FC Barcelona travel to France tomorrow as they look to make it three wins from three under Tito Vilanova against Paris Saint Germain. The Ligue Un runners-up have been busy in the transfer market in a bid to bolster their squad and challenge both on the domestic and continental stage. With the signings of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Thiago Silva, Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic adding to a squad that already boasted the likes of Javier Pastore, Nene and Jeremy Menez, it’s clear to see why so many are tipping PSG to be UEFA Champions League challengers in the near future.
Les Parisiens are further into their pre-season preparations than the Blaugrana, but aside from a comfortable 9-0 thrashing of Austrian minnows SV Stegersbach, they haven’t really impressed, stumbling to three consecutive draws against CSKA Moscow, Chelsea and most recently, DC United. With just eight days (at the time of publish) to go until their league opener against Lorient, PSG must be desperate for a win to boost confidence. A tough test awaits.
Tito Vilanova has been boosted this week by the return of the heroes of Spain’s summer win at the European Championship and the return of two of the three Spanish Olympians. There was also good news in the form of the green light for both Carles Puyol and David Villa; although at current only Puyol is cleared for action. However, it hasn’t been all good news as Adriano picked up an ankle sprain, while Jonathan Dos Santos took a slight knock, but has still made the squad. In goal, Victor Valdés is back in the squad and should start for the first time under Tito Vilanova. Jose Manuel Pinto has been excellent in pre-season thus far, but it’s time to get to business if you will, and a clean sheet against Ibraflop certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
Defensively, I expect Tito to opt for Dani Alves at right-back, although this would serve as a good opportunity to assess Martin Montoya’s development, especially with Nene starting for PSG. After all, Montoya has impressed in La Liga action, but can we count on him against higher-profile opposition? With nothing on the line, I would like to see Montoya get at least a half, but given Adriano’s injury, he may well have to settle for minutes in an unfamiliar position – left-back. If not, then Carles Planas is the straight-forward replacement. At centre-half, Tito can chose between all four first team options – does he continue with Marc Bartra and Javier Mascherano, or does he opt to bring back in Gerard Piqué and/or Carles Puyol? Chances are each duo will feature for at least 45 minutes, perhaps with Tito taking it slow and introducing Puyol at the hour mark.
At pivote, it’s great to be able to write that Sergio Busquets is back, and he should replace JDS in the middle of the midfield. Undoubtedly, Barcelona’s control of possession will improve further, and the Blaugrana will be able to control the tempo better, something they failed to do (at times) against HSV in their opening pre-season friendly. Xavi and Andrés Iniesta are the first-choice midfield pairing, but given Xavi’s age and hectic schedule over the past few years, we may see Cesc Fàbregas get the start with Xavi making a cameo appearance.
Then, on the offensive side of things I would have liked to see Deulofeu start, but with Pedro, Afellay and Tello all in the squad, there isn’t a space for the talented winger. Therefore, I expect Tito to go with Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro, although Ibrahim Afellay has been impressive in pre-season thus far.
PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti gave a press conference today, and in that press conference he revealed the majority of his line-up with Thiago Motta, Jeremy Menez and Diego Lugano all ruled out, or unlikely to feature. Here’s what Carlo had to say:
"The idea is to give game time to players. Some players will play the entire game surely evolve further 60 minutes. I will make necessarily changes during the meeting. The championship starts in a week so it is important that players earn playing time to further improve their fitness. Douchez will be in goal. In defense we have, Christophe Jallet, Alex, Mamadou Sakho and Maxwell. In midfield, Clement Chantome or Marco Verratti aligned with Mathieu Bodmer and Javier Pastore. And finally the offensive line will consist of Nene, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic."
FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Montoya; Busquets, Cesc, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro
PSG (4-2-3-1): Douchez; Jallet, Alex, Sakho, Maxwell; Verratti, Bodmer; Lavezzi, Pastore, Nene; Ibrahimovic
It’s going to be a tough contest, that much is for certain, but if Barcelona remain true to their style, and continue the promise they have shown in their opening two games, I fancy them to secure a confidence-boosting win. 3-1 Barca.