Another thrilling night of football awaits Camp Nou as Barça take on Paris Saint-Germain with the intention of reaching a record-breaking sixth consecutive Champions League semi-final. Leo Messi faces a race against time to be fit for the game, while with Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano out injured Tito Vilanova has to decide on who will partner Gerard Piqué in central defence.
Following last week’s 2-2 draw at the Parc des Princes Barça are in a good position to go through, though the French side showed enough quality in the first leg to suggest the tie is far from over. Blaise Matuidi who scored PSG’s last gasp equalizer will miss tomorrow’s game through suspension, but coach Carlo Ancelotti has the remainder of his squad at full strength with Thiago Motta returning from injury.
Ancelotti rested seven of his team from the first leg for last Saturday’s league game at Rennes. However, Zlatan Ibrahimovic played the entire 90 minutes and scored in PSG’s 0-2 win which maintains their seven-point lead at the top of Ligue 1. With Matuidi out tomorrow, the big doubt for Ancelotti is who to play in the double midfield pivot. David Beckham could get another chance with Motta returning to partner him, though Marco Veratti and Clement Chantome are also in contention.
With players like Lucas Moura, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore to support Ibrahimovic in attack, PSG have the talent going forward to create problems for Barça’s defence. Vilanova has to choose between Marc Bartrá, Adriano Correia, Alex Song, Sergio Busquets and Eric Abidal to find a central defensive partner for Gerard Piqué. It seems unlikely that the recently restored Abidal will be considered while both Song (problems with positioning) and Busquets (lack of pace) have been exposed in the past when given the role. Bartrá has shown plenty of promise with his limited opportunities but it will probably be the biggest test of his career if he is chosen. The versatile Adriano has just come back from injury and Vilanova values his pace and reliability which is why I believe he’ll probably get the job.
It will be a big surprise if we see anything other than a midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta, but Vilanova has a more complicated decision to choose a forward line. Reports today suggest that Messi could easily suffer another injury if he plays so it would seem more sensible to start the Argentinian on the bench. This should leave Cesc Fabregas with the responsibility of playing the false nine position again after his hat-trick in the 5-0 win over Mallorca. David Villa looks likely to return on the left while the right side will be occupied by either Pedro Rodriguez or Alexis Sanchez. Pedro is also returning from injury so it seems likely that Alexis will get another chance after his two goals against Mallorca.
Barça haven’t lost at home in the Champions League since losing to Rubin Kazan in October 2009, winning 16 with 4 draws since then. However, to reach the semi-final we will need to find a similar intensity to that seen in the 4-0 win over Milan in the last round. PSG will defend aggressively with closed lines while attempting to demonstrate their electric counter-attack. Concentration levels will need to be at a maximum to maintain a high tempo of passing while avoiding stupid mistakes which could cost us dearly.
Four Barça players, Jordi Alba, Adriano, Song and Piqué, are just one yellow card away from a suspension while Lavezzi and Thiago Silva are in the same position for PSG.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Adriano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Fabregas, Villa.
Paris SG: Sirigu; Jallet, Thiago Silva, Alex, Maxwell; Beckham, Motta; Lucas Moura, Lavezzi, Pastore; Ibrahimovic.
Prediction: Barça 2 PSG 1
Date: Wednesday 10 April 2013. Kick off 8.45 pm (local time)