There really isn’t a better wielder of the axe that struck the final blow on this era of Barcelona than Kylian Mbappé and his three-goal night. While it’s been Lionel Messi’s world for so long, any minute now it’s going to be Mbappé’s to do with how he sees fit. That is, if it isn’t already.
Paris Saint-Germain F.C’s 4-1 foot-in-the-ass-and-twist of Barcelona doesn’t make any statement that we haven’t already heard or known about the Catalans. They have been a basketcase for a couple seasons now, their team has needed an overhaul, but the difference between them and what is one of Europe’s elite being so clearly and ruthlessly illustrated was still jarring. Barcelona were the gold standard for so long that it will always be sobering to see them become Ali to Leon Spinks.
It would seem that Barça manager Ronald Koeman knew that his side was up against it, because the first half Barcelona were very cautious. They didn’t press PSG high, and were hoping to strike on the counter without giving too much space. And that’s exactly what they got, thanks to something of a gift penalty that Messi duly converted.
But this is a Barça side that is not built to simply hold out teams (what it is they’re built to do isn’t very clear), and Mbappé was installed on the left of PSG’s attack, where he eyed up the decomposing Gerard Piqué and the inexperienced Sergiño Dest at right back, pulled out a couple forks and licked his lips (don’t lose heart, USMNT fans, Dest is hardly the first nor the last right back to be turned to stew by Mbappé).
His first goal is a masterclass in touch inside the box, where he removed Clément Lenglet’s soul and served it back to him with some paprika to bring out the flavors:
At half it was 1-1, and Barça came out to try and create more...which only resulted in them being completely torn apart. Mbappé’s second goal was a product of being in the right spot at the right time, and an unerring finish, but strikers like Mbappé always seem to do that. After marking Moise Kean with their imaginary friend on a free kick to go down 3-1, Mbappé applied the toe-tag to Barça with this flippant, arrogant, gorgeous finish for his third goal on the night:
When Barça went down and had to push for more goals, the only result that ever looked likely was PSG simply running over their midfield into space and scoring more. And that’s exactly what happened. Barcelona looked completely out of ideas or inspiration, and were lethargic all over the field. They had looked a little more lively in recent weeks in La Liga, but it’s one thing to blast Alaves and quite another to stare down Mbappé and crew. Going from beating the former 5-1 and then getting blistered by the latter 4-1 at home just four days later makes that perfectly clear.
It wasn’t just Mbappé. PSG were better all over the pitch, as Barcelona couldn’t get close to Marco Veratti in midfield or escape the clutches of Idrissa Gueye when they did have the ball. In a game they trailed for a lot of, the Blaugrana managed just three shots on target other than Messi’s penalty. PSG had nine. It is here that a more mischievous observer would poke and prod about PSG looking better without Neymar and his holding up of the ball instead of quickly moving it through into space, but we’ll leave that for another time.
If Messi is indeed waiting to make his final decision on whether to pack his bags and seek a new challenge after this season, Mbappé gave him a clear answer. Barça are either too old or too young in too many spots, and Messi, 33, doesn’t have the time to see if the youngsters are “the next batch” or just a collection of unfulfilled promise they’ll be selling off to Eibar in three years. And we know that Barça’s finances don’t exactly put them in a position to go on the shopping spree to equip Messi with the quality of teammates he’s accustomed. They’re basically already out of the Champions League. They’re eight points behind Atletico Madrid and Atletico have a game in hand. They’re out of the Copa del Rey. If trophies were going to keep Messi in Spain, then Barça are shit out of luck.
Every empire falls eventually. It’s rarely pretty. Certainly the Camp Nou is in ruins now.