Xavi, Jordi Alba cleared to play PSG
PSG has made world headlines for a huge spending spree which has helped it sign the likes of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, center-half Thiago Silva and highly-rated Brazil winger Lucas, but it has yet to face a team anywhere near as good as four-time European champion Barcelona.
Beating Barca would send out a message of a different kind: that PSG can compete with the best in Europe.
But to do that, Carlo Ancelotti’s team has to find a way to keep Lionel Messi quiet. He already has 56 goals this season, nearly twice as many as Ibrahimovic.
"How do you beat them? Good question," said Ibrahimovic, who has 29 goals overall this season. "I think we will have to concentrate on our way of playing and the coach will choose the right tactics for this match against, without doubt, the best team in the world."
Ibrahimovic had an unhappy and short spell for Barca three seasons ago and can offer Ancelotti some insight, as can vastly experienced midfielder David Beckham, who played against the Catalan club numerous times for his previous clubs Real Madrid and Manchester United.
"You saw in the last round where Milan won the first game 2-0 and people were talking about Barcelona’s era being over. But anyone who knows them as a team and as individuals and players knew that’s not the case," Beckham said. "Because they’re not just about individual talent, they’re about a team network and they’ve been like that for years. That’s why they’ve had the success they’ve had."
PSG is still striving for anything like Barca’s well-oiled teamwork – where midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta control the game with a brilliant understanding – and is still heavily reliant on Ibrahimovic.
The imposing Swede was set to miss Tuesday’s game after receiving a two-match ban when he was sent off late in the first leg of the last-16 match against Valencia. But the ban was reduced to one game after PSG appealed, freeing him to face Barca.
"I’m very happy to be able to play," he said. "That’s justice. I don’t think I deserved a two-match suspension."
Ibrahimovic has 25 league goals and only needs four more to reach a career high. Those statistics are impressive, but pale in comparison to Messi’s. He notched his league-leading 43rd goal of the season in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo and has 30 goals during his unprecedented run of scoring in 19 straight rounds, shattering the previous mark of 10 straight games.
"We’re already very into the match in Paris," Messi said. "It’s going to be difficult but I have a good feeling."
With the PSG game looming, Barcelona assistant coach Roura rested several regular starters on Saturday, with 21-year-old Martin Montoya and 22-year-old Marc Bartra patching up Barcelona’s depleted defense.
Barca is running away with the league title even more than PSG is, and has also received a timely boost with two much-admired figures – left back Eric Abidal and head coach Tito Vilanova – back from illness.
Abidal was back in the squad on Saturday for the first time since receiving a liver transplant last year. Vilanova returned last week from a 10-week medical stay in New York where he received treatment after the removal of a throat tumor in December.
Both will travel to Paris.
"We’re very happy to have Eric back with us," said Messi. "Tito looks very motivated, and it’s important that he’s with us for the final stretch of the season."
Center back Carles Puyol is out with injury but Barca will be glad to have goalkeeper Victor Valdes back following his impressive performance for Spain in the 1-0 win at France last week. Xavi and left back Jordi Alba have shaken off niggles and are set to play.
Ancelotti welcomes back winger Ezequiel Lavezzi, the only fit key player rested against Montpellier on Friday night, and Lucas has recovered from an ankle injury. But holding midfielder Thiago Motta failed a fitness test, increasing Beckham’s chances of being involved.