The Champions League is back, and Barcelona have a huge heavyweight bout to attend. It’s time for the rematch of the infamous 2017 Round of 16 tie.
Going into Tuesday’s game, Barcelona come fresh off a 5-1 victory against Alaves on Saturday night. A game where coach Ronald Koeman had one eye on the PSG game. Ousmane Dembele, Pedri and Jordi Alba were all rested, and Busquets, De Jong and Griezmann were subbed off early. All are expected to start on Tuesday evening.
The current Barcelona team is still classified as a work in progress, but the recent reintroduction of the 4-3-3 formation has seen the team enjoy a brilliant winning run in the league. Against Alaves, Messi netted twice and provided an assist. The Argentinian generally looks to have found his old shooting boots in recent weeks. Griezmann too looks to have found a role that benefits the collective. Ousmane Dembele has also managed to stay injury free and is ready to perform under the lights on Tuesday. Trincão scored his first brace in a Barcelona shirt after netting twice, but he’s most likely gonna have to step aside for Tuesday’s game. Everything points towards Ousmane Dembele starting on the right wing for Ronald Koeman’s men.
The seven win streak Barcelona are currently on in the league has covered up the disappointing performances they’ve had in the big games this season. If we look at Barça’s games against other top teams, it’s not a good look. In the league, Barcelona lost against both Real and Atletico Madrid. The Catalans have also played Sevilla twice, once in the league and once in the cup, and walked away from those with one loss and a draw. The only big game where you could say Barcelona performed in, was Juventus away in the Champions League. However Juventus had Ronaldo and Matthijs de Ligt missing. In the return leg, both of them were back in the starting 11 and the Italians came away with a 3-0 victory.
In the Champions league, Barcelona led Group G from start to finish, but the 3-0 loss against Juventus on the final match day meant the Italians snatched top spot in the group. Had Koeman and co avoided defeat by more than two goals on that December night, Barcelona would have been preparing to play Porto right now.
On the other side, PSG come from three consecutive victories in France. Most recently, they managed to grind out a 2-1 victory against Nice, with Moise Kean scoring the winner in the 76th minute. In the Champions league, PSG finished the group with three consecutive victories after a rough start. At the beginning of the campaign, PSG suffered losses both at home against Manchester United in the first game, and a loss against RB Leipzig in Germany. PSG then revenged those losses with a victory at home against Leipzig and a strong 3-1 win in Manchester on the penultimate match day. Back then, the Parisian team was led by Thomas Tuchel, who was at the wheel through the entire group stage. The upcoming game against Barcelona will be new manager Mauricio Pochettino’s first Champions League game as PSG manager after being appointed at the beginning of January.
Historically, Barcelona has the upper hand against Paris Saint-Germain. In the last decade, the two have faced each other eight times. Four times in the quarter final, twice in the Round of 16 and twice in the group stage. Four have ended in a Barcelona victory, two in favour of PSG and two have ended in a draw. Most famous is the 2016/17 Round of 16 tie.
Back in February 2017, Barcelona were overrun and humiliated 4-0 in Paris. That set up a second leg where Barcelona had nothing to lose. Barcelona coach Luis Enrique certainly hadn’t given up and in the pre-match press conference, he delivered his now famous line; “If they can score four, we can score six”. And that was exactly what ended up happening. Barcelona famously won the game 6-1, and went through to the Quarter final 6-5 on aggregate.
Since that infamous 6-1 comeback, there’s been a slight shift in power between the Catalans and Parisians. Neymar left Barcelona for France, and led PSG to last season’s Champions League final, narrowly losing out to Bayern Munich. Meanwhile, Barcelona has had to eat multiple knockouts on the biggest stage in the last few years. 3-0 in Rome, 4-0 at Anfield, and most recently, the 8-2 collapse against Bayern Munich in last seasons quarter final. Arguably the most humiliating defeat in a Champions league knockout game, ever.
Injuries will certainly play a big part in the outcome of the tie. Thursday last week the big news broke. PSG confirmed that Neymar had sustained a groin injury against Caen in the French cup, and will be out for four weeks. That means the Brazilian will definitely miss the first leg of the round of 16, but he may be back for the return leg in Paris in four weeks time. Angel Di Maria and Juan Bernat, who both started the Champions League final last August, are also out with injuries.
Barcelona also have their fair share of injuries. Two of which face a race against the clock to be ready for Tuesday. Ronald Araujo sprained his ancle against Real Betis and has been officially ruled out of the PSG game. On Sunday, Gerard Pique completed his first training session after being out with a long term injury. On Monday, he also trained as normal.
In the pre match press conference, Koeman was asked about Pique, as was quoted saying “He looks good. But i still have to wait one more day to decide whether he’s going to play or not, because he’s been out for a long time. We’ll make a decision tomorrow”, indicating that Pique is still very much in contention to start. Koeman also confirmed that Ronald Araujo will definitely miss the game. “Araujo hasn’t trained and will not make tomorrow’s game.”
BARCELONA (4-3-3) Ter Stegen; Mingueza, Umtiti, Lenglet, Alba; De Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Dembele, Messi, Griezmann.
OUT: Coutinho, Ansu Fati, Roberto, Braithwaite, Araujo
Pique is an uncertainty and will probably be subject to a last minute decision over whether he’s fit to play. If he’s deemed fit, we could see him and Lenglet form the centre back partnership. However, after being out with an injury since November, throwing Pique Pique straight to the wolfs in a high intensity Champions League game could be risky. Koeman could also opt for Frenkie de Jong at centre back and play Pjanic or Riqui Puig in midfield.
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (4-2-3-1): Navas; Florenzi, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Kurzawa; Paredes, Gueye; Mbappe, Verratti, Kean; Icardi.
OUT: Neymar, Di Maria, Bernat, Pembele, Dagba.
With Neymar and Di Maria out, Pochettino is expected to start either 20 year old Moise Kean or Pablo Sarabia in the front 3. He could also move Alessandro Florenzi onto the right wing and bring Thilo Kehrer in at right back. Abdou Diallo is also a possibility at left back.
Being defensively vulnerable means Barcelona will probably have to score at the other end to bring a favourable result to Paris in four weeks time. Ronald Koeman and Barcelona will aim to cause havoc down PSG’s left side with Ousmane Dembele’s pace and x-factor. Griezmann has been very decisive in recent matches, and will have to turn up again. Messi has also been in impeccable form, but has failed to show that decisive edge in the big games this season. Will that change?
With Neymar out, PSG will rely on Kylian Mbappe to turn up on the night. Barcelona have been vulnerable to counter-attacks. Even more vulnerable now that Ronald Araujo is out. PSG will be looking to exploit that lack of pace in the Barcelona defence to score that crucial away goal. Under Tuchel, PSG had a great ability to be able to grind out a result when it mattered the most. The last minute winner in the quarter final against Atalanta last season. Turning around the round of 16 tie against Dortmund. Winning at Old Trafford to cement top spot in the group this season. Will that trend continue under Pochettino?
I will leave the score prediction up to you, but it’s always fascinating to see the biggest European clubs clash on the biggest stage, and it will be even more fascinating to see who can turn up on the night. I predict an even contest, but on a Champions League night we can never know what’s going to happen. The one thing we can guarantee though, is that more unforgettable moments will be produced and we will witness an incredible contest. Don’t miss it.
Kick off at 9PM CET tomorrow.