The battle for top place in Champions League Group F comes to a climax tomorrow night when Barça meet Paris Saint Germain at Camp Nou (Wednesday 8.45 pm). Laurent Blanc’s men lead the group by one point so Barça need a victory while PSG need just a draw to avoid the likes of Chelsea and Bayern Munich in the last 16. Luis Enrique has a full squad available for the game except for the suspended Dani Alves, the injured Thomas Vermaelen and Rafinha who has a stomach bug.
Barça’s first defeat under Luis Enrique came in a thrilling first game between the teams at the Parc des Princes when PSG earned a 3-2 victory. So, for Barça, tomorrow’s game is not just about avoiding the strongest teams in the next round, it is also about revenge and asserting authority. The French team will be even stronger than in the first game as Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have returned from their injuries which means Blanc has a complete squad available.
Silva and Ibrahimovic are vital parts of the French team and they are likely to replace Marquinhos and Pastore from the first game but otherwise PSG look likely to remain unchanged which would mean a starting XI of Sirigu, Van der Wiel, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Maxwell, Veratti, Motta, Matuidi, Lucas Moura, Ibrahimovic and Cavani.
Luis Enrique has not called the players together for an overnight hotel stay so the 18-man squad will be named tomorrow morning. Adriano seems the most likely to fill in at right-back for Alves, and besides that the main doubts are over who will play in central defence and midfield. Jeremy Mathieu missed out on the 5-1 over Espanyol at the weekend but he will probably return to partner either Piqué or Mascherano in central defence. If Mascherano isn’t required at the back he may be preferred to Sergio Busquets in midfield while it’s any two from Xavi, Rakitic and Iniesta for the other midfield places. Ter Stegen should start in goal with Jordi Alba at left back while the front three positions will almost certain go again to Suarez, Messi and Neymar.
As Luis Enrique said in today’s press conference, the game is not the most important of the season but it is important. Facing Bayern or Chelsea in the last 16 would not be the end of the world and would certainly give us a juicy encounter to look forward to in late winter. However, prestige is also important and Barça should always be capable of winning a group stage. Moreover, we should also be capable of beating all-comers at Camp Nou. PSG may have a highly-talented and expensive squad but nothing less than victory will be acceptable tomorrow for Camp Nou.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Adriano, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Mascherano, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
Paris SG: Sirigu; Van der Wiel, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Maxwell; Veratti, Motta, Matuidi; Lucas Moura, Ibrahimovic, Cavani.
Prediction: Barça 3 Paris SG 2
Date: Wednesday 10 December 2014. Kick-off 8.45 pm local time.