It's time to return to the UEFA Champions League Final Four. Barcelona will open up the Camp Nou doors to face Paris Saint-Germain and try to confirm their place in the semifinals. After the best performance of the season last week gave them a fantastic 3-1 victory at Parc de Princes, Barça's has a giant advantage and could cement their spot as the best team in Europe going into the final stretch of the season.
However, Barça shouldn't approach this match as a cakewalk. The tie is far from over, and PSG has proven how strong it can be against the Blaugrana. Plus, they'll get some pretty vital pieces of their dream team back for this one, which we'll talk about a bit later. As they have proven in Paris in the group stage, they can beat Barcelona exploring the eventual flaws in Luis Enrique's scheme or individual mistakes that might pop up.
But, as the current form shows, Barça is a totally different team from the one in November. This group is comfortable with itself, plays harder and more creatively now, and it is an absolute beast against anybody. It would be great if they show it on Tuesday.
Coming off a vital win against Valencia on Saturday, Barça continues to roll in 2015, having lost only twice in this calendar year, and unbeaten in the last twelve matches dating back to February.
One key component of Barça's amazing run is the health of its players. Nobody has had a serious injury yet, with Andrés Iniesta's one-month absence at the end of 2014 being the biggest so far. Speaking of Iniesta, he will be back against PSG after suffering a serious knock to the back against the French last week. Andrés sat out of the weekend game to continue his rehab, and he's now cleared for action. He's probably going to start at midfield.
Before we talk about the midfield, though, let's line Barça up for Tuesday. Marc-André ter Stegen will return to his usual Cup game spot, leaving Claudio Bravo on the bench. Stegen has been phenomenal this season, and he impresses game after game. Lately, the German has displayed a really sweet passing game. He's calm, cool and collected when receiving the ball at the back, and he's quick and smart to choose which guy to pass the rock to. It doesn't appear in the stat sheet after the game, but Stegen's initiation of the offense improves each possession he participates in. The passing is clean from the start, and it's easier to create chances when your goalkeeper doesn't clear the ball as soon as he gets it without even thinking about a pass to a closer target - yes, I'm looking at you, Bravo.
In front of Stegen, we'll most likely see the usual backline. Dani Alves will start at right-back after missing the first leg due to suspension and an ankle injury. The Brazilian has played better since the start of 2015, and he's doing his best to leave the club on a high note. Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano are usually paired together in Champions League matches because of their experience in European competition, and their performance on the match in Paris backs up that argument. Jordi Alba, also a fantastic player in the first leg, will get the nod at left-back.
At pivote, Sergio Busquets is expected to start. He has been phenomenal lately, and despite a shaky game against Valencia playing a bit out of position, don't expect a second straight not-so-world-class game from a world-class performer. Joining him and Iniesta at midfield, Ivan Rakitic is the favorite to start on the right side of the triangle. He hasn't been perfect at all times, but the Croatian seems to have a knack for coming up big when his team needs him the most - which became evident when he completely changed the game against Valencia.
Expect no surprises at the forward spots, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar Jr. are once again going to be the favorites to play since the first whistle. Luis Enrique has done a little rotation on the substitution patterns for MSN, subbing Neymar then Suárez in consecutive La Liga matches to preserve their bodies during this April marathon. Cyborg Messi has played ninety minutes in almost all of his team's games this season, and it seems like he can't get tired. Admittedly, Leo seemed a little fatigued against Valencia, but he was still able to net his 400th career goal with the Blaugrana. Fresh off another history-making game, Leo will be fundamental to tomorrow's clash as PSG will definitely pay more attention to Suárez after his David Luiz-destroying performance last week. Messi and Ney will be able to find some extra open spots on the field, and they could definitely do a lot of damage with those.
In his pre-match press conference on Monday, Luis Enrique hinted at a possible change in the system for Tuesday, similar to the one he made the first time these two teams played at Camp Nou, when Lucho surprised everyone putting Pedro Rodríguez as a pseudo-full-back and used a suffocating 3-4-3 scheme that led to a great performance. It's difficult to picture a scheme change now that the team is doing so well in the 4-3-3 system. Let's wait, though. Lucho loves to trick people, and he might do it against PSG.
PSG gets two tremendous performers back for this one: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, their star and most important striker, returns from a red card suspension. He was dearly missed in the first leg, and he will be necessary with the French needing a three-goal edge to advance to the semis. Ibra isn't known as a clutch scorer especially in the later stages of the Champions League, but he's still a dangerous man and will have his chances.
Laurent Blanc is very likely to line up a very bold, offensive scheme for Tuesday. Marco Verratti is vital to the offense on the midfield, so his return is key for the French. But the defense is the problem, with Thiago Silva being doubtful with a hamstring problem. If he's unable to go, David Luiz will be his replacement, which would be the dream of every Barça fan and Luiz Suárez.
Paris Saint-Germain 1-3 FC Barcelona - 15 April 2015 - UEFA Champions League
Barça fans are still buzzing about last week's spectacular all-around performance. A goal from Neymar started things off, and in the second half Luis Suárez left his teeth marks all over David Luiz en route to two golazos. PSG scored its only goal in an unlucky clearance attempt by Jérémy Mathieu after a Van Der Wiel shot.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar
PSG (4-3-3): Sirigu; Van Der Wiel, David Luiz, Marquinhos, Maxwell; Cabaye, Verratti, Matuidi; Lavezzi, Ibrahimovic, Cavani
Barça will definitely play with the aggregate result in mind, looking not to attack at all times against an ultra-offensive and desperate side. I'm going with a counter-attacking supernova, and a 4-2 win.