Rising French power Paris Saint-Germain clash with Spanish giants Barcelona in the quarter finals in the UEFA Champions League. PSG currently sit atop of Ligue 1, eight points clear of Lyon. Barcelona are topping the table in La Liga, 13 points clear of bitter rivals Real Madrid. In European competition, PSG topped Group A, then advanced past Valencia in the knockout stage. Barcelona was first in Group G, then scored an impressive comeback victory over AC Milan in the knockout stage.
PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has made no secret that winning the Champions League is the goal for the Parisian side. With the Qatar Investment Authority providing generous financial backing, PSG will have the monetary wherewithal to challenge for Europe’s top prize.
PSG do have one of the best strikers in the world in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish International leads Les Parisians with 26 goals in all competitions. He can score some of the most spectacular goals in all of football, and will have something to prove against his onetime club. Ibrahimovic can disappear at times, but he is venomous around the opposition net. His partner in crime is Ezequiel Lavezzi. The Argentine International is a superb playmaker who is adept at finding openings. However, his finishing is questionable as Lavezzi only has 3 goals in all competitions. If Lavezzi had more finish to his game, he would be one of the deadliest strikers in the world. Kevin Gameiro could see time on the pitch as well. He’s not as creative as Lavezzi but is more efficient around the goal.
The creative force in the midfield is Lucas. The Brazilian International is a splendid passer who has terrific vision of the field. He will need to be in top form against a dangerous Barcelona side. One errant pass and Barca will counter with force. Javier Pastore will join Lucas on the attack. The Argentine International is a spry midfielder with excellent pace. Jeremy Menez is another possibility as an attacking midfielder.
The wildcard could be David Beckham. No one can deny the motivation and inspiration Becks will provide, but his pace is troubling, and he could lag behind against a swarming Barcelona side.
Blaise Matuidi is a stern holding midfielder whose known for his aggressive tackling and physical play. The French International will be drawn the task to slow down the high-flying Barcelona midfield. Marco Verratti is the other holding midfielder. The Italian International is small in stature, but is a stern defensive presence.
The back four is the strength of this PSG side. Centre back Thiago Silva is considered one of the best centre backs in the world, and is looking forward to the challenge of containing Lionel Messi. The Brazilian International was pursued heavily by Barcelona, but opted to sign with PSG instead last summer. Silva is joined by another Brazilian in Alex. The former Chelsea defender is enjoying a renaissance campaign in the French Capital, which is aided by his partnership with his fellow countryman. The third Brazilian in the back is Maxwell who will be deployed on the left side. Dutch International Gregory van der Wiel is the right back and like Alex is also enjoying a rebirth in Paris.
Salvatore Sirigu is a rising star between the sticks. He is overshadowed on the Italian side by Gianluigi Buffon but there is little doubt that Sirigu is the heir apparent to the legendary Juventus keeper.
For Barcelona it begins and ends with Lionel Messi. Widely regarded as the best player in the world, Messi continues to score goals at a feverish pace. His 55 goals in all competitions is simply stunning, even by his standards. With defenders always on wary of Messi, it does leave openings for David Villa. The Spanish International has 14 goals in all competitions and is finally fit, after battling knee and hamstring issues. It has been reported that Andres Iniesta will start up front. This is a move that is baffling. Iniesta is much preferred in a midfield role, where he can use his skill and intelligence in the middle of the pitch. Alexis Sanchez or Cristian Tello are better suited to be up front. It does hurt Barcelona that Pedro is suspended and won’t be available for the first leg.
There are questions surrounding the fitness level of Xavi. The talismanic midfielder missed the weekend’s fixture due to a hamstring knock, but did make the trip to Paris. If Xavi is fit, he’ll be on the team sheet. If Iniesta is moved up front, Cesc Fabregas will slot into the attacking midfielder role. The former Arsenal midfielder does have 9 goals in all competitions but can go astray in his defensive responsibilities. Sergio Busquets will be the holding midfielder, even though he’s nursing a hamstring problem as well.
The back four has been led by left back Jordi Alba. The Spanish International has been superb for the Blaugrana this season, as his surging runs keeps opposing sides off-balance. Dani Alves should suit up in the right back slot. The Brazilian International has laboured at times, but still has flashes of brilliance along the right flank. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano should start in the centre back spots. If Barcelona needs an extra defender, the returning Eric Abidal could provide some depth. Abidal is an inspiring presence whose battle with cancer is well documented.
Victor Valdes will get the start between the sticks. Somewhat inconsistent, Valdes has been showing signs of turning things around in his favour in the past several weeks.
This won’t be easy for Barcelona. PSG is a stern defensive side, who are well-managed by Carlo Ancelotti. PSG are tactical in their approach which is useful in defending and attacking. That being said, Barcelona still has too much depth up front, and Messi is almost unstoppable. I can see a draw happening at the Parc de Princes but Barcelona will prevail at Nou Camp and go through to the semi finals.
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