PSG, Barcelona set to launch fireworks in Champions League tilt
The old guard meets new when Barcelona head to the Parc des Princes for a closely-watched Champions League quarterfinal against Paris Saint-Germain Wednesday night (Live on FOX Sports 1, 2 p.m. ET). It will be the third meeting of the teams in this competition, after splitting their matches with a win apiece in a group stage that saw just two points separating the sides. If their previous meetings this season are any indication, this one could be a doozy.
Take the five-goal fiesta on MatchDay 2, when David Luiz opened the scoring en route to a famous 3-2 win for PSG. Pre-match, all the attention had been on the absence of the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Luiz’s goal after just ten minutes — the first goal, in fact, that Barcelona had conceded in the season to date — opened the floodgates. Lionel Messi would score just minutes later as the sides traded blows for 90 minutes. Ibra was not missed.
However, the big Swede is likely to be missed on Wednesday when a depleted PSG try to make lightning strike twice. Suspended after picking up a very dubious red card at Chelsea, he is one of at least four key players for the Parisians to sit out. Serge Aurier is starting a three-game ban while Marco Verratti, scorer of the second goal in the teams’ first meeting, is serving a single-game ban. Thiago Motta is a significant doubt as well after suffering a hamstring injury in PSG’s win over Marseille ten days ago.
And yet, there is also some momentum on PSG’s side. These are somewhat heady days for French football, just the third time in history that two Ligue 1 sides have made the quarterfinals. PSG enter fresh off a resounding 4-0 League Cup win over Bastia, and are heavy favorites to sink second-tier Auxerre in the French Cup final in late May. They lead the league by a point over Lyon after 31 rounds, and remain favorites to see it out.
Barcelona and PSG have split their meetings at this stage as well: in the 1994/95 quarters, PSG advanced 3-2 on aggregate thanks to two late goals in the second leg. But Barcelona have the more recent form on their side, pipping the Parisians on away goals in 2012/13 after two draws.
In the league, things are a little different. Barcelona’s 2-2 draw at Sevilla on the weekend opened the door back up for a charging Real Madrid, who now sit just two points behind them. It was a bitter draw as the Catalans had been up 2-0 early thanks to superb goals from Messi and Neymar, but strikes from Ever Banega and Kevin Gameiro pulled Sevilla level – and sent the capital, some 300 miles away, into rapture.
The press was not kind to Barcelona in the wake of the result, noting that Luis Suarez had missed a handful of chances; that Gerard Pique had made a critical error in the run up to Gameiro’s equalizer and that Luis Enrique had perhaps made a mistake in pulling Neymar, who was visibly furious with the substitution.
But drama such as this surrounds Barcelona on a daily basis. What is perhaps more telling is their recent erratic run of form on French soil. They have not won in their last four visits, but have collected three draws. They would certainly be happy to take a score draw back with them to Camp Nou.
In the meantime, for neutrals, this promises to be a spectacle. Barcelona’s attacking trident – Messi, Suarez and Neymar – is arguably the best in world football. PSG made Chelsea look very average and even depleted they pose a threat with Blaise Matuidi pulling the strings. Javier Pastore and Edinson Cavani bring true quality to their lineup and Ezequiel Lavezzi can be a game changer. They may not play much defense – but who cares? Sit back and enjoy two of the more fluent sides in the sport go for the throat.