Our European football scribe previews Tuesday's Champions League Round of 16 clash between PSG and Barcelona.
Valentine’s Day marks the return of European football’s elite club competition this, and what better way to end the year’s most romantic day than a gigantic Champions League clash at the Parc Des princes. Unai Emery’s PSG have enjoyed an interesting campaign, having to balance a huge variety of domestic obligations whilst retaining their European consistency. They still trail Monaco by three points in Ligue 1, but an impressive away victory in Bordeaux will have them feeling rightly confident. Barcelona trounced Alaves 6-0 and go into this match with some renewed vigour in their quest to chase down Real in La Liga. This should be a classic clash between perennial underachievers: PSG- and entrenched heavyweights: Barcelona.
PSG vs Barcelona | Tuesday 14 February | Parc des Princes | 21:45
To Win (90 Mins)
PSG 9/4 | Draw 24/10 | Barcelona 23/20
Emery’s side will be without suspended Thiago Motta this week, which could prove quite problematic giving the shape of the Parisians. Most supporters are hoping that Emery abandons his more traditional 4-2-3-1 formation in favour of a more attack-minded 4-3-3 formation this week. I don’t really see that happening, and it’s likely that Verrati and Matuidi will patrol the midfield area. On the injury front, PSG will also have Meunier back in starting contention, while Javier Pastore will likely return to the side.
I wouldn’t be surprised if German winger Julian Draxler makes his European debut for PSG this week. The winger has been impressive since arriving from Wolfsburg, and it’s that injection of speed and guile that PSG need to keep those Barca fullbacks hemmed in. Edinson Cavani scored two spectacular goals at Bordeaux and will look to disrupt a Barca defence sans Mascherano. I think PSG are going to try to remain compact, breaking through Di Maria and Draxler as potently as possible.
Barca have a few injury concerns going into this match, with both Alexis Vidal and Arda Turan unavailable. Javier Mascherano also has a hamstring strain, meaning that Barca are one injury away from having something of a defensive injury crisis. Rafinha, however, returns, while Andres Iniesta is slowly returning to his best form following an injury layoff. That front three is clearly the focal point of this Barca side. They have begun to look imperious in recent weeks, with Messi mesmeric as always.
Barca have an incredible record against PSG of late, winning their last three games, scoring eight goals and conceding two. PSG have yet to keep a clean sheet in nine European ties against the Catalans. All this makes for rather dire reading for PSG. I think that they will likely miss the industry of Motta this week, while Maxwell and Aurier won’t be able to advance as progressively as they would like. Emery’s insistence on playing a more schematic 4-2-3-1 is going to ensure that his side are largely on the back foot. However, considering various defensive issues facing Barcelona, they will always remain dangerous on the counter.
Verdict: Both teams to Score- Yes- 13/20
I think that this is going to be an open, dynamic game of football, with a traditional battle between possession and swift, penetrative counterattacks. Barcelona will probably feel satisfied with any kind of score draw, with the fabled MSN partnership virtually guaranteed to have some bearing on the game. In the same breath, you have to fancy PSG to show something in front of their partisan - and Parisian - home support. I can easily see a 1-1 or 2-2 draw this week, setting up the tie in Barca’s favour.
Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets