Barça travelled to Paris today with 20 players to prepare for tomorrow night’s Champions League Group F clash against Paris Saint Germain (Tuesday 8.45 pm). Luis Enrique initially gave a list for the game which included Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Douglas Pereira and left out Thomas Vermaelen and Martin Montoya from the squad used to beat Granada 6-0 on Saturday, but Douglas picked up a knock in training and Montoya has been called up in his place for the trip. The group arrived in Paris at 1 pm and the players will train this evening at Le Parc des Princes.
Barça’s last Champions League meeting with PSG was in the quarter-final stage of the 2012/13 competition. Tito Vilanova and Carlo Ancelotti were then in charge of the teams and Barça squeezed through on away goals after a 2-2 draw in Paris and a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou. Laurent Blanc, who coincided for the 1996/97 season with Luis Enrique as a player at Camp Nou, took over from Ancelotti in the summer of 2013 and last season the Parisiens won the French league and cup but were again knocked out on away goals in the Champions League quarter-finals, this time by Chelsea. This season PSG are unbeaten so far, though their record in the French league of three wins and five draws is hardly a success story.
Thiago Silva has been missed, and along with Lavezzi he is injured for tomorrow’s game. But PSG have plenty of big names to cause Barça problems and the main threat will almost certainly come from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede missed Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Toulouse with a heel injury but seems sure to play tomorrow. He has had a disappointing campaign so far but he will undoubtedly be fired up to face his ex-team. The prolific Edinson Cavani and the speedy and skilful Mauro Lucas seem likely to support Ibrahimovic in attack and individually either of these players on their day can be brilliant. The problem for Blanc is to get his stars working together but one suspects they can do it for the big occasion. In midfield the French coach shows a preference for Veratti, Matuidi and ex-blaugrana Thiago Motta while in defence there will be another ex-Barça player with the Brazilian left-back Maxwell lining up with right-back Gregory van der Wiel and the two centre-backs Marquinhos and David Luiz who were both recently linked with possible moves to Barça. The Italian Salvatore Sirigu makes up the XI in goal.
Luis Enrique will undoubtedly put out his strongest side for the challenge but there could be adjustments to his preferred back four of Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu and Alba and there may even be a change of goalkeeper. With two giants like Ibrahimovic (1.95m) and Canavi (1.92m) in attack and the threat at set-pieces from Marquinhos and David Luiz, the Barça coach may prefer to bring in Gerard Piqué for his strength in the air, though he understandably values Mascherano’s tenacity and anticipation. He could also find a case to play the taller Ter Stegen (1.89m) rather than Claudio Bravo (1.85m), not because he intends to switch keepers in competitions but rather due to the German keeper’s ability in dealing with high balls. Bravo probably still has the advantage due to his greater experience and lightning-quick reflexes, but whoever plays is likely to be tested more than in any game so far.
In midfield, despite Xavi’s fine performance against Granada, Lucho seems sure to revert to his favourite trio of Rakitic, Busquets and Iniesta while up front he will have to decide between Munir El-Haddadi and Pedro Rodriguez to support the in-form Leo Messi and Neymar Jr. Munir could get the nod if the Barça coach is looking to surprise though it seems more likely he will go with the experience of Pedro.
Barça lead Group F on three points after beating Apoel 1-0 at Camp Nou two weeks ago while PSG and Ajax have one apiece after their 1-1 draw in Amsterdam. Luis Enrique will be looking for victory tomorrow which would place Barça in a very powerful position with four games to play.
Barça’s 20-man squad: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano, Bartra, Mathieu, Alba, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Munir, Sandro, Neymar.
Paris SG: Sirigu; Van der Wiel, Marquinhos, David Luiz, Maxwell; Veratti, Motta, Matuidi; Lucas Moura, Ibrahimovic, Cavani.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
Prediction: Paris SG 1 Barça 2
Date: Tuesday 30 September 2014. Kick-off 8.45 pm local time.