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Champions League PREVIEW: PSG vs Barcelona (30/09/14)

Josh Mart previews PSG’s daunting Champions League home encounter with Catalan giants Barcelona at the Parc des Princes. PSG boss Laurent Blanc is under severe pressure from all affiliated with the Paris club, as results in all competitions this season have been underwhelming to say the least, with some media outfits reporting that if PSG lose to Barcelona, he will be sacked. PSG drew their opening group game away to Ajax whilst Barcelona only narrowly beat Cypriot club, APOEL, albeit with 9 changes to the Catalan club’s typical strong 11.

PSG currently sit 4th in Ligue 1, 5 points behind league leaders and arch-rivals Marseille. Strangely though, Les Parisiens are yet to lose this season but it has been the large number of draws that have increased the pressure on Blanc and his players. Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Toulouse was PSG’s 4th result of such a scoreline in the last 5 games. PSG are in desperate need of a vast confidence boost and a win against Barcelona would at least paper over the cracks a little longer. Reports suggest that a lot of the top players are unhappy with Blanc and his methods that have frustrated the fans too, at least this season. PSG know that a defeat here may well threaten their progression from the group stages as one would expect Ajax to beat APOEL, and PSG will still have an ominous trip to the Camp Nou to come. One way or another, with some daunting Champions League matches to come, this match could be a turning point in PSG’s season.

Barcelona arrive in Paris with hugely contrasting fortunes as the ‘Blaugrauna’ currently sit pretty at the top of La Liga with 16 points from 18 without conceding a single goal. Saturday’s 6-0 thrashing of Granada will have made for dismal viewing for anyone associated with PSG, as it showed that Messi and co are back to their brilliant and ruthless best. Luis Enrique seems to have found solutions to previous complications for Barcelona, seemingly tweaking the fine details such as squad rotation and making full use of his substitutions, which had previously been areas to cause discontent amongst the squad in regimes gone by. For example, Iniesta was rested for the match at the weekend with the game against PSG in mind and key players such as Busquets were replaced when the game was affectively over. There seems to be a really positive atmosphere in and around the club at the moment, with a sense of squad harmony and fan contentment about the style of football on display thus far this season and Luis Suarez has yet to participate…

Team News and Tactics

PSG will be without captain Thiago Silva and talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic as well as Ezequiel Lavezzi for the visit of Barcelona, a core trident of players who can be influential not just on the pitch, but off it too. That last point is perhaps most crucial, because without the entertainer in Lavezzi to brighten up his teammates during the course of the fixture or the leadership and experience that both Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic can offer, it could be a psychologically more challenging and daunting prospect for Laurent Blanc’s men.  

With this in mind, I expect PSG to ditch the 4-3-1-2 formation in favour of the previously used 4-3-3 system, with Marquinhos and David Luiz starting at the heart of the defence, barring any last minute injuries or queries. Former Barcelona man Maxwell will be eager to start the game at left back and the more experienced Gregory van der Wiel can expect to occupy the right-hand most defensive position. I also expect former Barcelona man Thiago Motta to return to the starting 11, as he has the experience and tactical awareness that is required in a game of this magnitude. He is likely to be joined by Matuidi and Verratti in the midfield three. With Ibrahimovic out, Cavani will lead the line and will most probably be flanked by Lucas and Pastore. Blanc will have the option to alter the formation if necessary, as he has Bahebeck in reserve. There have been murmurs in certain circles last night about the possibility of the aforementioned youngster making a surprise start tomorrow evening, after a goal against Toulouse at the weekend, but this is simply idle speculation at the time of writing.

Barcelona have a near full complement of players who have made the journey to Paris, with just summer recruit Douglas ruled out through injury. Luis Suarez is still unavailable for selection, of course.

Barcelona will line up in their typical 4-3-3 formation with Ter Stegen expected to start in goal in place of Bravo, who has featured in the league this season. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are expected to start as the fullbacks with Mathieu and a possible recall for Gerard Pique at the centre of defence. Busquets, who is in fantastic form this season after been given the number 5 shirt by former captain Carlos Puyol, will start in midfield alongside Iniesta and the hugely impressive Rakitic, who has settled in superbly at the Camp Nou and given Barca a new dynamic. Messi (27) scored his 400th and 401st goals of his career at the weekend and will certainly start up front, flanked by Neymar, who has been in fine form so far this season. The final place wide on the right is up for grabs as Enrique can select from the youthful flair of Munir or Sandro or the more experienced Pedro.

Danger Men

Cavani (PSG) – Cavani has not been at his Napoli best since arriving at PSG just over a year ago but without Ibrahimovic, PSG need him to step up. Cavani has unquestionable quality and one gets the impression he just needs to feel wanted and loved like he was in Naples. If the PSG fans get behind him, he could easily cause Barcelona all sorts of problems.

Messi (Barca) – What is there to say that hasn’t been said about Lionel Messi? A tricky time for him last season due to injuries, but fatigue seems to be behind him as he is back playing with a smile on his face and that is enough to worry any defence. His goalscoring ability is almost unparalleled but what goes unnoticed by many is his fantastic ability to create goals with a fantastic range of passing and a unique vision. It has been said before that he is Barca’s best striker AND midfielder and his statistics so far this season prove this as he has 5 goals and 7 assists in 6 appearances. PSG beware…

Prediction

With PSG struggling for form and without key players, and with Barcelona possessing the antithesis of this, it would be very easy to predict an easy Barca win. However, Barcelona do not have the best record away from home in the Champions League, and PSG gave a great account of themselves in the games last season. To counter this though, this is not the same PSG as last season, nor is it the same Barcelona for that matter so previous results and performances cannot really be considered when coming to a prediction for tonight’s game. I expect a good game of football with PSG knowing that they cannot afford to fall behind early on as it will quieten the atmosphere and allow Barca to dictate the tempo. I suspect that Barcelona will have too much for PSG and will win the game comfortably, but anything can happen in football! The Parc des Princes will be full, so let’s enjoy what is billed to be a classic European night of football ahead. 

Prediction: PSG 1-3 Barcelona

J.Ma with C.N.

[PHOTO: AFP]

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