Lionel Messi and Barcelona suffered yet another harrowing defeat in the Champions League, this time falling victim to a club and player that may well dominate the competition for years to come.
With the eighth hat-trick of his young career, Kylian Mbappe all but eliminated Barcelona from the Champions League on Tuesday, giving Paris Saint-Germain a 4-1 aggregate lead after the first leg of this much-ballyhooed last-16 tie.
Mbappe took over after canceling out Messi’s penalty in the first half. He punished Barcelona’s slack defending with goals from close range and galloped forward on the counterattack later in the second half to cap a sterling performance.
He is the first player to record a treble against Barcelona at the Camp Nou since Andriy Shevchenko in 1997. Mbappe was born a year later.
Moise Kean headed in PSG’s other goal in a one-sided match that leaves Barcelona with a huge deficit to overturn ahead of the second leg on March 10.
“I could tell you lies but the fact is that at 4-1 down from the home leg, there are very few chances of going through,” Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman said. “This match shows us how much we have to improve, particularly at Champions League level.”
Barcelona, who had won seven of their last eight matches across all competitions, started well enough, and Messi looked to be at his best. The embattled Argentine – whose future at Barcelona hangs in the balance – gave the Catalans the lead in the 27th minute with a ferocious penalty kick, his fourth in the Champions League this season. PSG’s Layvin Kurzawa conceded the spot-kick in clumsy fashion, clipping Frenkie De Jong as the Dutch midfielder turned to locate Messi’s arching pass into the area.
PSG responded minutes later. Kurzawa collected Marquinho’s searching ball out wide and played it first time to the irrepressible Marco Verratti, whose deft flick played Mbappe into space. The 22-year-old shimmied past Gerard Pique – back from a knee injury many considered season-ending – and roofed his shot from close range.
Jordi Alba thought he had earned Barcelona a temporary reprieve in the 62nd minute, but referee Bjorn Kuipers quickly dismissed his penalty appeal. Though Alba’s pass made contact with Kean’s hand at the edge of the area, it was deemed to be in a natural position.
Barcelona rarely threatened after that.
Yet another long ball teed up PSG’s second goal of the night. Leandro Paredes unleashed a ball over the top to right-back Alessandro Florenzi, and his cutback allowed Mbappe to sweep home.
PSG consolidated their lead in the 70th minute. Paredes once again played the innovator, sending a perfect free-kick to the far post, and Kean, who had worked so hard in PSG’s own half, got in position to head it in.
Then, in the 85th minute, PSG hit the hosts on the counter, and Mbappe curled a beautiful shot up and over the helpless Marc-Andre ter Stegen. A humiliating night for Barcelona had reached its end, the latest in a string of disheartening setbacks that will undoubtedly pose more questions about Messi’s future, and a big night for PSG gave a glimpse of what’s to come.