PARIS -- The minutes were ticking down and Luis Suarez was in a hurry. Barcelona were on the way to one of their most chastening defeats of the modern era, but with resources like theirs you only need one chance and a late away goal would have planted enough doubt to temper Paris Saint-Germain's celebrations.
Suarez saw teammate Marc-Andre ter Stegen claim a PSG cross and, with the game stretched, demanded a quick release towards the halfway line. It never came; Ter Stegen delayed and played the ball short, and Suarez flung his arms up in frustration before turning away.
It was a small sequence in a match of so many headline moments but spoke plenty of the despondency that laced Barcelona's night. Only in 2013, when Bayern Munich were 7-0 aggregate winners in a Champions League semifinal that seemed at the time to have changed everything, have Barcelona been comparably outclassed in the past 20 years. Back then, they rallied to prove the obituaries premature. Now, as they reel from a PSG performance that, on and off the ball, resembled the La Liga club at their most dynamic, Luis Enrique has a significant job on his hands to right the listing ship.
"PSG did what we expected them to do and produced their best version, while we were at our poorest," the Barcelona manager said in his postmatch news conference. "They were superior to us from the start, overcame us in terms of applying pressure and creating danger. [It was] a night on which we were clearly inferior."
That was an accurate assessment. If Barcelona were surprised by the early tempo set by their opponents, then perhaps they were even more rattled by the way in which PSG maintained it. Ter Stegen had been forced to kick into touch from inside his own six-yard box within seven minutes and a similar level of pressure was applied across the pitch. With Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler taking it in turns to tuck inside and add to the numbers in the middle when PSG won the ball, Barcelona were simply overwhelmed in the centre and struggled to provide their front players with any kind of meaningful service.
Luis Enrique refused to criticise his players openly and it goes without argument that the core of his side has, down the years, earned itself a let-off or two. But there were too many off days, too many slumped shoulders after the ball had been lost. Lionel Messi, who was at fault for PSG's second goal after dallying in possession and part of a virtually nonexistent resistance in the build-up to their third, had one of his worst nights in a Barcelona shirt, and Sergio Busquets' abnormal carelessness in possession set a subdued tone for a performance that never got going.
The concern is that, even in the context of this season, it was hardly a one-off. Only three and a half months ago, Barcelona were swept aside by Manchester City in the final hour of a group-stage game that seemed to set the mould for defeating an ageing side that has not been supplemented with players of comparable quality to the established names. It was Pep Guardiola who, on that whirlwind of a night at the Etihad, set about ripping to shreds what he had created. Here, Unai Emery took matters further by coaxing from his team a performance that was remarkable for its 90-minute intensity. That a similar approach has yielded a similar outcome twice in one season does not appear coincidental.
"These players have shown over the past seasons that they can get great results," said Luis Enrique, refusing to rule out a comeback at the Camp Nou. "We need to assimilate what happened. The chances are slim, but there is a chance all the same."
He is right: you would never write Barcelona off completely. But just as it has been PSG who have appeared undercooked on the big stage in the past, you wonder whether that would be more applicable to their opponents this time.
Andres Iniesta was an invisible, essentially irrelevant presence on his first start since sustaining a calf injury in January. This was only his 19th appearance of the season and the tempo seemed too great. Andre Gomes, who missed a presentable chance to equalise in the first half, shows little sign of being a consistent performer at this level, while stand-in right-back Sergi Roberto, whose mistake allowed Manchester City to equalise in November, was given a torrid time throughout by Draxler.
Compare their torpor, though, with the energy shown by a PSG side who themselves contained players -- left-back Layvin Kurzawa and the excellent Marco Verratti among them -- who had been struggling for fitness and gave a Champions League debut to 21-year-old defender Presnel Kimpembe in place of the injured Thiago Silva. With Thiago Motta suspended too, there was every suggestion that Barcelona's extra experience should have the edge. Instead, their hosts' application and sheer force of will blew them away.
"I am very happy because the team made a great match, with a very strong spirit," said Emery after the game. "But I do not think the fans in Barcelona think it is already finished. We must prepare ourselves to suffer for 90 minutes [at Camp Nou] and think we are starting at 0-0."
It is a sensibly level-headed approach, although Emery, whose victory was only his second in 24 meetings with Barcelona as a boss, must have been glowing inside. This had been billed as a battle of two managers with something to prove; Emery carried the expectations of a club that seems every season to bestow lofty hopes on a European tie in which victory would feel like a threshold to potential greatness being crossed. "Le Grand Soir" was what the L'Equipe newspaper had named this one. At the outset, you wondered whether PSG were in for yet another letdown. But two hours later, Parc des Princes was bathed in euphoria and those dreams seemed all the more plausible.
Few would imagine that the Camp Nou will be similarly joyful three weeks from now. Barcelona will need to be decidedly more urgent and willing to match their opponents' tempo, and even then it will probably not be enough. Perhaps, after beating PSG in their two previous knock-out meetings, an element of complacency set in here. It might just be, though, that they were defeated by a side more in tune with the modern-day demands of this competition. And you wonder whether, as he turned his eyes in annoyance to the night sky, Suarez knew it.