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Keys to the Game: PSG vs Barcelona

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The comeback kings of Catalonia face their greatest challenge yet in Paris

FC Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 Leg One Photo by Alex Caparros - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

New formation? Check.

New attitude? Check.

New president? Check.

In the aftermath of a truly disappointing first leg against PSG, Barcelona has made the feeling short lived.

Glory hallelujah.

Many don’t like the description of a transition season, but if it is what we want to see is an ability to adapt in real time.

Prior to game one, Barca was on a roll.

Kylian Mbappe rained on the parade.

Credit to Ronald Koeman and his men, they tried something new (admittedly after not trying something new against Cadiz), and now the season is alive and well.

In between, we even experienced a remontada for the ages.

For all the epic failures, this group of Barca players also knows their way around a comeback.

Winning this game isn’t about moving on in the Champions League.

It’s about building upon the belief that there are trophies to be won this year.

It won’t be easy, but the sun is shining bright and it feels safe to dream.

Don’t be intimidated by the score line

FC Barcelona v Sevilla: Copa del Rey Semi Final Second Leg Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Barcelona is in the good graces of the world at the moment.

That’s what happens when you get back up and try again.

In a short period of time, the Blaugrane have reinvented themselves and are better prepared to take on the physicality and pace of PSG.

This second leg is about working hard and having fun.

No one expects them to move on, but make no mistake this game is a bellwether, especially with the resurrection of La Liga and the Copa del Rey.

Overall, 2021 has been good to Barca.

The question on Wednesday will be whether they can put in a performance to be proud of.

Last time out PSG pushed the Barca players around.

Don’t forget that the first half was even, in fact it probably favored Barcelona, but you wouldn’t know it because chances weren’t put away.

PSG waited to unleash the counter attack, and once they went ahead the fragility of Barcelona set in.

An early goal is needed if there is to be any chance.

There can’t be a moment of respite.

That doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into a Marcelo Bielsa attacking machine, but it does mean an intensity and intention to unleash a barrage of pressure.

Ousmane Dembele will be a major factor.

He’ll need help from Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest playing aggressively on the wings, and Frenkie de Jong and Pedri flying forward to get involved.

This one should be a festival of goals one way or the other.

Playing bravely is imperative.

If you lose, do it with honor knowing everything is left out on the field.

Press early and often

Sevilla FC v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s hard to say for sure what change from the past two weeks has had the greatest impact.

The new formation seems to leverage the talent on the field to a greater degree.

But there’s something about the attitude as well.

Not since the days of Guardiola have we seen such aggressive pressing to win the ball back.

Everyone is doing it, even Messi who has taken criticism in the past for casual defense.

Dembele was blamed for not tracking back in the first leg.

He’s going above and beyond now.

It goes without saying that if you don’t have the ball, you can’t score.

The truth is the best time to win the ball is right after you lost it. It’s built into the Guardiola six second rule philosophy.

If you can win the ball in the defensive third, not only do you prevent an attacking opportunity from your opponents, you create a golden opportunity for yourself.

Not to mention the mind games. Make the other side uncomfortable. Force a mistake.

PSG is strong and aggressive, but you can turn it against them. Beat them at their own game.

Barca has already played this way to great effect against Sevilla. Nothing changes, keep the aggressive streak going.

Team defense to contain Mbappe

FC Barcelona v SD Eibar - La Liga Santander Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s unclear whether Neymar will play, but Barca knows they will have their hands full regardless containing Kylian Mbappe.

The good news is that the new 3-5-2 formation they’ve stumbled upon provides a better structure inherently.

I wasn’t mad at Sergino Dest in the first leg. He should have never been so isolated.

Who in their right mind would go into a game against Mbappe and say, yeah we’re comfortable letting him go 1 v 1?

Dest will have plenty of help this time around.

The three man backline will provide cover. Dest will need to prioritize this important defensive responsibility. He’ll also receive help from the forwards checking back, and even Sergio Busquets who will be better positioned.

Barca can’t obsess about Mbappe, or any other of the forwards.

If he has another legendary game they’ll just need to tip their hat to him.

Make sure the game plan for containing him is clear, and then focus on putting pressure in the offensive half.

Barca will likely have most of the possession. If they play with intensity, they can win it back before PSG has a chance to create.

Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistakes twice.

Seems to me they’ve learned and are ready to put on a show.