Paris St-Germain stunned Barcelona by four goals to nil, leaving the Spanish Champions in danger of failing to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in a decade.
“It’s not very difficult to explain,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said after the shocking Round-of-16 first leg. “They were better than us from the start and put us under pressure. We couldn’t get out of it. We were obviously inferior tonight.”
Indeed, PSG, eliminated by Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals in 2013 and 2015, were the more aggressive side at the Parc des Princes, and reaped their just reward of a comfortable position before the 8 March second leg at the Camp Nou.
“It’s impossible to have a better birthday and performance,” di Maria said after what had been a memorable night for the Manchester United reject. “I’m very happy with how the team played. It was a wonderful display, fully deserved.”
The inspired Argentinian winger began the rout with a well-struck free-kick over the Barca wall. Then, five minutes before the interval, Lionel Messi, di Maria’s compatriot but on the opposing side, lost the ball in midfield and Marco Verratti slid a perfectly weighted ball to the right for Julian Draxler, who fired a low shot into the far bottom corner of the net.
Despite a comfortable lead, PSG continued in the second half with an even stronger performance and went 3-0 in the 55th minute as Di Maria danced around Andres Iniesta before curling a shot past Barca keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen from 25 yards.
Di Maria’s teammate and fellow birthday boy Edinson Cavani then completed the rout with low shot past Ter Stegen for his seventh goal in seven games in the competition this season, making him the second top scorer behind Lionel Messi’s 10 in the Champions League.
Barca continued to look for a consolation that simply would not come, with their best attempt of note being a header to the post by Samuel Umtiti eight minutes from time.
The Catalan team has not been eliminated this early in the last 16 since losing to Liverpool in the 2006‑07 season, but they could make history if they successfully mount an upheaval against the gaping deficit — no team had managed to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit in the history of the Champions League thus far.