On Wednesday Barcelona are away to Paris Saint-Germain. It is a repeat of the same tie from two years ago but PSG won’t be as fearful as one might think. They didn’t want Barca but the reason wasn’t because they were afraid, rather that they were bored with facing the same rival and wanted to play somewhere else for a change, or so they say.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti both out suspended, some may feel that the Paris outfit will dread the mighty Catalans, but PSG faced Barca earlier in the season in the group stage without the big Swede and won an so they will be drawing from that experience as they look to try and advance in what appears to be a bogey round for them.
What really hurts Laurent Blanc’s side is the fact that although they have been eliminated in the past two seasons in the quarter-finals, they have not been beaten. Against Barca and Chelsea they went out through away goals after both ties ended 3-3 on aggregate. This year something is different though and they seem to have an extra bite to them.
When Ibrahimovic was sent off against Chelsea, many thought they would fold and even more so when Chelsea scored, but they kept working away and eventually got the goal that would see them through. It was a resilient display and one that will have made many sit up and take note. They may have some key players out but they do have a strong squad and plenty of steel in the side too. They have a mix of muscle and flair and this could be something that will cause some discomfort for Los Cules. They have already beaten Barca at home this season and are confident of doing so again this time around but it would be fair to say that the Barca of the end of 2014 was a different side to the one we have now.
Since the new year it all seems to have clicked at Barca. It is true that the style they play isn’t the one we have all become accustomed to but the results have been good and now the Catalans are on course for the treble. They stumbled this weekend against Sevilla though and that may be a cause for concern. It had been nearly 100 games since Barca threw away a 0-2 lead but against Sevilla they did it and were lucky not to lose the game. Barca started with great intensity and looked set to take all three points but Sevilla refused to lie down and Barca failed to put the game to bed and Unai Emery’s side got two back and Messi and co had to settle for a point.
What is of most concern for Luis Enrique is that Barca should have won the game but errors from his side gave the points away. The Barca defence has recently looked solid but last weekend they looked all over the place. They lacked organisation and ideas and so they allowed Sevilla to attack with ease. Up front Luis Suarez missed a few easy opportunities and looked frustrated throughout the game. When Neymar was taken off, he threw a tantrum on the bench and so once again the Coach is faced with questions over his authority.
But what is the biggest concern now for Luis Enrique is the run-in. After Sevilla he now faces PSG, Valencia and Catalan rivals Espanyol. He faces a few decisive weeks and he needs everyone on song as he goes out and tries to equal Pep’s treble. A win against PSG would kick start things and get the momentum going but a defeat will throw a major spanner in the works.
PSG, who are led by former Barca defender Blanc, know only too well the importance of keeping a clean sheet at home and also know that they have the mental strength to grind out a result. This promises to be a tough encounter and a great game.