Why Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-German Is Champions League Quarterfinal to Watch

Richard MorganContributor IMarch 15, 2013

Why Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-German Is Champions League Quarterfinal to Watch

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    The draw for the quarterfinals of the Uefa Champions League took place in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday morning and it produced some mouth-watering ties involving the eight remaining participants. However, there was one matchup that really caught the eye, and that was the meeting over two legs of FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.

    The current runway leaders of La Liga will take on the big-spending Ligue 1 outfit on April 2-3 and April 9-10 for a place in the semifinals of Europe’s premier cub competition. The contest will be eagerly anticipated for a number of reasons …

The Boss Men

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    In the opposing dugouts next month, there will be an intriguing clash between one of European football’s most savvy and experienced individuals and a man in his first full season in top-level club management.

    PSG will be more than grateful to have head coach Carlo Ancelotti guiding them through this tough-looking assignment, someone who has been there, done it and got the European Cup T-shirt as both a player and a manager with AS Roma, Juventus, AC Milan and Chelsea.

    In fact, if there is one trainer capable of navigating his side past tournament favourites Barcelona over two legs, then it is "Carletto," and coming up against the Italian will be the Catalans’ returning coach, Tito Vilanova.

    The Spaniard has been in New York since the back end of last year receiving more treatment for throat cancer, but he's scheduled to return to Camp Nou later this month and if all goes according to plan, he should be back on the sidelines for these two ties.

    And Vilanova’s emotional comeback will provide another intriguing aspect to this clash.

The History Boys

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    The nouveaux riches of European football have never gone further than the semifinals of Europe’s premier club competition, which they reached in 1995 before losing to AC Milan. Intriguingly, PSG did overcome none other than Barcelona in the last eight of that season’s competition.

    Barca, on the other hand, have won the tournament on four occasions and in recent years have been the dominant force in European club football, with Tuesday’s last-16 victory over Milan making the Spaniards the only side in the history of the Champions League to have played in six successive quarterfinals, two of which they then went all the way in (2009 and 2011).

    And so in essence, what awaits us is a confrontation between the kings of Europe and the pretenders to their crown …

Ones to Watch

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    This will be quite simply a veritable feast of football played out before our very eyes over 180-plus minutes of coruscating and pulsating action in two magnificent stadiums, and with some of planet football’s greatest performers on display.

    In the French corner, we have giant striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a man who will be playing against his former employers and who will most certainly be wanting to bring his A-game to the party next month, given the acrimonious nature of his departure from Catalonia in 2011.

    Ibra has enjoyed a decent Champions League campaign so far for his new club, although he blotted his copybook slightly by getting sent off in the dying seconds of PSG’s first-leg last-16 win in Valencia and you really get the sense that he could be saving something special up for Barca when he returns from suspension for the decisive second leg at Camp Nou.

    Meanwhile, in the Spanish corner (or should that be Catalan?), we have the incomparable four-time Ballon d’or winner Lionel Messi, whose seven goals this season leave the little Argentinian trailing Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo by just one strike in the goalscoring charts. He is also now in second place in the overall Champions League standings behind another Madrid man, Raul Gonzalez.

    And whichever of these two mesmerising attackers emerges on top, then most probably so too will their team come the denouncement.

Form Guide

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    Barcelona may have endured a slight wobble of late, both domestically and in Europe, but they still lead the Liga standings by a whopping 13 points from arch-rivals Madrid. Furthermore, their 4-0 destruction of Milan in their second-leg last-16 triumph on Tuesday sent out a warning to the rest of the continent that reports of the club’s demise had been greatly exaggerated.

    And by the time they meet the Parisians next month, Barca may be in the enviable position of having the league all but tied up, which could mean they are then able to rest key individuals for these two ties.

    PSG, however, despite being at the top of Ligue 1 by four points with only 10 games of the campaign left to play, are still not so comfortably placed to be able to enjoy that same luxury. Ancelotti knows that he must first win the French title to stand any chance of keeping hold of his job in the capital next season.

    Of course, momentum back home can prove just the tonic for a successful campaign on the continent, so the Italian will be hoping his collection of star-studded players can continue their charge on both fronts. However, what is not in doubt is that this fascinating matchup will see two of European football’s most in-form sides going head-to-head.

The Surprise Package...?

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    Now, while most eyes will naturally be focused on key individual battles across the park next month—such as Thiago Silva against Messi, Gerard Pique with Ibra, Carles Puyol and Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Verratti against Andres Iniesta and Lucas Moura with Jordi Alba, to name but a few—as is often the case in eye-catching ties such as these, sometimes it is the forgotten men of the piece who end up ultimately deciding the contest.

    For PSG, this could very well be their Italy international goalkeeper, Salvatore Sirigu, a man who is sure to be kept busy over the course of the two legs but also someone it would be a mistake to underestimate.

    The 26-year-old may be the odd one out in the French capital amongst his glamorous and more recognisable teammates, but the 26-year-old fan favourite has nonetheless enjoyed a brilliant campaign between the sticks for PSG to date. He even recently broke Bernard Lama's clean-sheet record of 697 minutes without conceding a goal for the club.

It’s a Numbers Game

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    From a simple statistical point of view, this last-eight showdown sees some of the competition's most in-form, creative and deadly performers cross swords.

    Whether that be the man with the joint-most assists to date in the tournament, Ibrahimovic, whose total of five actually includes an incredible four in one group game against Dinamo Zagreb last November, well, so much for the image of the selfish Swede, then.

    Meanwhile, that man Messi has seven goals and three assists to his name so far in just eight matches, while his compatriot opposite him, Lavezzi, brings five strikes in seven games to the table.

    And which two players are lying in second place at present in the attempts on target standings? Yes, you’ve guessed it, "The Atomic Flea" with 26 efforts followed by "Ibracadabra" on 19 attempts.

    Therefore, expect fireworks at the Parc des Princes and then in Camp Nou.

Did You Know...?

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    These two clubs have met just twice before in European competition, in the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 1995, with PSG emerging as 3-2 winners on aggregate, and then again in the final of the now defunct Uefa Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1997 in Rotterdam, where Barca triumphed 1-0 on this occasion thanks to a Ronaldo penalty.

    So, it’s even-steven, then, going into this third epic meeting, and with all to play for as Europe awaits with baited breath…