FC Barcelona take on Paris Saint-Germain tomorrow looking to secure their place in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League for the sixth season in succession. Admittedly, the Blaugrana will have home advantage and two away goals in their favour; but they will be without two of their best centre-halves in Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol while Lionel Messi could miss out with the same thigh injury that forced him off at half-time in the first-leg. Will Barcelona be able to shrug off their “injury crisis” and book their place in the final four, or will Paris Saint-Germain establish themselves as one of Europe’s elite with a surprise victory at the Camp Nou?
Barcelona may be without Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol for tomorrow’s crunch tie with PSG, but both Adriano and Pedro have shaken off injuries to be in contention for a place in the starting XI – even if they haven’t yet received medical clearance to return to action. Similarly, Messi resumed training today as he stepped up his recovery from a thigh injury, although at this stage no-one quite knows whether the Argentine will feature or not, especially as there is a chance of a recurrence.
Thankfully, there is no such uncertainty revolving around our goalkeeper. Victor Valdés may be leaving the club in the near future, and he was suspended for the past four La Liga matches but the Catalan will start between the sticks looking to replicate his impressive showing in the first-leg at the Parc des Princes. Valdés pulled off a number of good saves to keep the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Javier Pastore at bay, only to be denied a clean sheet thanks to a moment of madness from an assistant referee. Maybe Lady Luck will look a little more favourably on Valdés tomorrow...
In defense, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba will start at full-back, while Gerard Piqué will start at centre-back, but with Mascherano and Puyol injured, Tito Vilanova has a difficult decision to make regarding the fourth and final spot. Will he start Marc Bartra despite his relative inexperience, or will he opt to move either Alex Song or Adriano into the heart of defense? Luis explored these options in greater detail last week – and I gave my two cents then: I think Adriano should start. Whether Tito agrees is a whole other matter, although here’s some food for thought: why would the club speed up the Brazilian’s recovery if he wasn’t being readied for a place in the starting XI?
Barcelona are likely to field the same midfield that started the first-leg – and that’s regardless of whether Lionel Messi recovers to take his place in attack. Cesc Fàbregas may have been in exemplary form on Saturday, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, he’s still some way away from competing with Xavi and Andrés Iniesta for a spot in midfield – especially in a match of this magnitude.
So, if Cesc Fàbregas has any hopes of starting, it will have to be in attack, and it will have to come at the expense of Lionel Messi. With David Villa likely to retain his place on the left-hand side of attack, there certainly isn’t any room for Andrés Iniesta to start in a more advanced position – and plus, after the disappointment of the 2-0 defeat to AC Milan, why would anyone want to even contemplate the idea anyway? Alexis Sánchez is favourite to start on the right-hand side of attack after his brace against Mallorca, and despite his injury, do we really think Lionel Messi will start tomorrow’s match on the bench?
Despite concerns over their fitness, both Alex and Thiago Silva are likely to start tomorrow, while Thiago Motta could make his return from injury to deputise for the suspended Blaise Matuidi. Motta is one of three former Barcelona players who could start tomorrow – the others being Maxwell and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and the Italian would relish the chance to make his return at the Camp Nou, especially after he saw red in his last appearance at his former home in that infamous clash with Sergio Busquets. However, Motta will face competition for a starting berth from his (absurdly talented) compatriot Marco Verratti and also from Clement Chantome who could start fifth UEFA Champions League match.
Paris Saint-Germain 2-2 FC Barcelona – 2nd April 2013 – UEFA Champions League
Blaise Matuidi struck with virtually the last kick of the game to secure a draw for PSG in this UEFA Champions League quarter-final first-leg.
Curiously enough, Kuipers officiated Barcelona’s last UEFA Champions League quarter-final second-leg – a 3-1 win over AC Milan. However, Kuipers was also in charge for this season’s disappointing 2-1 defeat against Celtic – and he’s shown that he isn’t afraid to issue cards either, as he sent both Fredy Guarin and Rolando off in Barcelona’s 2-0 UEFA Super Cup win over Porto.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Adriano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Sánchez, Messi, Villa
PSG (4-2-3-1): Sirigu; Jallet, Thiago Silva, Alex, Maxwell; Beckham, Chantome; Lucas, Pastore, Lavezzi; Ibrahimovic
With or without Messi, I expect Barcelona to book their place in the semi-finals – and it’s either going to be incredibly close, or a complete blow-out. I’m going for an overly optimistic and completely unrealistic 2-0 home win.
For more coverage of tonight's UEFA Champions League clash, be sure to check out our Barcelona vs PSG Storystream