Staying healthy for so long is a matter of luck, among other things. Lionel Messi scored a goal that should have opened the floodgates towards a comfortable away win for Barcelona and securing a semifinal spot. Instead, Messi limped off with a hamstring injury that should keep him out of the second leg, while Barca have a complicated job ahead of them.
In a terrible night of refereeing in both matches, PSG tried to shift the focus from their offside goal by blaming Alexis Sanchez for diving. Sanchez was touched, but made the most of the situation he was in, in a way we prefer footballers don’t do in general. For PSG, it was simply a bad referee and linesman missing the offside, allowing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score the first equalizer.
And the way Barcelona played in the first half with Messi, compared to the Barcelona we saw with Cesc Fabregas as the false 9, might be the story of how we’ll see Barcelona playing against PSG in the second leg at the Camp Nou. With the best player in the world on the pitch, it was about attack and scoring goals. Not all through the first 45 minutes, but during that stretch nearing the end of the half, with Dani Alves’ brilliant pass being the highlight of their good minutes.
When Fabregas came on, it was about possession and retaining the lead. It wasn’t too far from working towards a win until the late dramas, but Barcelona had PSG on the ropes, and a little bit more might and attitude of scoring goals might have helped them end the fixture here and now, instead of going towards a tense second leg in Spain.
Even without Messi, and Javier Mascherano who also picked up an injury, Barcelona are the better team. The problem is – where are the goals going to come from? While there are players to score them, a lot of Barcelona’s commitment to scoring comes from Messi’s presence. It won’t end 0-0 next week, and Barcelona’s defense and goalkeeper, maybe thinking about his next job, are likely to concede. It means someone, or more than just one, will have to step up substantially, and make up for the missing personnel.