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Champions League PREVIEW: Barcelona vs PSG (10/12/14)

Josh Mart previews PSG’s daunting trip to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona in their final group stage game of the Champions Leauge this season:

The Catalans, who have been PSG’s nemesis in recent Champions League campaigns, know that they must win the game if they are to finish above PSG and top the group. Les Parisiens maintained their impressive Champions League form by beating Ajax 3-1 at the Parc des Princes last time out, whilst Barcelona and Lionel Messi ran riot in Cyprus, beating APOEL 4-0. All this added together means that we have a great game in store to determine who gets that all important top spot, which should (in theory) provide a lesser opponent in Monday’s draw.

Barcelona have been in imperious form of late in La Liga as well as the continental competition. The ‘Blaugrana’ haven’t dropped a point (in all competitions) since those two hugely disappointing back to back defeats against arch rivals Real Madrid and coach Luis Enrique’s former side Celta Vigo back in late October. Sunday’s 5-1 demolition of city rivals Espanyol included yet another Lionel Messi hat-trick, his 2nd in as many games. Despite Messi’s magic though, Luis Suarez is yet to really get going in Barcelona colours, as he still only has managed one goal in all of his appearances to date.

PSG, like their Spanish counterparts, have also been in great form in domestically. Saturday’s 2-1 win over Nantes was PSG’s 10th in 11 games in all competitions, a great feat. Ibrahimovic scored both goals for Les Parisiens against Nantes and he will be extremely looking forward to returning to his former home, (especially after missing the home tie through injury) where a difficult relationship with then Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola cut short his time. The similarities with Barcelona this season don’t end there, as PSG also sit second in the league standings, despite both being on such impressive runs of form.

Team News and Tactics

For once, it seems as though the typical injury curse at Barcelona is yet to strike, as Luis Enrique has almost every key player available for selection.

With this in mind, I expect Barca to lineup in their typical 4-3-3 formation with Ter Stegen in goal once more in Europe. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are set to start at right and left back respectively. Luis Enrique has a decision to make at centre back as he has quite a few options. However, given that Barcelona need to win the game, I think he will opt for Pique and Mascherano, as both he and Busquets will not be necessary in midfield. I would expect Iniesta to be recalled to the starting lineup alongside Busquets and either the experience of Xavi or Rakitic in the midfield three. Messi is the only guaranteed starter of the front  three but I expect Neymar and Suarez both to start alongside him, although Pedro’s pace and directness could be preferred to Suarez from the start.

Laurent Blanc must think that Christmas has come early as well, as he has no major injury concerns except for young striker Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, who hasn’t travelled due to a groin problem.

With this in mind, I also expect PSG to start with a 4-3-3 formation with Sirigu the ever present in goal. Van der Wiel will battle Aurier for the starting berth at right back and Maxwell is set to be recalled at left back against his former employers. David Luiz and Thiago Silva are tipped to begin at centre back; they will have to be guarded against Messi and co. The midfield trio could be Matuidi and Verratti flanking Thiago Motta (another former Barcelona man) as this would be a well-balanced threesome, Pastore could be selected due to recent good form though. Lucas and Lavezzi are set to flank the talismanic figure of Ibrahimovic in attack. Cavani could be selected but his presence on the bench will certainly keep Barcelona on their toes.

Danger Men

Messi (Barca) – With the form the Argentine is in, back to his superlative best in recent games, it will be a huge challenge for the PSG defence to contain him. Back to back hat tricks and countless fantastic passes and dribbles, expect the little Argentine to cause PSG no end of problems at the Camp Nou.

Ibrahimovic (PSG)- In a similar way to Messi, when Ibrahimovic is on the pitch, it’s hard to single out another danger man, despite the wealth of options PSG have in their squad. Ibra has it all; power, pace, expert control, unbelievable finishing and a fabulous talent of regularly trying the unexpected… and succeeding. Zlatan will be keen to show his former employers what they are missing at the Camp Nou.

Prediction

With so much riding on this game, one would be forgiven for expecting a tight, tense affair. However, with the ridiculous amount of quality on show, especially in forward areas, I can’t see a low scoring game. PSG will hope to keep Messi as quiet as possible without being negative in their approach. Laurent Blanc knows a draw will be enough to see his side finish top but will be keen to see his side get an early goal, as if the opener falls Barca’s way, it could be very hard for PSG.

Barcelona 2-1 PSG

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