Barça are clear favourites to reach the Champions League semi-finals tomorrow night when Paris Saint Germain visit Camp Nou (Tuesday 8.45 pm) for the return game of the quarter-final tie which began last Wednesday with Barça’s 1-3 first leg win in Paris. The French side face a huge challenge to overturn their disadvantage but with 90 minutes still to play Barça would be foolish to take anything for granted.
PSG will be boosted by the return of Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic after suspension, but coach Laurent Blanc is still without the injured Thiago Motta and Thiago Silva. The Brazilian defender who was injured during the first leg was initially named in Blanc’s squad for tomorrow’s game but he has since pulled out and misses the trip.
Barça on the other hand have everybody available except Thomas Vermaelen. There may be a certain amount of luck involved with injuries in football but Barça’s physical preparation this season is worthy of note, especially when the other favourites for this season’s Champions League, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are suffering so much in this aspect.
Luis Enrique can be highly satisfied with his work so far. Tomorrow’s match marks his 50th game in charge of the first team and his record so far of 41 wins, 3 draws and 5 defeats is remarkably good especially if you take into account the number of new signings last summer and the ongoing behind-the-scenes disruption. The stats have got even better since the defeat to Real Sociedad in the first game of 2015 with a run of 22 wins and just one draw and one defeat. In those 24 games Barça have only conceded 17 goals while knocking in an impressive 73 at the other end with the trio of Messi (23 goals), Suárez (16) and Neymar (14) making life very difficult for opposition defences.
The magic threesome will surely start again against PSG as despite the healthy advantage from the first leg, Luis Enrique seems likely to play his best XI given the importance of the competition. Ter Stegen will return in goal and I expect a back four of Alves, Piqué, Mascherano and Jordi Alba with Busquets, Rakitic and Iniesta in midfield. Iniesta has recovered from the knock received in the first leg and should be fine to start.
The 1-3 lead may look pretty insurmountable but we saw in the last 16 how close Arsenal came to overturning the same result against Monaco. Arsenal’s 0-2 win fell just short of an amazing comeback, but to recognise that PSG’s task is not completely impossible we need only remember one of Barça’s worst ever nights in Europe back in 1984 when another French side, Metz, overturned Barça’s 2-4 first leg advantage with a 1-4 win at Camp Nou.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
PSG: Sirigu; Van Der Wiel, Marquinhos, David Luiz, Maxwell; Matuidi, Cabaye, Verratti; Lavezzi, Ibrahimovic, Cavani.
My bet: correct score – Barça 3 PSG 1 (current odds: 10.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Tuesday 21 April 2015. Kick-off 8.45 pm local time.