Barcelona travel to the French capital midweek in what's being coined the squad's toughest competition of the year so far against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Contrary to what critics are saying, I think this trip to Paris will produce a very different outcome for Luis Enrique's men than their quarterfinals trip in April 2013. Here's why:
After seven matches, Barcelona have yet to concede a goal in all competitions. Their one draw came against a resilient, defensive Malaga side. After last season, many thought the back line would continue to struggle. The signing of central defender Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia was arguably a great signing by Zubizarreta. We haven't seen what new signing Thomas Vermaelen is capable of yet, but he's been given the medical green light after recovering from a right leg injury. He is not included in the 20-man squad traveling to Paris based on a coaching decision by Lucho. The goalkeeping between Bravo and Ter Stegen respectively has also had a tremendous impact on the squad.
Between Vermaelen, Mathieu, and stellar performances in the back line from Dani Alves, Adriano, Pique, Douglas, and Jordi Alba respectively, the Barcelona defense has improved nearly 100% from last season's blunders. I would also argue that appointing legendary captain, Carles Puyol to assistant director of football to Zubizarreta was also a main factor in defensive improvements in the squad. To quote midfielder Xavi: "Puyol is the key, not just because he is one of the best defenders in the world but because of his character. He never lets up." Compiled with a compact midfield, high-pressing passes, Lionel Messi's brilliant assists, and Neymar's finishing quality, I feel 3 points are more than possible in Paris this time around for the Blaugrana.
Across the pitch, we have a PSG opponent that's been considered a dark horse to make a run to the Champions League final in 2015 by many.Despite these claims, the Paris based-Ligue 1 champions have been anything but a force in their new league campaign. In an ironic twist, PSG's defensive issues have been exposed by mediocre French opponents ahead of their clash against La Liga giants, Barcelona. Their coach, Laurent Blanc, told the press after their 1-1 draw against Toulouse that he acknowledges the fact that his squad will have to improve vastly in order to beat Barcelona on Tuesday. Blanc is quoted saying: "We've had a difficult start to the season. We've got the same team and the same coach as last season but we're not winning matches as easily. At the moment, we're not better than the others. We have to acknowledge that the first half was very average, we really helped them with their goal."
Paris Saint-Germain will undoubtedly be getting up for this match against Barcelona in the Champions League. However, confidence and motivation from Barcelona's recent form will be the deciding factor in this one.
My prediction: 2-0 Barcelona.