And then there were two. Where five games have been unable to separate FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, tomorrow evening’s Matchday 6 UEFA Champions League group stage clash at the Camp Nou will decide who tops Group F, once and for all. After securing a victory over the Blaugrana at the Parc des Princes back in Matchday 2, Paris Saint-Germain have the edge, a narrow edge over their rivals. However, with home advantage on their side and eight successive wins under their belt in all competitions, Barça are high on confidence.
In Lionel Messi, they possess the greatest player in football – both present day, and of all-time. He’s supported by Neymar, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitić, Andrés Iniesta and countless other stars – Paris Saint-Germain might be good, but they can only dream of being on Barcelona’s level. Indeed, in the past few seasons their owners have piled their oil-stained riches into the club in an attempt to establish themselves amongst Europe’s elite.
Alas, while PSG have made progress, they remain an also-ran, an after-thought in the real discussions about UEFA Champions League contenders. Sure, none of the big clubs really want to draw them in the latter stages, but there’s no doubt that given the choice any club in the world would sooner face the Parisians than square off against Real Madrid, against Chelsea, Bayern Munich or even Barcelona.
It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by their recruitment policy. David Luiz was signed in the summer for a vast fortune, yet that’s only after he was discarded by Chelsea, where Jose Mourinho deemed the Brazilian to be surplus to requirements. Their head coach Laurent Blanc – he’s good, but if rumours are to be believed he was only hired because their first choices; the Arsene Wengers of the world rejected them. And why did they hire a new coach? Because their previous one was lured away by a better, bigger club in Real Madrid.
After spending so much time pining to be invited to the cool kids table, PSG have yet another chance to force their way in tomorrow. They bottled it two seasons ago when they were knocked out by us. They bottled it last spring, when they were knocked out by Chelsea. While a loss tomorrow won’t eliminate PSG, it will serve as a timely reminder that they still don’t belong in the big leagues.
If they want to change that, challenge that fact; well...it’s time they stepped up and earned it the old-fashioned way.
The big news is that Dani Alves is out, suspended for yellow card accumulation prompting Luis Enrique to make a difficult decision. Does he opt to swallow his pride and actually start Martin Montoya for the first time in what feels like eons, or does he cripple the team by starting Douglas Pereira? Thankfully for our dear leader, there is an alternative – start Adriano Correia on the right-flank, or perhaps even push Marc Bartra into a full-back role. Expect to see something like that, because obviously neither Montoya nor Douglas are going to get entrusted with a role in a match like this.
Other than that, it’s pretty much as you were for FC Barcelona. Marc-André ter Stegen should retain his place as Barça’s UEFA Champions League number one, fending off competition from Claudio Bravo and resident afterthought, Jordi Masip. We’ve covered right-back, while on the opposite flank it would be a shock not to see Jordi Alba who has been in excellent form in recent weeks, reaping the rewards of a blossoming partnership with Lionel Messi, who has found the Catalan full-back on countless occasions with sumptuous passes on the overlap. That combination could prove vital against a PSG outfit that’s well, lacking shall we say on the right.
After all, why else would they have prioritised the pursuit of Dani Alves for the past umpteen seasons? Even after the signing of Serge Aurier, the rumours continue to link Alves with a move to Paris. Let’s take advantage of that and target their right-flank.
In the centre of defense, I expect to see Gerard Piqué and Jeremy Mathieu, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Javier Mascherano displace Piqué for whatever reason Lucho decides to pluck out of thin air. Quite simply, there is no reason to pull Piqué out of the line-up given his tremendous form as of late, yet would it surprise anyone to see Mascherano in his place tomorrow?
In midfield, Sergio Busquets will start at pivote after resting for the final few minutes of the weekend's bumper win over RCD Espanyol and he’s likely to be joined in the middle of the park by Ivan Rakitić and Andrés Iniesta who shared game-time on Sunday, while the ageing Xavi Hernández completed the full 90 minutes. In seasons gone by, I would have still anticipated that Xavi starts, but this season we have a real alternative in Rakitić and I expect Lucho to use him to full effect.
Meanwhile, controversial as it might be, I would opt for the "stable" approach of Lionel Messi and Neymar partnered with Pedro Rodriguez, but we all know that Luis Suarez will feature ahead of the Spaniard, even if Pedro is in better form. Still, that’s not a knock on Suarez, more a reminder that he needs to display more than the brief flashes of brilliance that he has demonstrated thus far. We signed him to shoulder some of Messi’s burden, yet he’s wasted the majority of chances that have fell his way. It’s time for him to step up, and make his mark – what better place than the Camp Nou, and what better time than now?
A full complement, much like the Blaugrana Paris Saint-Germain have no real injuries of note and can therefore boast a strong squad for their trip to Catalunya. Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Zlatan Ibrahimovic; the whole gang is present and hoping to make the most of this golden opportunity to leapfrog FC Barcelona. Despite their starpower, only one name is really in form at the moment – and that’s Zlatan, who has a history of not really turning up for matches like this. Who will step forward and become the Paris Saint-Germain hero?
Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 FC Barcelona – 30th September 2014 – UEFA Champions League
Bouncing back from an opening day draw with AFC Ajax, PSG deservedly emerged victors at the Parc des Princes courtesy of goals from David Luiz, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi, as a sub-par Barça slumped to their first defeat of Luis Enrique’s reign as head coach.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Adriano, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Busquets, Rakitić, Iniesta; Suarez, Messi, Neymar
PSG (4-2-2-2): Sirigu; Aurier, Silva, Luiz, Maxwell; Matuidi, Motta; Lavezzi, Pastore; Cavani, Ibrahimovic
This is going to be a close one, a tough match for sure – but we have Lionel Messi and home advantage – that’s enough for me to predict a 3-1 home win.