Hits and misses: Dembele relishes role as scourge of Barcelona

Dembele relishes role as scourge of Barcelona

Ousmane Dembele sparked PSG's impressive comeback
Ousmane Dembele sparked PSG’s impressive comeback

Barcelona ran out at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys armed with a 3-2 triumph from their first meeting in Paris and when Raphinha capitalised on Lamine Yamal’s skilful approach work to fire in the opener, they had sight of the last four.

But that all changed in the 29th minute when defender Ronald Araujo was sent off for tripping winger Bradley Barcola on the edge of the area, VAR confirming the on-field decision for a red card.

PSG didn’t look back. The pressure built on the home goal and Barcelona self-imploded. Joao Cancelo, culpable for Ousmane Dembele’s goal before the break, then brought down the same player inside the box as Kylian Mbappe completed an impressive turnaround.

Xavi had hoped his Barcelona farewell would end with silverware at Wembley following a 13-game unbeaten run since he confirmed his summer departure back in January. But here he was dismissed for kicking pitchside water bottles as hopes of a fairytale ending went down the drain.

For Dembele, jeered throughout by the home supporters, this was the sort of performance which made him Barcelona’s second-most expensive signing when he joined for £135m in 2017.

When the 26-year-old moved to PSG last summer, he was earmarked as Mbappe’s replacement, but he is only just starting to replicate the attacking output required to be mentioned in the same breath as the player who, with 48 goals, has equalled Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the 10th-highest scorer in Champions League history.

For now, PSG are more than happy to have them both in search of their Holy Grail.
Ben Grounds

Xavi blows lid but Barcelona have themselves to blame

Xavi struggled to contain his emotions at full time
Xavi struggled to contain his emotions at full time

Xavi Hernandez berated the referee and said his performance cost Barcelona a chance to fight for a place in the Champions League semi-finals – but there was little in the way of injustice to the Catalans’ elimination.

Barcelona were in control when they were reduced to 10 just before the half-hour after last man Araujo was shown a red card for a foul on Bradley Barcola.

Xavi complained bitterly to referee Istvan Kovacs. “I told him his performance was a disaster.” A frank admission, but Barcelona were incapable of managing the game.

Joao Cancelo, who was deemed surplus to requirements by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, demonstrated why he is better at going forward than defending in two moments which cost Barcelona the tie.

First, he fell asleep at the far post to allow Dembele to reduce the deficit before he then fouled the same player in the 61st minute with a sliding tackle to concede a penalty that Kylian Mbappe fired into the top corner to move the visitors in front in the tie.

Barcelona’s exit from the Champions League sent Atletico Madrid to the inaugural 32-team Club World Cup in the United States next year as Spain’s second representative. All-in-all, a bleak night for the Blaugrana.
Ben Grounds

Sabitzer reminds Man Utd of what might of been

Marcel Sabitzer
Marcel Sabitzer celebrates his winner against Atlei

Marcel Sabitzer showed glimpses of his obvious talent during last season’s six-month loan stay at Man Utd, albeit not enough to convince manager Erik ten Hag to turn his short-term stay at Old Trafford into a permanent move last summer.

However, given the Austria international’s impressive display to help his side edge through to the Champions League semi-finals after a 5-4 aggregate win over Atletico Madrid, maybe United and Ten Hag erred in that decision.

The 30-year-old joined Borussia Dortmund instead in July and has so far contributed six goals and eight assists in 34 games in total, including two assists and a goal to help see off Atleti in a rousing quarter-final on Tuesday.

And just when his side needed him, Sabitzer first produced a wonderful cross from the left flank which Niclas Fullkrug headed home, before scoring the winner minutes later with a characteristic long-range strike.
Richard Morgan

Defence proves Atleti’s Achilles heel for once

When Angel Correa thumped Atleico 4-3 ahead on aggregate with just 25 minutes left to play at the Westfalenstadion, this pulsating last-eight tie appeared to have taken its final twist.

However, there was always this nagging feeling that this Atleti side did not have the usual DNA of most Diego Simeone teams in that they had appeared defensively weak throughout the two ties.

And as it proved as back roared Dortmund to score twice themselves in quick time and the post-match stats said it all as the visitors conceded four or more goals in a Champions League knockout stage game for just the second time, while they also gave up five shots on target in the first half of a Champions League knockout stage match for the first time since May 2017.

Ultimately, that was to prove decisive as Simeone’s men just could not hold on for another semi-final appearance.
Richard Morgan

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