Josh Mart takes the opportunity to preview this UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie first leg between Paris Saint Germain and FC Barcelona at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday evening. This is a real tough draw for PSG who pay the price for finishing second to Arsenal in the group stages. On the other hand though, Les Parisiens have never lost a Champions’ League round of 16 tie, and Unai Emery will be desperate to take the club all the way to the final in Cardiff after receiving criticism from some quarters for his side’s performances this season.
PSG’s domestic form has undoubtedly improved dramatically of late, with Unai Emery’s men winning 10 of the last 11 matches in all competitions. The only result which didn’t end in maximum points for PSG was a 1-1 draw against fellow title challengers Monaco who have been excellent this season. Friday night’s 3-0 away win at Bordeaux was the perfect warm up for this crucial home tie with Barcelona and it was a result which leaves PSG in second place in the Ligue 1 standings.
Barcelona have also been in great form domestically after a few poor results earlier in the campaign which have seen them in second place behind leaders and arch rivals Real Madrid, who also have two games in hand on the Catalan outfit. Saturday’s 6-0 thumping away at Copa del Rey final opponents Alaves was a cruise for the Blaugrauna, with all of the MSN on the score sheet. With the league looking quite tricky for Barca this season, all eyes will be on them to see if they can win the Champions’ League and Luis Enrique may know that his job could be on the line should they exit this prestigious competition in the early stages.
Team News and Tactics
Unai Emery has been dealt a huge injury blow in the build up to this one, as captain and central defender Thiago Silva has been ruled out through injury. Thiago Motta is also suspended for this match, so Emery has a real selection headache.
With this in mind, I expect PSG to lineup in their usual 4-3-3 formation with highly rated youngster Kimpembe deputising for the injured Thiago Silva alongside Marquinhos at the heart of the Paris defence. Maxwell and Aurier are likely to be the full-backs but Emery could opt for the extra pace of Kurzawa at left back. The real interesting decisions for Emery will lie in the midfield and forward positions with January signing Julian Draxler pushing for a start in the forward line. Matuidi and Verratti are almost nailed on to start in midfield so it will be intriguing to see if Di Maria or Rabiot are selected to join them to complete the trio. If Di Maria is in the midfield, expect Draxler to join Lucas Moura in support of main man Edinson Cavani in attack. If Rabiot starts, it may mean a substitute role for the talented German playmaker.
Barcelona also have injury concerns ahead of this one. Javier Mascherano is ruled out with an injury picked up in the Copa del Rey semi-final last week. Arda Turan is also missing with a groin problem and Aleix Vidal, who suffered a horror ankle break at the weekend is obviously out too.
With this in mind, I expect Barcelona to lineup in their usual 4-3-3 formation with Ter Stegen probably getting the nod ahead of cup goalkeeper Cillessen. Sergi Roberto will start at right back, with Jordi Alba on the opposite side of the back four. Pique and Umtiti are set to be the starting pair at the heart of the Barca backline. Busquets will anchor the midfield and is likely to be joined by the mercurial Andres Iniesta and one of Denis Suarez or Andre Gomes on the right of the midfield 3. Not many sides in world football have a front 3 which picks itself every single week (barring injury of course) but Barcelona do in the shape of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi (right to left).
Edinson Cavani (PSG) – Edinson Cavani has been in spectacular goal scoring form of late, notching an incroyable 9 in his last 6 appearances for PSG. He is a massive threat both in the air and on the floor and the Barcelona defence will be hoping El Matador has an off night here.
Luis Suarez (Barcelona) – Luis Suarez has been scoring goals for fun since his move from Liverpool in 2014. His desire to score and help his team is incredible and along with Messi and Neymar, he makes up the deadliest trio in world football. PSG must be careful not to get lulled in to the trap of just trying to stop Messi, as Suarez will doubtless punish any lapses in concentration.
This is a real tough match to call and one which both will not want to lose. Anything to nil would be a huge bonus for PSG but it is difficult to see Barca not scoring, especially with the confirmed absence of Thiago Silva for PSG. I think it will be a great match, with both sides scoring. My head says score draw but have a slight feeling that Barcelona may edge it. PSG are capable though, and will know the importance of taking a positive result to the Camp Nou in 3 weeks time.
Prediction: PSG 1-2 Barcelona