WHAT WE LEARNED: Paris Saint-Germain show backbone as Barcelona look brittle at the back

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Thiago Silva was the beating heart of the PSG side that kept their Champions League hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Liverpool. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2018

WHAT WE LEARNED: Paris Saint-Germain show backbone as Barcelona look brittle at the back

  • French club add substance to style to show they are more than one-trick ponies.
  • For all their brilliance in attack Barca look vulnerable at the back.

LONDON: With only one match of the group stage to go, here is what we learned from the latest round of matches in the Champions League ...

PSG SHOW SOME FIGHT

For all the money the capital club has had thrown at it, there has always been a sense that while it has bought style, the side still lacked any real substance. In the French league they are rarely challenged — this season they have won all 14 of their matches — so when they have come up against good opposition in Europe they have been found wanting. Wednesday night’s clash against Liverpool at the Parc des Princes was a must-not-lose encounter against the high-flying English side. In short, just the type of match they have struggled to negotiate in the past. However, the moneybags club — led by the brilliant Thiago Silva, right — showed some fight to prevail 2-1 in a match very low on quality. It was the sort of performance they have failed to display come the big European nights and one that — when combined with the flair of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani — bodes well for the rest of the competition.

For all of Neymar's tricks it was the guts and determinination that PSG showed that really caught the eye. 

GROUPS OF DEATH PROVE AS SCARY AS PREDICTED

If there is one criticism of the Champions League other than it has made an already very rich elite even richer, it is that the group stages are fairly dull. They are merely processions in which the big teams swat away the minnows to confirm their spots in the knockout stages, which was all but guaranteed when the draw was made. This year, however, the two “Groups of Death” are providing, for once, a lot of entertainment and bitten fingernails. Group B sees Tottenham needing to beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp to ensure progress or at least match what Inter Milan achieve at home to PSV Eindhoven. Group C sees Liverpool needing to beat current group leaders Napoli at home 1-0 or beat the Italians by two goals to go through. That would, assuming PSG beat Red Star Belgrade, eliminate Carlo Ancelotti’s side. But if Liverpool only win 2-1 they would be the team to exit. 
Exciting stuff …

Both Spurs and Inter will have a nervous final 90 minutes of the group stage.

BARCELONA ARE BRILLIANT AND BRITTLE AT THE SAME TIME

The Catalan giants are something of a Jekyll and Hyde side. Going forward they are the best in the world, playing the game with a devil-may-attitude and bare-faced cheek — mostly down to Lionel Messi’s brilliance — that would force even Real Madrid fans to stand up and applaud. During their 2-1 win at PSV this attacking verve was once again on display. Both Messi’s goal — which proved he is playing a different game from everyone else — and his cheeky free-kick that set up Gerard Pique’s strike, took the breath away. But at the back they look as vulnerable as one of the European minnows. The scoreline read 2-1 to the visitors, but in all fairness the Dutch team should have scored at least three and opened up the Barca backline with, at times, alarming ease. Unless Ernesto Valverde can add some much-needed backbone to the defence then we are going to stick our necks out and say Messi and Co. do not have a chance of lifting the trophy this season.

Messi was once again at his imperious best against PSV, but there remain huge doubts about Barca's backline. 


Booker’s 35 points lead surprising Suns past Heat 119-112

Updated 09 August 2020

Booker’s 35 points lead surprising Suns past Heat 119-112

  • The Suns continued to thrive as the only undefeated team in the NBA restart
  • Miami is currently the No. 4 team in the Eastern Conference playoff standings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: Devin Booker scored 35 points and Jevon Carter added a season-high 20 points as the Phoenix Suns remained undefeated in the NBA restart, beating the Miami Heat 119-112 on Saturday night.
Carter made six of eight 3-pointers as the Suns improved to 5-0 in the restart.
“I think this bubble opportunity was big for us and we’re taking advantage of it,” Booker said.
Miami is currently the No. 4 team in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro each had 25 points to lead the Heat.
The Suns continued to thrive as the only undefeated team and biggest surprise in the Disney bubble.
Phoenix began the restart schedule with the second-worst record of the 22 teams in the field and the worst mark in the Western Conference.
“I just think we had a group who wanted to come here and prove they were worthy of being here,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “They heard a lot of stuff that was being said.”
The Suns have played like serious playoff contenders. Led by Booker, Phoenix had wins over Washington, Dallas, the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana before beating Miami. The Suns entered Saturday’s schedule only 2 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his team must be better at winning battles for the ball.
“Those second-chance opportunities during those swing moments during the course of the game really kept us at bay and kept them in control when they needed to do it,” Spoelstra said.
Miami had an opportunity late in the game.
Three free throws by Robinson cut the Suns’ lead to 115-112 before Miami’s Bam Adebayo was called for goaltending on a shot by Booker. The review with 11.2 seconds remaining confirmed the call and extended the lead to five points.
Led by its backcourt scoring from Herro and Robinson, Miami quickly led by double figures at 19-8. The Heat couldn’t pull away and the teams were tied at 60-all at halftime. The Suns led 88-86 entering the final period.

TIP-INS
Suns: Rookie F Cameron Johnson made two 3-pointers in the first half, becoming the fastest player to reach 100 career 3s in team history. ... Ricky Rubio had seven points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Deandre Ayton had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Heat: Goran Dragic (sprained left ankle) missed his second straight game. Jimmy Butler (sore right ankle) missed his third straight game. Kendrick Nunn and KZ Okpala were held out for personal reasons.

TURN UP THE HEAT
Miami is facing pressure to protect its No. 4 spot in the East. It is only one game ahead of Philadelphia and Indiana, now tied for fifth. Two of Miami’s three remaining games before the playoffs are against Indiana.
“We also want to continue to get healthy and the No. 1 priority will be getting ready for the playoffs and getting our game right,” Spoelstra said.


RUNNING THE SHOW
Herro is being given more responsibility as the point guard and said he “felt comfortable” in the role.
“I’ve been working really hard with the ball in my hands,” Herro said, adding Spoelstra “has really been helping me a lot. My teammates are starting to trust me more. I’m still young and I’m learning a lot.”

UP NEXT
Suns: Play the Thunder on Monday.
Heat: Play the Pacers on Monday night.