Wednesday will be a red-letter day in Barcelona’s season as they look to overcome an embarrassing 4-0 first leg deficit to stay in with a chance of Champions League glory.
Things have looked up since Barcelona’s bitter capitulation at the Parc Des Princes three odd weeks ago with the Blaugrana picking up victories against the likes of Leganes, Gijon, Atletico and Celta Vigo.
Their latest win was a resounding 5-0 victory over Celta at the Camp Nou and Luis Enrique will hope his side can mirror the performance and the result on Wednesday night in the game of games against PSG.
PSG, on the other hand, have kept the momentum going in their pursuit of AS Monaco at the top of Ligue 1 picking up 10 points out of a possible 12, including a convincing 5-1 thrashing of Olympique Marseille.
With Bayern Munich and Real Madrid making light work of their opponents on Tuesday, the neutral fan will pin his hopes on Barcelona to provide some much needed excitement to the round of 16 ties.
Barcelona have the ammunition in their ranks to wipe out the deficit and also have the intimidating and hostile atmosphere at the Camp Nou to make life difficult for PSG on the night. So you’d be foolish to completely rule them out of this one.
Team News and Tactics
The boss may have announced his departure from the club following the current season but that hasn’t stopped him from tinkering his formation and line-up to figure out a plan to counter PSG’s pressing tactics.
The deployment of a 3-4-3 formation with tactical flexibility of player positions has offered Barcelona hope that they can counter the Parisien’s industrious midfield.
The current formation sees Jordi Alba play a deeper and more defensive role as part of a 3-man back-line along with Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique. The midfield will certainly house Sergio Busquets in a holding midfield role while Sergi Roberto will also be a guaranteed starter due to his versatility in defence and attack.
While defending, Barcelona appear to shape into a 4-4-2 diamond with Roberto dropping back to the right full-back position and in the absence of Aleix Vidal, Enrique doesn’t have a better suitor for the role.
Andre Gomes was absolutely shambolic for Barcelona in the first leg with the Portuguese midfielder struggling to keep possession and offering little creativity when on the ball. It’s hence no surprise that his ouster from the starting XI has seen an upswing in form for the Blaugrana.
The Catalans have done well with the likes of Rafinha in their ranks and it’d be safe to say that Luis Enrique could opt for the Brazilian over his Portuguese counter-part or even Iniesta or Rakitic for that matter to give his side the best shot at achieving the perceived “impossible”.
Apart from Vidal, Jeremy Mathieu is the only other absentee due to injury for the Catalans.
Possible Starting XI (3-4-3): ter-Stegen; Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Roberto, Iniesta, Busquets, Rafinha; Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
Paris Saint Germain
Ever since the Qatari owners took charge of the club back in 2011, the club’s dream has been to compete with the biggest names in the competition and with there is absolutely no doubt they would be in dreamland after that spectacular first-leg result.
But PSG cannot afford to take the foot of the gas as Barcelona will suitably punish them for it and Unai Emery can testify for that from his days at Sevilla.
Emery will not tinker with a tried and tested formula and could field the same line-up for the game except in defence where Thiago Silva is expected to return after missing the first leg due to injury.
Presnel Kimpembe is expected to make way for the Brazilian and apart from that no changes are expected from the Parisiens. The boss deployed his side in a 4-3-3 formation and aided by his engine of a midfield managed to outplay Barcelona in the centre of the park and ensured they didn’t get a moment’s rest.
Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi and Adrien Rabiot were a key fabric of that midfield and are expected to keep their places once again.
Meanwhile in attack, Angel Di Maria is in a race against time to be fit for the tie. Should he be unavailable PSG could go with a front three of Edinson Cavani, Lucas Moura and Julian Draxler.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Trapp; Muenier, Silva, Marquinhos, Kurzawa; Rabiot, Verratti, Matuidi; Draxler, Cavani, Moura.
- No club has ever overturned a first-leg 4-0 away defeat in a Champions League knockout tie.
- The only time PSG eliminated Barcelona in the Champions League was in 1994-95 quarter-finals (3-2 on aggregate). Since then, Barcelona have won their two knockout encounters with the Parisian club (2012-13, 2014-15).
- Barcelona’s 4-0 loss in the first leg equalled their heaviest defeat in European competition. Their previous such defeat came in the semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich back in 2012-13 – they lost the return leg 3-0 at home for a 7-0 aggregate defeat.
- Barcelona have progressed past the round of 16 in each of the last nine seasons, the longest run ever in the competition. The last time they failed to reach the quarter-finals was in 2006-07 against Liverpool.
- PSG striker Edinson Cavani has scored seven goals in as many games in the Champions League this season – his best tally in the competition.
Players to watch out for
FC Barcelona: Luis Suarez
A lot of Barcelona’s Champions League dreams could be resting on this man. Lionel Messi and Neymar have been in stellar form in recent weeks but the Catalans are something out of this world when this man is on cue to finish things off.
He was the tormentor in-chief when the two sides faced each other two years ago in the Champions League knockout stages and Enrique will back on the ex-Liverpool forward once more.
Paris Saint Germain: Marco Verratti
Verratti was absolutely brilliant in the first leg and aided by Blaise Matuidi and Adrien Rabiot managed to outclass an experienced Barcelona midfield.
They will be up against a blood thirsty and a tactically different Barcelona side on Wednesday and there is no doubt who Emery will pin his hopes on to shut out any threat in the centre of the park. Just like the first leg, the Italian’s performance will be key to deciding the final result.
FC Barcelona 3-2 Paris Saint Germain
It’s unfortunately an unheralded round of 16 exit that I envision for the Catalan giants. They may work wonders in this second leg but the damage was already done in the first and there is no way Emery’s PSG will stand and watch Barcelona wipe out a huge 4-0 deficit.
The Blaugrana’s defence has never been stable this season and with the quality on call in the PSG ranks, you certainly wouldn’t expect the French champions to draw a zero on their goal-scoring exploits for the night. It should be an interesting Champions League encounter at the end of which PSG will have finally overcome Barcelona in the knockout stage of the competition.