Barça arrived in Paris at lunchtime today to prepare for tomorrow evening’s Champions League quarter-final first leg with PSG at the Parc des Princes stadium. The big news is that Tito Vilanova has travelled with the group and he will direct the team from the bench. However, Vilanova’s reincorporation will be progressive and this afternoon’s press conference at 5.45 pm will again be taken by Jordi Roura who will be accompanied by David Villa. The team will then train at the Parc des Princes at 7 pm.
As well as the good news about Vilanova, there is another boost to the team with the return of Xavi Hernandez and Jordi Alba after both players missed Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Celta. Eric Abidal and Gerard Deulofeu are both included again in the 21-man squad but Carlos Puyol and Adriano Correia are both still injured while Pedro misses the game through suspension.
With La Liga seemingly in the bag Barça’s season should be considered to be successful no matter what happens in the Champions League. However, with such a talented group of players it would undoubtedly be a massive disappointment if they were not to progress further on the road to Wembley. Unfortunately, our away form has been pretty dismal over the last ten weeks or so. In fact from the last eight away games our record reads: two wins, three draws, three defeats, 13 goals scored and 14 goals conceded – not nearly good enough for a team of Barça’s quality.
Certain players such as Alexis, Fabregas and Thiago have been struggling with form. Alexis has been suffering from a drop in confidence all season, but the most worrying thing is that when he does play well, as against Deportivo and in his brief appearance in the 4-0 return match with Milan, he fails to build on it. I still have no doubt about his quality as a player though after his rather anonymous performance at Balaidos it seems unlikely he will make the starting lineup for PSG.
The problem with Fabregas seems to be more a question of fitness. Where is the Cesc who dominated games at Sevilla or Deportivo in the autumn? Just as in his first season at Camp Nou, when the important games in spring arrive Fabregas returns to his most disappointing version. Thiago, on the other hand, seems to have come to a halt in his development as a player. It may just be a question of confidence after his mistakes costs us goals against Malaga and Madrid, but this tendency to lose the ball in dangerous positions needs to be corrected if he is to be Xavi’s heir in Barça’s midfield.
It seems unlikely that any of the three above-mentioned players will make Vilanova’s starting XI tomorrow. When the Barça coach considers recent form he is more likely to opt for Xavi-Busquets-Iniesta in midfield with Cristian Tello and David Villa to accompany Leo Messi up front. If this is the case we may see Villa again used in a central role with Messi playing behind him, Tello would stick to the left while Dani Alves would be encouraged to get forward to provide width from the right. Victor Valdés will return in goal while if Alba is 100% then he should make up the defence with Alves, Piqué and Mascherano.
PSG of course have our old friend Zlatan Ibrahimovic available after Uefa lifted the second of his two-match ban after the Swede was sent off in the 1-2 first leg victory over Valencia in the last round. However, PSG’s coach Carlo Ancelotti has a doubt over Lucas Moura who missed the French side’s 1-0 victory over Montpellier on Friday which consolidated their position at the top of the French league with a seven-point advantage over second-placed Marsella. Moura is one of the hottest young prospects in world football and his absence would be important. However, he has been named in Ancelotti’s 22-man squad and looks likely to recover in time. Other key players are the immensely talented Thiago Silva in defence and the dangerous Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore who will be looking to break quickly to support Ibrahimovic in attack. We will also be up against old left back Maxwell Andrade though another ex-blaugrana Thiago Motta will be absent through injury.
If Barça’s recent away form is not good then PSG’s home record of 23 Champions League games without defeat at the Parc des Princes should serve as a warning to the difficulty of the task. If Barça are to avoid a repeat of the 2-0 defeat at AC Milan in the last 16 then we are going to have to play with a greater intensity than that seen at the San Siro. With Tito back hopefully there will be a positive reaction from the team.
Paris SG: Sirigu, Douchez, Areola, Jallet, Sakho, Thiago Silva, Alex, Armand, Camara, Tiene, Van der Wiel, Maxwell, Matuidi, Beckham, Lucas Mauro, Gameiro, Menez, Chantome, Verratti, Pastore, Lavezzi, Ibrahimovic.
Barça: Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartrá, Mascherano, Abidal, Alba, Busquets, Song, Xavi, Thiago Alcántara, Fabregas, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Villa, Tello, Deulofeu.
Possible starting XIs:
PSG: Sirigu; Jallet, Thiago Silva, Alex, Maxwell; Verratti, Matuidi; Lucas Moura, Lavezzi, Pastore; Ibrahimovic.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Villa, Messi, Tello.
Prediction: Paris SG 1 Barça 1
Date: Tuesday 2 April 2013. Kick off time: 8.45 pm (local time).