Barcelona will begin their Champions League campaign on Tuesday, when PSV Eindhoven pay them a visit at Camp Nou for the first group stage match
The 2018-19 UEFA Champions League kicks off this week, with Matchday 1 of the group stage throwing up some fascinating encounters. One such fixture will be played in Group B, when Barcelona play hosts to Mark van Bommel’s PSV Eindhoven at Camp Nou on Tuesday night.
Barcelona have started the season in strong fashion, winning each of their first four league games, which has already seen them build a two-point lead over bitter rivals Real Madrid. But, the Champions League remains a competition that the Catalans are desperate to flourish in, after a few years of underachieving.
PSV, on the other hand, have been even more impressive than their hosts, having enjoyed a perfect start to the Eredivisie campaign. But, what has been particularly eye catching is their growing confidence in front of goal. The visitors also have a familiar face in manager Mark van Bommel, who has taken charge of his first senior management job with the Dutch outfit.
Interestingly, Barcelona and PSV last met in the UEFA Champions League group stage as well, back in the 1997-98 season, with both matches finishing level. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ernesto Valverde has received a huge double boost heading into the Champions League opener, with two first-team players returning to training. That leaves just Sergi Samper (ankle) on the sidelines for Barcelona ahead of the visit of PSV on Tuesday.
Denis Suarez (hamstring) and Malcom (ankle) though, are back in full training. But, even though they are unlikely to feature against PSV, Valverde can take heart from the fact that he will be able to rotate his personnel more seamlessly going forward.
On Tuesday, the big decisions that the Barcelona boss will face will be regarding two areas. The right-back slot is one where he is constantly facing tough questions. But, with Nelson Semedo still struggling to impress, Sergi Roberto looks likely to leave his spot in midfield to line up in the back-four once again.
The rest of the defensive unit, however, should remain unchanged, with Roberto, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba providing cover to last weekend’s hero Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Coming back to the tough decisions that Valverde will have to make, midfield is the other area where he has to take a hard call.
While Sergio Busquets and Philippe Coutinho seem to be automatic selections, the big decision is surrounding the choice between Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal. On Tuesday, with the objective of beginning the Champions League campaign on the strongest note possible, Rakitic is likely to get the nod over Vidal, and Arthur.
Upfront, there is no doubt as to the choice of the attacking trident, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez joining the in-form Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman has been in the mood for redemption at the start of the season, and his pacy outlet will be the X-Factor for Barcelona against PSV.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Coutinho; Messi, Suarez, Dembele
Mark van Bommel will be travelling to Barcelona without two first-team players, with Ryan Thomas (knee) and Dante Rigo (unknown) on the treatment table. But, the PSV will boss will still be able to name his strongest possible side, which ought to be high on confidence after handing a 7-0 thumping to ADO Den Haag this past weekend.
As far as the style of play is concerned, van Bommel seems to have identified the formation which gets the best out of his team. Like Barcelona, PSV will line up in a 4-3-3 formation, with the emphasis being on short, quick passing during build-up play. But, the visitors will press a lot more when off the ball than their hosts.
The key players in his side will be the midfielders. While the likes of Jorrit Hendrix and Pablo Rosario will provide the cover to the defenders and keep an eye on Coutinho and Rakitic, Gaston Pereiro will press high up and link up with the front trio in and around the Barcelona box.
The onus though, will be on the likes Steven Bergwijn, Luuk de Jong and Hirving Lozano to be clinical and convert the chances that do come their way. Any slacking, and Barcelona have the ability to pounce and make PSV pay.
At the back, Angelino and Denzel Dumfries will likely be the full-backs, with Nick Viergever and Daniel Schwaab lining up at the heart of the PSV defence. Between the sticks, will be a player who Barcelona have been scouting this season. And, Jeroen Zoet will look to impress with a solid showing in the Champions League opener.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Zoet; Dumfries, Schwaab, Viergever, Angelino; Rosario, Pereiro, Hendrix; Lozano, L de Jong, Bergwijn
- Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven have previously met six times, with the hosts holding an ever so slight edge in the head to head battle (W2 D3 L1).
- Fortress Camp Nou – Barcelona have not lost a home game in the UEFA Champions League for five years now (W24 D2).
- By contrast, PSV last won a Champions League tie on the road in November 2007. Since then, they have gone ten away games without success (D3 L7).
- The Boeren have an even worse record in Spain, having failed to win a single game in the country in 14 attempts (D5 L9).
- Barcelona – drawn in a tricky group alongside PSV, Tottenham and Inter Milan – will be aiming to top their Champions League group for the 12th successive season.
Player to Watch
One of the big takeaways from the 2018 FIFA World Cup was the rise of Hirving Lozano in international football. But, he has been a known quantity for a while now, having had many an eye on him over the course of a stunning maiden campaign with PSV last term.
Now though, is the time for the Mexican pocket rocket to take flight and stamp his authority in Europe’s premier club competition. And, what better occasion to make a mark, than against one of the clubs that have been scouting him. The stage is set for Lozano to make a splash, and he should be the one to keep a close eye on at Camp Nou.
Barcelona 4-2 PSV Eindhoven
PSV have endured their fair share of struggles in the UEFA Champions League for some time now. But, having been written off as the favourites for the wooden spoon in Group B, the Dutch outfit might just be the dark horses, as they continue to show a lot of promise under Mark van Bommel.
The game against Barcelona is just the platform to make a fitting statement. But, the Blaugrana just don’t lose at home in the Champions League anymore, especially not in the group stage. Much like their previous encounters though, this match should be laden with goals, although Ernesto Valverde & co. ought to have enough quality to kick off their European campaign on a winning note.