It's time for Paris Saint-Germain to prove exactly how far the club has progressed.
The French side find themselves against Barcelona in a mouthwatering Champions League quarterfinal; a pairing that provides Carlo Ancelotti's team with the perfect opportunity to stamp their dominance beyond the realm of Ligue 1.
As witnessed in Barcelona's 4-0 thrashing of Milan, certain individuals have the ability to flip this tie on its head. The La Liga outfit will travel to the Parc des Princes first leg with Lionel Messi, David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Xavi ready to go.
Although crammed with talent, PSG will be without their headline act. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's red card at the end of the first leg with Valencia rules him out of an exciting occasion in the French capital (via Goal.com).
Can the rich club cope without him? Let's take a look at the evidence.
PSG's Round of 16 second-leg match with Valencia wasn't particularly inspiring. Although Ancelotti deployed his favoured 4-2-2-2 formation, the way PSG went about their work was slightly different to when Ibrahimovic is in the side.
It seemed the French league leaders didn't want to attack after securing a 2-1 win in the Mestalla. Valencia traveled with little to lose and worked well without creating many chances. PSG employed three versatile banks of two ahead of the defence in order to halt an attack that looked to inject a sense of fear into an expectant home crowd.
Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta sat deep in a central six that opted to spring forward on the counter. Javier Pastore and Clement Chantome represented the next line of defence, while Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura played the most attacking roles. Of course—as ever with Ancelotti's 4-2-2-2—these positions were interchangeable depending on the situation.
Lucas Moura usually provides a key bridge between PSG's midfield and Ibrahimovic, who has an important role to play when bringing others into the game. The giant Swede provides a powerful focal point that is just as likely to hold the ball up as move it on. With Zlatan missing, Valencia coped more efficiently against an offense that lacked an energising focal point.
PSG are almost certain to set up similar in the first leg with Barcelona. Tito Vilanova's side will predictably take control of possession and dictate as they always do. PSG's 4-2-2-2 formation should naturally cramp the working area of Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, who are likely to struggle against the physicality of Matuidi, Motta or Marco Verratti, who should return to the side.
Any combination of these players is suitably equipped to halt Barcelona's short passing game. If Milan proved anything in their first-leg victory over the Catalan side, it's that discipline and a sense of combativeness puts Barcelona on edge.
A large part of PSG's intimidation comes through the presence of Ibrahimovic. Although he doesn't offer an Edinson Cavani styled work rate, his stature allows PSG's defensive game to start from the front. Without him, greater responsibility will be placed on the energy of Lucas Moura.
The Brazilian will not only be tasked with closing down a near faultless midfield: He'll also have to bomb forward alongside Lavezzi. This duo has the ability to cause real problems for a Barcelona defense that has looked particularly shaky in recent times.
Barcelona will lineup with two of Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol in the starting 11. None are blessed with the kind of pace that will worry PSG's frontline. Puyol's aging legs are beginning to creak with alarming regularity, as shown by Angel Di Maria's joyous skip around the tumbling defender in one of Barcelona's recent losses to Real Madrid.
Moura and Lavezzi possess more than enough quality to counter with real intention against the Spanish side. If the two can recycle the ball quickly and effectively, Ancelotti will feel that the loss of Ibrahimovic can be overcome.
PSG are likely to place an emphasis on defensive stability in the first leg—and with an added midfielder in the ranks—can intimidate Barcelona into making the simple mistakes that littered their performance in the San Siro.
Ibrahimovic's arrival for the second leg could turn out to be key. He has been publicly outspoken about his time at Barcelona since leaving the Camp Nou and could be in for an extremely hostile reception (via Goal.com).
Despite only having 90 minutes to influence this match, is Ibrahimovic set to topple the club he hated playing for? Should PSG cope without their talisman in the first leg, Zlatan could be set to add another famous chapter to his illustrious career.
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