When Paris Saint-Germain welcome Barcelona to the Parc des Princes for their Champions League Round of 16 first leg tie, the game is likely to go one of two ways. The hosts can either look to attack and force the issue early on, or attempt to hold out and avoid conceding the away goal. Both have their pitfalls, so Unai Emery will have his work cut out.
Attempting to shut out Barcelona is never easy. Their attacking trio of Neymar, Luis Suarez and the imperial Lionel Messi have scored over 200 goals between them in the last two seasons, and although they have not always looked as potent as that this season, they carry the biggest threat in Europe in that department. The trouble for PSG will first of all be marking the trident, who are constantly switching positions to create space for one another. Space is the last thing you can afford these three.
The pair met en route to the Blaugrana’s last Champions League success in 2015, at the quarter-final stage. The leg in France was expected to be close, but a stunning performance from Suarez that night led to a 3-1 win for the Catalans. Anything can happen here, but it is worth noting that neither side is as strong as perhaps they were two years ago.
Barcelona’s stars are ageing and, particularly in midfield, their replacements have not yet stepped up to the mark. Arda Turan and Andre Gomes have both signed for big money over the last two summers, but failed to step up to the level of the likes of Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. The latter’s performance will be key to how Barça get on because when Iniesta was injured earlier in the campaign his role changed. Instead of protecting the defence by moving side to side, he was needed to make more of impact going forwards, nullifying his skillset and leaving his team vulnerable. That set up led to a 3-1 defeat at Manchester City in the group stage.
Busquets will be in his comfort zone during this game, but PSG have things they can learn from the City performance. The Spain midfielder was much more susceptible to high pressure on that night than he will be here, but the Ligue 1 champions have one of the most energetic midfield pairings around at their disposal, with Blaise Matuidi likely to look to penetrate central areas with powerful runs and Marco Veratti able to pick a killer pass.
Following fullback Aleix Vidal’s injury at the weekend, Barcelona’s back line will be weakened more than usual. Getting in behind their midfield may be tough, but once done PSG can really cause some damage. Sergi Roberto will be at right back, giving Angel Di Maria a real target, while Lucas Moura can pin Jordi Alba back with his pace. Edinson Cavani will provide the focal point in attack.
Expect a pulsating two-legged affair here. Barcelona will attack in search of an early break through, but you can expect PSG to hurt them on the counter. The visitors may be favourites, but expect goals in this one.