Josh Mart takes the chance to preview PSG’s quarter final first leg encounter against FC Barcelona. The match at the Parc des Princes tonight will be the 5th time the two continental giants will have met over the last two years. In the group stages, Barcelona managed to come out on top after defeating PSG at the Camp Nou on matchday 6. The round of 16 saw PSG heroically overcome a much-fancied Chelsea side on the away goals rule, despite having talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic harshly sent off early in the game at Stamford Bridge. Barcelona were more comfortable against Manchester City than the 3-1 aggregate scoreline suggested. They dominated the majority of both legs, and but for a fantastic display from Man City keeper Joe Hart, would have made the scoreline seem much more realistic.
PSG’s domestic form since advancing from the last round of the Champions League has been fantastic. Les Parisiens have moved back to the top of the table, helped in large part to a massive win in a fascinating ‘Classique’ against Marseille a few weeks back. Laurent Blanc’s men have also advanced to the final of the Coupe de France after comfortably beating St Etienne at the Parc des Princes. The cherry on top of PSG’s recent good form was the 4-0 victory against Bastia in the Coupe de Ligue final at the weekend. PSG seem to have that hunger and ruthlessness about them again, something which appeared to have been lacking in earlier parts of the season. This can only be a positive coming into such a big game against the highest quality opposition.
Barcelona too have been in great form domestically. Since they beat Man city 1-0 at the Camp Nou in the last round, the Catalan giants are undefeated in 4 games and they sit top of La Liga. Included in this patch of good form was a huge 2-1 success in ‘El Clasico’ against bitter rivals Real Madrid. At the weekend though, Barca could only manage to gain a point against Sevilla at the notoriously difficult Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium. Despite this minor setback, the ‘Blaugrauna’ are still 2 points clear of Real at the top of the table. Furthermore, Coach Luis Enrique will be delighted with the form of the front 3, especially Luis Suarez, who has been in fine goalscoring form of late.
Team News and Tactics
Unfortunately for Laurent Blanc, PSG have many key players unavailable for this game due to suspension and injury. Aurier, Ibrahimovic and Verratti are all banned for this one, whereas David Luiz and former Barcelona player Thiago Motta are missing through injury. This is a big shame for PSG as they would have fancied their chances with a full complement of players.
With this in mind, I expect PSG to lineup in a 4-3-3 formation with Sirigu in goals playing behind a back four of Van der Wiel, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva and Maxwell. The absence of both Motta and Verratti is worrying for PSG, but Blanc will probably call on Matuidi, Rabiot and one of Pastore/Cabaye. The front 3 will consist of Lavezzi, Cavani (who will play central) and one of Lucas Moura or Pastore. It is a huge boost for PSG to be able to call on the direct pace and skill of Lucas once more, after he missed the last games through injury.
Barca have much fewer injury concerns but will be without rumoured PSG target Dani Alves through suspension.
With this in mind I expect Barcelona to also lineup in a variation of the 4-3-3 formation. Ter Stegen will resume his duties as the Champions League goalkeeper, Montoya or Adriano are likely to come in for Alves at right back, Pique and Mathieu seem to have struck up a decent partnership at the heart of the back four, but Enrique could opt to play Mascherano there. Jordi Alba will start at left back and his pace could be key against Lucas. Busquets will anchor the midfield and will play alongside Iniesta and most probably, Rakitic. The deadly front 3 of Barcelona will inevitably be the same: Neymar, Suarez and Messi.
Pastore (PSG) – Despite his frustration at lack of game opportunities at times during his PSG career, the Argentine’s creativity and the effortless way he glides across the pitch have really come to fruition in recent months. Eric Cantona has been quoted recently as saying that Pastore’s creativity sets him aside from the rest (including Messi and Ronaldo). Pastore could play a big part in unlocking the Barcelona defence tonight.
Suarez (Barca) – Luis Suarez had, on paper at least, a difficult start to his Barcelona career and goals were hard to come by. Now though, he has adapted to his new teammates and the relationship on the field that he has with Messi in particular is a delight for all neutrals to watch. PSG will have to be guarded against the one-twos him and Messi like to play around the 18 yard box.
This tie is once again so hard to call, as both teams have the upmost respect for one another and also know eachother well after so many games in recent seasons. PSG’s home record in all competitions is fantastic, and they did beat Barca earlier in the season at the Parc des Princes. However, with so many instrumental players missing for PSG, it is hard to expect them to match that standard of performance once more. Barca will be aware of the weaknesses that PSG have due to the absentees and will be very keen to gain an advantage to take back to the Camp Nou.
Prediction- PSG 1-2 Barcelona