Champions League: Either PSG or Barcelona will be team to avoid in next round
PSG and Barcelona lost in the quarterfinals last season. Advancing this time will turn the victor into the team to avoid in the April 24 semifinal draw and a possible favorite for victory in the June 6 final in Berlin.sports Updated: Apr 14, 2015 18:50 IST
One team won nothing last season. The other is closing in on winning everything this season.
Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain both have points to prove in the Champions League quarterfinals. But on Wednesday at Parc des Princes, PSG will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goals, Marco Verratti's midfield zest and David Luiz's forays from the back against the most potent attacking trio in European soccer: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Barcelona isn't worry-free. It squandered a run of nine consecutive wins with a 2-2 draw at Sevilla on Saturday, letting Real Madrid back into the Spanish league title race. Neymar's show of dissatisfaction at his second-half substitution also showed that coach Luis Enrique still doesn't have complete authority and is prone to costly lapses in strategy and personnel management.
And France is tough territory for Barcelona: The four-time European champions haven't defeated a French team on French soil since goals from Patrick Kluivert, Rivaldo and Gerard beat Lyon in the group stage of the Champions League in 2001.
PSG and Barcelona lost in the quarterfinals last season. Advancing this time will turn the victor into the team to avoid in the April 24 semifinal draw and a possible favorite for victory in the June 6 final in Berlin.
After their first season in six years without a major trophy in 2014, Spain's league leaders want silverware again while four-time world player of the year Messi is still at his best.
After winning France's League Cup last weekend and qualifying for the French Cup final, the French league leaders remain on track for a mega-haul of four trophies.
Here are some things to know about the Wednesday's match:
Red-carded against Chelsea, Ibrahimovic's one-match suspension deprives PSG of the scorer of 104 goals in three seasons, five shy of Pedro Pauleta's club scoring record, and leaves Edinson Cavani as the focal point of the attack.
"It's like Barca playing without Messi or Real Madrid without Cristiano Ronaldo," said Verratti, also suspended.
The Italy international scored one of PSG's three goals in a group-stage victory the last time Barcelona visited Paris in September.
Luiz scored the opener that night and a header at Chelsea in March that sparked PSG's comeback with 10 men. With Luiz injured and former Barcelona midfielder Thiago Motta uncertain, France international Yohan Cabaye could play in front of PSG's defense to break up the Neymar-Suarez-Messi trident, supported by Blaise Matuidi and, possibly, 20-year-old homegrown talent Adrien Rabiot.
Back against the wall, PSG can still be dangerous, as Chelsea learned.
A four-match French league ban for Ibrahimovic, for a salty rant at referees last month, heightened the siege mentality at PSG. It retaliated by barring players and staff from talking to broadcaster Canal Plus, which broadcast Ibrahimovic's outburst, for the rest of the season.
Ibrahimovic's teammates appear determined to prove that they are competitive without him, as they were after his expulsion against Chelsea and when he was injured for the win over Barcelona last September.
"It's going to be tough without Ibra, because he's our reference on the field," PSG midfielder Lucas Moura said. "Even without Ibra we can do a great job, like the last time here against Barcelona."
CHINKS OF WEAKNESS
Luis Enrique needs to quickly fix weaknesses that Sevilla exposed.
Unconvincing defense from Gerard Pique and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo allowed Barcelona's opponents to claw back from a 2-0 deficit. In attack, Suarez was sloppy, missing three clear chances.
Continued frailty in defense or attack could compromise Barcelona's push for a Champions League-Spanish league-Copa del Rey triple.
The good news for Barcelona: Messi sounds up to the task. "I was inconsistent last season. I was out for a while due to injury, missing quite a few games. When I came back I didn't feel right. It was a year that I have tried to quickly forget," Messi said in an interview on the team website. "Now, fortunately, I feel very good."
PSG has been unbeatable this season with Marquinhos on the field, not losing one of the Brazil defender's 34 matches, most recently the 4-0 win on Saturday against Bastia in the League Cup final. That streak of invincibility eclipsed George Weah's record of 33 matches without defeat for PSG in 1993-94.
First Published: Apr 14, 2015 18:33 IST