The last time Barcelona went to the Parc des Princes, it lost 3-2. And that scoreline was flattering to the Catalans. Paris Saint-Germain beat them pretty handily in the group stage of the Champions League. When the referee blew the final whistle, PSG was every bit as good as Barcelona, if not better.
That was in September. On Wednesday, seven months after that match at the Parc des Princes, Barcelona returned to Paris for a quarterfinal clash, but you would have thought that they were two completely different teams.
Given a second chance at PSG in Paris, Barcelona absolutely thrashed PSG. It cruised to a 3-1 win, and the scoreline could have been worse than that. Barca put one foot in the semifinals and quashed any doubts that it is the best team in the world right now.
It’s astonishing how far Barcelona has come in the last seven months. Once a team unsure of which players to play, a sieve at the back, and struggling in both the Champions League and La Liga, it’s now destroying teams. And good teams at that, home and away.
Adding a player like Luis Suárez helps prompt turnarounds. The striker was still suspended for his bite during the World Cup when Barcelona and PSG first met. On Wednesday, he scored two goals and did his best to ensure David Luiz’s family never associates with him again. The Uruguayan twice left Luiz for dead with brilliant moves – too good for any defender to handle, let alone one injured like Luiz – before scoring and putting to bed any drama this tie might have produced. It was a marvelous showing of individual skill, with the way he found space, then beat Luiz, then finished. It was art. And that was an artist they didn’t have the first time they visited Paris. It was an artist they didn’t have when they fell behind in La Liga. It was certainly not an artist they had when they looked to be falling back into the third tier of Europe’s best teams.
And as good as Suárez has been, Messi has been just as brilliant in becoming the team’s foremost playmaker. That was on display in his gorgeous pass to set up Barcelona’s first goal on Wednesday, which Neymar finished. The trio have combined to become the best group of attackers in the world. It took a bit of time for them to gel, but it was well worth the wait. Now you can’t take your eyes off of them.
Any concern about how Suárez would fit in with Messi and Neymar have been put to bed. So has any concern about whether Barcelona was spending its money foolishly, chasing another striker at the expense of the midfield or defense.
The Barcelona midfield still hums along, bringing Xavi on for Andres Iniesta when necessary, letting Sergio Busquets reclaim his spot as the best defensive midfielder in the world and playing Javier Mascherano in his place if need be. But it is the addition of Ivan Rakitić that has stabilized the group, giving them another fantastic player and one as dependable as they come.
Even in defense, the team is doing fine. Gerard Piqué has been more consistent than he has in years, and Mascherano still gets the job done there as well. The summer purchase of Jérémy Mathieu has proven to be wise, if expensive, as it has provided much-needed depth. The defenders are backstopped by another summer buy, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, in cup competitions.
The focus last summer was on Suárez. Did Barcelona really need another striker when it had so many other needs? Did it do enough to stabilize the midfield? Could the defense hold up? And putting a 22-year-old in goal looked suicidal. Those questions only seemed more appropriate in September, when PSG looked to have passed it by.
Nobody is passing Barcelona by now. It is the best in the world and showed it at the Parc des Princes, where it looked so vulnerable not too long ago. How seven months can change things.