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Forget Zlatan Ibrahimovic; Thiago Motta Absence Crucial to Barça's Chances

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's suspension might be stealing the headlines, but a closer look at the group stage fixtures between the two sides reveals that Thiago Motta's absence might have more of an impact

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In the build-up to tonight's UEFA Champions League quarter-final first-leg match between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, the majority of media outlets have focused on PSG's weakened squad and rightly so. Facing off against the Blaugrana is a tricky proposition even with a full squad; the idea that a side would welcome the challenge of playing Barça without four or five of their starters is rightly absurd. Laurent Blanc has every reason to feel apprehensive at least.

And of all the absentees, most pundits have honed in on the star names. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended for his red card against Chelsea and big money signing David Luiz is likely to miss out through injury, so naturally, they've stole the headlines. Yet, thanks to analysis of the two group stages fixtures between the sides performed by our friends at SportsMatrix, the reality might be that their absence is not felt as keenly as one of the lesser-known individuals, Thiago Motta.

Motta of course needs no introduction to Barcelona fans; the Brazilian-born, Italian international essentially started his career at the club and spent eight relatively successful years in Catalunya. Admittedly, he never established himself as a key member of the starting line-up as a result of injuries and Barça's impressive midfield depth but Motta remained an important squad player right up until his departure in 2007.

Bouncing back from a tough season at Atletico Madrid, Motta forged a career for himself in Italy for Genoa and Internazionale before making the switch to Paris where he has established himself as a first team regular under Blanc's management.

Understated, yet effective, the below statistics demonstrate just how integral Motta is to PSG at both ends of the field.

In both fixtures, Motta led the team in completed passes and in recoveries as his effort at the defensive end, particularly at the Parc des Princes, frustrated the Blaugrana and served as the foundation for their impressive 3-2 victory.

Perhaps more pertinently, PSG were incredibly reliant on Motta utilising his La Masia schooling to initiate their counter attacks; his accuracy and decision-making routinely helped PSG escape the initial wave of Barcelona pressure and provide their forwards with one-on-one opportunities against a frail Barça defense.

Laurent Blanc mentioned that Motta would need a minor miracle to play tonight. On the basis of the above, would it be dramatic to say that PSG will need a minor miracle to upset the Blaugrana without him?

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