Current Ligue Un leaders, Paris Saint-Germaine, host La Liga leaders, Barcelona, in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal round on Tuesday evening at the Parc des Princes.
This will be the toughest task yet for the Qatar-backed French side. Interestingly the game will have a distinct Serie A flavour to it with a number of the PSG players having played in Italy. Furthermore if we add their successful Italian coach, Carlo Ancelotti and their Sporting Director, Leonardo who is a former AC Milan player and manager, it comes as no surprise that this game will attract the interest of many calcio fanatics.
Once again, all the pre-match hype surrounds, former AC Milan and Barcelona player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede received a two game ban for a red card received in the first leg against Valencia in the previous round. Somewhat surprisingly the ban was reduced to one game and Ibrahimovic will be available for the first leg. This has not only pleased all the PSG supporters but the neutrals as well. The Parisians stand a much better chance of overcoming the talent laden Barcelona side with him than they do without him. Ibrahimovic has a staggering 25 league goals this season and is understandably the top scorer in Ligue Un. He is the only target-man PSG have available to them and is ultimately irreplaceable in terms of their style of play under Ancelotti.
Probably of most interest to Calcio fans will be the performance of teenage sensation Marco Verratti. The player who has been earmarked as the heir to Andrea Pirlo’s thrown is likely to start in his usual deep lying playmaker position. Whether Verratti is allowed to display his creative ability will be determined by how much possession PSG have. As has become customary with sides playing against Barcelona, they very rarely have more than 35% to 40% possession.
PSG will take heart from Barcelona’s 2-0 loss at the San Siro back in February. Ancelotti is a nifty tactician and while he may not setup with the same formation Milan did in February, he possess enough world class players to cause Barcelona some problems.
Barcelona enter the tie coming off a disappointing 2-2 draw against relegation threatened Celta Vigo on the weekend. They are however comfortably in command at the top of La Liga and quite compressively beat AC Milan 4-0 in the second leg of their round 16 tie. While PSG’s play will centralise around Ibrahimovic, Barcelona will look to their record breaking maestro, Lionel Messi. The Argentine produced a spectacular performance in guiding Barcelona to their second leg 4-0 victory over Milan. The Parisians will not only have their work cut out effectively keeping Messi quiet, but will also have to deal with the attacking threats of David Villa, Pedro or Alexis Sanchez.
Besides the Serie A link, PSG and Barcelona possess their own footballing connection. Tiago Motta, Maxwell and Zlatan Ibrahimovic who are all likely to feature for PSG on Tuesday night, have played for Barcelona.
Ibrahimovic was unable to break Barcelona while playing for AC Milan last season but will undoubtedly like nothing more than to knock out his former employers this time around.
The key for PSG will be whether they can remain compact and shut down Barcelona’s midfield passing game, forcing them to use their wide players. If they can thwart Barcelona’s approach they can then look to pounce on the counter-attack using their own attacking players, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura and of course Ibrahimovic.
Perhaps for the first time this season, PSG enter an encounter as the underdogs. They possess plenty of world class players and in Ancelotti have a manager that has done it all before. Should they manage to force a result the difficulty as we witnessed in the previous round will be to do it all over again during the second leg at the Nou Camp in Barcelona.