Lucho’s redemption

Ahead of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League last-16 second leg, this writer flirted with the slight possibility that Luis Enrique’s side could mount a famous comeback.

A small part of me believed it could be done. The difference is, so did Barca. Even at 3-1, when it looked for all intents and purposes that Edinson Cavani had put the tie to bed, they fought to make history.

It was a herculean task to score four goals, so why not six? At least that was the now-immortalised opinion of Lucho in his pre-match comments when he insisted the following.

“If a team can score four times against us, we can score six times against them. We have seen that before this season. We have nothing to lose.”

And it’s true, Luis Enrique had nothing to lose going into the match. But from his words off the pitch to his side’s performance on it, Barca’s winning mentality was clear. 

Yes, they have quality in spades. But they also have belief. Four-nil in Paris was a blip, but losing the tie was inconceivable. The ‘we’ll just score more goals if we have to’ mentality.

And now the Catalans’ most humiliating performance this season is wiped from memory. This is all that remains and will remain the minds of football fans in awe across the globe.

Perhaps just as shocking is how poor PSG were. Whereas Barca’s game plan was clear from the start, Unai Emery’s men seemed lost as to how to approach the match, despite their seemingly-insurmountable lead. 

They could only hold back the Blaugrana onslaught for three minutes, and whenever they attempted to break, their opponents would steal the ball back with ruthless efficiency to stifle any kind of attack.

If anything, Cavani’s goal lured them into a false sense of security, thinking the tie was done like most people in the stadium. PSG will likely also feel aggrieved by a poor penalty decision against Marquinhos on Luis Suarez, despite the Uruguayan appearing to dive upon reflection.

But Barca still deserve all the plaudits for their play, a real reflection of their recent upturn in form but on the biggest stage.

Suarez got the ball rolling early on and Lionel Messi dispatched his penalty well. Neymar did the same twice at a crucial moment. Dubious the penalty call for his Uruguayan strike partner may have been, but there could be no such debate about the No 11’s wonderful free-kick.

Barca’s defense was little short of immense on the night, a stark contrast to a few weeks back, with the likes of Samuel Umtiti particularly impressive.

And Lucho, rightly berated for his tactics (or lack thereof) in the first leg, employed a 3-4-3 diamond formation, in which Barca thrived, offering a lot more balance to their game going forward and giving the side supreme authority in midfield.

It was vindication for a man chastised by many in the last few weeks, and perhaps he should reconsider his resignation.

For all his League and European success, Wednesday night could prove to be one of the greatest moments in Lucho’s career.