Barcelona’s press people are already describing the “Miracle of Camp Nou” as the greatest comeback ever. Objectively, subjectively it is hard to argue with that assessment after a Neymar inspired Barcelona turned all football logic on its head with three goals between the 88th and 95th minute that secured a 6-5 aggregate victory and the most improbable Champions League progression in history.
Once the shock subsides, the inevitable post mortems will begin. And the armchair analysts will go to town crying foul of some yet to be decided upon tactical naivety or some evidence of a lack of big game temperament within Unai Emery’s PSG squad. And as it often does, such nose pressed to the glass analysis will largely miss the point .
The fact is football is a simple game propelled by often fairly base motive forces. At the elite level it is typically a game of small margins and also big moments. But to cry foul and concentrate primarily on the failings of the French champions on this biggest of stages is to do discredit to teams like Barcelona, and to all the great teams, that have played in a way that literally appears to manipulate time and space.
When these teams have momentum the expectations of 15 minutes action can be compressed into an ‘impossible’ three minutes. This creates mind-bending drama, exceptional feats that defy the natural laws of football.
Look at the scorecard. The crucial three goals came in at 88, 90 and 95 mins.
In the 88th minute of an average game, the usual chance of seeing just one more goal is something like 22%. This means that in four out of every five games (roughly) you can expect no further goals. So how do you explain three goals in such a compressed spell of time where even one goal is unlikely to occur?
The second point to make is game specific. Let’s not indulge in scoreboard journalism, as the Dutch coach Co Adriaanse might say.
Make no mistake: the game is over if Edison Cavani’s slid shot goes in rather than hits the post, or if Angel Di Maria converts his one on one late on (or indeed sees a penalty given and scored).
Indeed if just one of those key passes in that maelstrom last seven minutes is overhit, drifts out of play or if a PSG player can just go down injured, even for a few seconds, the momentum disperses. And it is game over.
Goals change games
The third point is obvious. Goals change games. And this is in no sense greater than in the Champions League.
Barcelona v PSG is merely part of a continuum of magical, improbable Champions League comebacks like Man Utd v Bayern in United’s treble winning season and Liverpool’s Miracle of Istanbul. You can’t pre-empt or prepare for that tsunami-like swing of momentum and a black swan game-changing situation. It is the magic of football and it makes heroes of some and chumps of others.
Lastly, Barcelona’s relentless high press simply suffocated PSG’s attempts to work the ball out from the edge of their area, to build up the play in a controlled way and to gain composure in possession. What incredible energy. What incredible stamina.
If PSG were guilty of naivety or a lack of guile then it is in this one respect: the French champions might have varied their approach playing out, even if just to buy themselves some time and a breather higher up the park with a ball into the channels or even something speculative up-field for Cavani to contest.
Make no mistake, careers will be made and destroyed by this ‘game of the century’ type match.
This was a big result for S. Roberto and Neymar – just as it was a disaster for Unai Emery and some of these PSG players who will, I suspect, never recover from being associated with this collapse.
Overconfidence? No. Lack of experience? No. This game was all about the magic of football and great deeds carved into the history books by some of its biggest big game players. Rather than seek to apportion blame let’s just leave it at that.