away, bearing down on goal with only Araujo for company.

Araujo argued that centre-back partner Pau Cubarsi was in a position to cover but that was waved away. He also claimed an innocent shoulder-to-shoulder, but closer inspection reveals multiple points of contact — a hand on the shoulder, a knee to the back of the thigh, and a clip on the back of the foot — to send Barcola to the ground.

Although he fell inside the penalty area, the contact was adjudged to have come outside. As there was no genuine attempt to play the ball, a straight red card and a free kick were the required outcomes.

An agonising end to Araujo’s night, and a harsh twist on which such a high-quality game eventually hinged, but these are the moments you invariably have to face at the business end of the Champions League — and that’s what makes it such a difficult competition to win.

Thom Harris


How did Xavi and Barcelona implode?

This was a huge night for Barcelona and their coach, a huge chance to make their first Champions League semi-final since 2018-19. Xavi had talked pre-game about how his team had to use their heads and make the most of the opportunity.

That looked far away when the coach was red-carded for furious protests midway through the second half — right in the middle of the period when his team were self-destructing and throwing away their chances of progress.

Xavi reacted in a completely exaggerated fashion to what was a pretty routine refereeing call, a foul given near halfway. He jumped in the air, his frustration clear, shouting at the third official, and then kicking some UEFA-branded furniture around a TV camera in the technical area.

Referee Kovacs was standing for none of it — and rushed over to flash the red card.

But Barca had already lost their heads. At 3-1 up in the tie, Araujo’s attempt to stop Barcola was badly misjudged, as was his gesture as he left the park. With the tie neatly poised after half-time, Barca’s marking at a corner was awful, allowing Vitinha time to pick his spot and even up the aggregate score.

With their blood up, Barca tried to get back in the game, but it was not working. Barca’s goalkeeping coach, Jose Ramon de la Fuente, was soon also red-carded for over-the-top protests, when Gundogan went down claiming an unlikely penalty.

Joao Cancelo’s concession of the penalty on Dembele was also completely headless.

But Xavi should have known better. This was a really poor night for him and his team.

Dermot Corrigan


What does this Champions League exit mean for Barcelona?

After the first leg in Paris, things suddenly seemed to be clicking for Barca. They went into this game unbeaten in 13 games — a run that started when Xavi said he would leave in the summer — and with a feeling that their season could have an unexpectedly positive end.

The Barca hierarchy had stopped looking for a Xavi replacement, instead working on trying to convince him to stay. The emergence of young players, such as Cubarsi and Lamine Yamal, was enthusing fans, and members of the club hierarchy keep claiming they have turned around the club’s finances.

go-deeper

Knocking out PSG could have boosted Barca before Sunday’s Clasico, where a win against leaders Real Madrid would reignite the title race in La Liga. A favourable path to the Champions final was also in the offing, with Barca likely to be favourites against Borussia Dortmund in the semi-final.

Instead, Xavi and Barca are looking at one of the worst nights in their European history. That it was PSG, many fans’ ‘bete noir’, will make it even tougher to take. Dembele returning to twist the knife at the club where he felt so badly treated added further still to the pain.

Dembele


Dembele scored against Barca, his former club (Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

Luis Enrique is still liked by most Barca fans, but the PSG manager’s digs at their side’s style of play will be remembered. That does not bode well for Xavi, whose future is back up in the air. El Clasico has become even more important.

Finally, Xavi and his players were probably not thinking too much about this, but the defeat means Atletico Madrid, rather than Barca, will play in the 2025 Club World Cup in the United States. That tournament is worth at least €50million (£42.7m; $53.1m), the sort of money Barcelona could have really used.

Dermot Corrigan


What does victory mean for PSG?

If you wanted to see what it meant to PSG, look no further than two key moments in the final 10 minutes. The first saw captain Marquinhos, a player who suffered greatly during Barca’s ‘La Remontada’ comeback in 2017, blocked a Robert Lewandowski shot and celebrated furiously, punching his arms. Then there was the final blow inflicted by Mbappe, leading to the emptying of the PSG dugout to join him in wild euphoria behind the goal, sharing in a famous win, with a big scoreline.

PSG may have needed the assistance of a red card but that will not tarnish the joy at this result. They have completed a comeback in Barcelona’s backyard, which has all kinds of ghostbusting ramifications (note, the scars are still felt even if La Remontada was seven years ago and they have won in Camp Nou since) as well as reaching their first semi-final since 2021. There will be some cautious optimism they can reach the final — and once you’re there, who knows?

Winning the Champions League was not the be-all and end-all for PSG and Luis Enrique this season. Their big summer of change last year, where 13 new faces were recruited, was billeted as a switch to the ‘long term’ in their focus. “The Champions League is not our obligation,” said Fabian Ruiz before the last-16 tie with Real Sociedad. There are other mitigations; it has taken them time to adjust to Luis Enrique’s particular, possession-based style and they have not always looked cohesive or as controlled as he would like. They are not the fluent, perfect article. This tie illustrated that.

But to say there was no pressure would be to distort the picture. They are the perennial French champions, set for another title, and they spent more than €250million on players. While the pressure was not necessarily as acute from on-high, the kindness of the draw, after escaping the ‘group of death‘, also suggested a run might be possible.

For their star player, it was this season or bust. Mbappe faced down the prospect of playing his final Champions League game for PSG at Montjuic, Barcelona’s temporary home. His final home appearance will not be his anonymous display in the first leg. He has a chance to end things differently.

Indeed, his finale could still be the greatest of highs. Their treble hopes are alive.

go-deeper

Peter Rutzler


Was Xavi right to take off Yamal?

Remember when Barcelona scored the first goal of the second leg, Montjuic erupting with unbridled joy, as Xavi’s team went 4-2 up on aggregate? Did that happen tonight?

In a game of dramatic twists and cruel turns, it once looked as if 16-year-old Yamal would be the star.

The hosts had to bide their time throughout a tough opening 10 minutes, shifting from side to side in a compact 4-4-2 block as PSG flew out of the traps. Barcelona saw just 21 per cent of the ball in that early spell, relying on the duel-winning quality of their wide defenders in one-v-one after one-v-one, looking slightly bereft of ideas when the ball broke their way.

As he has so often this season, however, the youngest man on the field provided the inspiration, and not just with his mesmeric dribbling skill. It was 16-year-old Yamal’s challenge on Mendes, moments before the goal, that seemed to lift the intense spell of pressure, and allow his side to breathe.

Lamine Yamal of Barcelona


Lamine Yamal was sacrificed after Araujo’s red card (Aitor Alcalde – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Ultimately bundled home by Raphinha, Barcelona’s opener was all about the assist. Receiving a clipped ball out wide, controlling with his head, and instantly taking on Mendes to drive into the box, Yamal’s fearless approach dragged his side into the game.

Yamal can cut inside or steam towards the touchline, stand up a cross or whip a shot into the far corner; who knows what he might have been able to produce with another hour up against Mendes on that right-hand side?

Xavi had to sacrifice somebody following Araujo’s red, and given Yamal’s age and relative lack of experience, his withdrawal was probably the sensible choice. As glum as he looked on the bench, hood up, looking on longingly with a Champions League ball on his lap, this will not be the last we will see of him in this competition.

go-deeper

Thom Harris


How did Barcola change the tie?

Newcastle United feels a long time ago now for Barcola. In the group stages, as PSG laboured to a belated (if controversial) point against Newcastle at the Parc des Princes, Barcola took much of the flak.

The 21-year-old winger missed a few chances in that game and was subsequently criticised. But since then, Luis Enrique has kept the faith in him and now, in the biggest game of the season, Barcola has delivered.

For nearly two hours of football, PSG desperately tried to release one of Dembele, Mbappe or Barcola behind the Barcelona defence. Xavi’s side have proven to be stubborn — but when gifted a glimpse of space, Barcola seized it. His driving run won the foul that brought a tie-turning red card. Until then, PSG had been staring down the barrel of a Champions League exit.

He then continued to cause Jules Kounde problems on the left and helped PSG reduce the deficit. His change of pace and cutback picked out Dembele for PSG’s opening goal of the night.

Cutbacks are a trademark of his. At Lyon, he made them a habit and at PSG, his impact in the final is helping him to become an integral part of the team.

The only frustration will be that he picked up a hamstring on international duty that prevented him from starting the first leg. This may have been a less stressful tie if that had not been the case.

Peter Rutzler


What did Xavi say?

We will bring you the Barcelona manager’s latest thoughts once he has spoken in his post-match press conference.


What did Luis Enrique say?

On the red card: “I think that without the red card we would have won the game as well.”

On Xavi: “I think Xavi is the perfect manager for this Barcelona, so I hope he stays in the club for the forthcoming seasons.”

On playing Barcelona: “It’s been so tough for me from the emotional perspective to play against Barcelona. I hope it does not happen to me many more times in the future.”


What next for Barcelona?

Sunday, April 21: Real Madrid (A), La Liga, 8pm UK, 3pm ET


What next for PSG?

Sunday, April 21: Lyon (A), Ligue 1, 8pm UK, 3pm ET


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(Top photos: Getty Images/TNT Sports)

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