preview | 2017-02-13
Match Preview - Champions League Last 16 - PSG vs Barcelona
February brings Barcelona its first European challenge as Messi and company seek the UCL crown
The Champions League returns this midweek with Barcelona heading to France to take on Paris St Germain in the first leg of their last 16 tie. Barcelona topped their group but still found themselves drawn against PSG who alongside Bayern Munich were one of the toughest teams Barcelona could face.
PSG have been the dominant force in France in recent years but if they are going to win a fifth consecutive Ligue 1 title they will have to overcome a very good Monaco side who are currently three points ahead of them at the top of the league. PSG had a disappointing start to the season and pressure was building on Unai Emery but they appear to have turned a corner now and have lost just once in their last 15 games. They have an excellent home record and have lost just once in front of their own fans since Barcelona beat them 3-1 in the Champions League quarter-finals in April 2015.
PSG came second in their Champions League group this season which was some what disappointing as they looked to have done the hard work when drawing twice with Arsenal which meant a home win over Ludogorets would see them win the group. Unfortunately for Emery's side they could only manage a 2-2 draw which allowed Arsenal to pip them to top spot and PSG entered the last 16 draw as runners-up which ultimately set up this tie.
There should be an air of familiarity between these sides with this being their seventh Champions League meeting since 2013. Barça have had the better of those games winning three, drawing two and losing just once. Even in the game they lost they ended up getting the better of PSG by winning their other five games to top the group. The closest PSG came to getting the better of Barcelona was in the very first tie. They drew both games but Barcelona progressed on away goals.
The main threat to Barcelona will be PSG’s Uruguayan striker, Edinson Cavani. Luis Suárez’s international team mate has scored 31 goals this season, 25 of which came in Ligue 1. Brazilian wideman Lucas Moura has 14 goals in all competitions and PSG’s latest signing Julian Draxler has made a great start to his time in France since arriving from Wolfsburg in January. In midfield Marco Verratti is becoming one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe and looks like exactly the sort of player Barcelona would love to have. Another player Barcelona should be familiar with is long term defensive target Marquinhos. The Brazilian has been linked with the club for a number of years now and he finally looks to be fulfilling his potential at the heart of the PSG defence.
PSG will be without Javier Pastore (injured) and Thiago Motta (suspended) for the first leg against Barcelona. In truth Pastore probably wouldn't have played anyway but Motta will be a huge absence against his former club. Motta’s absence should mean starts for Blaise Matuidi and Adrien Rabiot alongside Verratti in midfield. Arguably the toughest decision Emery will have to make in terms of team selection will be who starts alongside Cavani in attack. Lucas and Draxler will be in contention alongside former Real Madrid star, Angel di Maria. All three are talented players but based on their form this season it is likely Lucas and Draxler will start on Tuesday.
Barcelona come into the game with their own injury problems. Javier Mascherano, Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan have all been ruled out of the trip to Paris but in truth none are first choice and the biggest damage has been done to the depth on the bench. Mascherano and Arda shouldn't be out for too long but Aleix is done for the season after suffering a dislocated ankle in the dying minutes of Saturday's 6-0 win over Deportivo Alavés. Aleix had been showing some good form in recent weeks but Sergi Roberto has been Luis Enrique's first choice this season and he is now the only “right back” in the first team squad.
Barcelona played well in Saturday's 6-0 win over Alavés despite getting off to a slow start. The first half an hour wasn't great with Barça seeing a lot of the ball without really troubling the opposition. However, once they made the breakthrough it was all Barcelona and Alavés struggled to cope with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez. Suárez was particularly impressive netting twice and setting up another two. With the game won early on Lucho took the opportunity to make some changes by replacing Samuel Umtiti and Sergio Busquets so they could rest ahead of this game. The third change was perhaps the most surprising as he allowed MSN to play the full 90 minutes and instead choose to withdraw André Gomes which is perhaps a sign that he now believes the Portuguese star is the leading candidate to join Busquets and Andrés Iniesta in Barcelona’s first choice midfield.
This season has been a mixed one for Barcelona as their form has often been inconsistent which is perhaps a consequence of Luis Enrique's rotation policy which we have been led to believe has been all about keeping the team fresh specifically for this stage of the season when the big trophies are up for grabs. In theory Luis Enrique should now be ready to let the team off the reins as we enter the business end of the season but it remains to be seen if it will work out as planned but if Barcelona are serious about winning this competition consistency will be the key as there are no easy games in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Barcelona will be favourites to reach the quarter-final over the two legs but PSG are more than capable of causing an upset and with a very impressive home record this will be one of Barça’s most difficult tests of the season. Barcelona have a 100% record in the first leg of Champions League knockout ties under Luis Enrique and they will have to be at their best to see that run continue on Tuesday. With Lucho able to field his first choice eleven it would be disappointing not to earn a draw at the very least which would leave Barcelona well placed to finish the job when the teams meet at Camp Nou in three weeks time.
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WRITTEN BY: Gerry Johnston
Gerry Johnston is a 31 year old Civil Servant from County Antrim, Ireland. Gerry has been writing about football for various websites since Euro 2012 and he has been a Barcelona fan since the mid 90s.