MADRID – Barcelona had just conceded the equalizer against Paris Saint-Germain when veteran defender Gerard Piqué snapped at his teammates at the Camp Nou.
Standing inside the penalty area after PSG had earned a corner, Piqué asked — yelling and using expletives — for the team to try to keep at least one long possession in attack.
Antoine Griezmann, who was trying to help the defense as PSG dominated and looked closer to scoring again, told Piqué to calm down and “stop yelling.” They argued for a few seconds, cursing at each other as teammates tried to get them to focus on the game.
“We’ve been suffering, and it’s been five minutes like that already,” Piqué said. “We’ve been running like crazy here.”
“I’m also running like crazy,” Griezmann replied as the ball went back in play and the discussion apparently ended.
But the struggles were far from over for Barcelona, which went on to lose 4-1 in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.
And this time, there are no signs of another memorable comeback for the Catalan club like the one that happened nearly four years ago with a 6-1 win to reverse a 4-0 first-leg loss in Paris.
The team looked beaten and bruised after the home loss on Tuesday, with players and coach Ronald Koeman conceding that Barcelona wasn’t up to the task against a better PSG team and admitting that things have to change.
There was no positive spin or any real attempt to boost the team’s confidence after the match. The deflating loss left the players dejected. The tone in their voices showed a disheartened squad. Koeman couldn’t convey any glimpse of optimism, stopping just short of conceding defeat even before playing the second leg in Paris in three weeks.
“I could lie to you,” Koeman said. “But after losing 4-1 at home there are very few chances of advancing.”
There was the disappointment of the result and of how the team succumbed, being outplayed for most of the match at the Camp Nou.
“We have to admit that they were superior,” Koeman said. “They showed, especially in the second half, that they have a more complete team. We have to accept it and try to keep improving. We know that their team is ahead of us in many ways right now.”
A lot has changed since the 6-1 comeback in 2017, and Barcelona has slowly lost its dominance in Europe. PSG, meanwhile, has added top players and has come closer and closer to breaking through with the European title. Last season it was runner-up to Bayern Munich, which in the quarterfinals had routed Barcelona 8-2.
“We are in the process of changing things,” said Koeman, who arrived shortly after the embarrassing loss to Bayern. “This match has showed that we are still missing some things to be able to be at a top level, especially in the Champions League.”
Seeking its first Champions League title since 2015, Barcelona went into crisis after the loss to Bayern last season, and since then has endured political turmoil and financial difficulties prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Catalan club has made it to the Champions League quarterfinals 13 straight times, last being stopped in the round of 16 in 2007. The 2007-08 season was the last one in which Barcelona failed to win a title in any competition until last season.
The team had been improving entering the matchup against PSG, though, and appeared to have gained an edge when Neymar was ruled out of the French squad because of an injury. Ángel Di María also was out injured, while Lionel Messi was in top form having scored nine goals in the last nine matches.
But after a decent start that led to Messi’s goal from a penalty kick in the 27th minute, Barcelona had nothing to show against a more organized and effective PSG squad led by Kylian Mbappé's hat trick and another goal by Moise Kean.
It was PSG that looked like the big European powerhouse, and it seems that it felt that way for Barcelona players as well.
“It's tough when they come and score four goals on you at home,” Griezmann said. “It’s not the image we want to show of Barcelona.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni