After Barcelona pulled off a win for the history books against AC Milan, every eye was focused on who they would face next. Now that the Catalans have been drawn with Paris Saint-Germain, Cules are forced to swallow their impatience until the first leg rolls around.
Between PSG missing a key star and Barcelona now hitting their stride, La Blaugrana can arguably win the tie in the first leg.
In this article we will look at the ways that Barcelona can decide the tie with PSG in just the first meeting between the two. Every Champions League tie is difficult, but Barcelona have what it takes to decide their own fate.
There is no denying that PSG are heavily dependent on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But with the Sweden international set to miss the first leg due to suspension, Barcelona must capitalize on the advantage.
France’s richest club will certainly suffer in attack without their target man, which should make things easier for the Blaugrana defense. Without having to mark Zlatan, Barcelona will be able to commit even more focus on their attacking play.
But more than anything else, it will be the mere presence of Zlatan that could cost PSG.
Without the Swede in the lineup, PSG have clearly struggled. With such disorganization, this sets the stage for Barcelona to build a big enough lead to comfortably return to the Camp Nou for the second leg.
It has been clear that when playing against PSG, if Zlatan's effect is eliminated the level of play of PSG severely suffers. With Zlatan not even on the pitch, it is hard to bet against a big Barcelona win in France.
Without their star striker, PSG are expected to focus heavily on the defensive side of the game. After already succumbing to the parked bus this season, Barcelona must absolutely be ready to face it again.
The Catalans showed that they do have what it takes it to beat the bus when at their best, but it certainly requires heavy concentration.
Tito Vilanova may opt to allow Lionel Messi to play behind the strikers again. With Thiago Silva likely to cause the greatest trouble for the Barcelona attack, using other players to create space for Messi will be very key.
But the attack must not rest solely on Messi’s shoulders.
Andres Iniesta will also be needed to penetrate the French defense, but he must not be fielded as a winger. Iniesta has been in brilliant form this season, but a true winger will be necessary if Barcelona are to score enough to decide the tie in France.
David Villa appears to finally be back at his best. After scoring against Milan last week and enjoying a goal and two assists on the weekend, it is clear that the Spaniard is still vital to Barcelona’s success.
As stated in the last slide, Tito Vilanova will need to play with true wingers against PSG. David Villa is the only real option to secure the left-wing and has deserved to regain his starting spot.
Villa was used greatly to create space for Messi against Milan and could provide the same assistance against PSG.
Playing against a parked-bus defense will prove a daunting task, but a lineup consisting of both Villa and Messi will greatly raise Barcelona’s chances of winning big. But Villa is not solely a key to winning in France; he proves to be Barcelona’s tool for scoring multiple goals.
If the Catalans want to leave France with the tie decided, they will need to score several goals. David Villa clearly fits the bill for La Blaugrana. If he does not start, it will be a sign that Barcelona are playing for the return leg.
Barcelona will be forced to travel to France without some key performers. With players already set to miss the match, Vilanova must begin to rotate players now to avoid possibly losing other key performers.
Carles Puyol recently underwent knee surgery and is already set to miss the match. Adriano has also recently been sidelined after tests on his hamstring revealed the Brazilian would miss up to six weeks of action (via the official FC Barcelona website).
Xavi could also miss the test as well after suffering a hamstring injury, though it is unlikely that the midfielder will miss extended time (via the official FC Barcelona website).
Regardless of what happens between now and April, it is clear that Barcelona will fly to France with an already depleted squad. Knowing this, Tito Vilanova must make the right decisions to ensure that he can field his best lineup in Paris.
With Javier Mascherano the likely replacement for Puyol, Marc Bartra could be called upon to give the Argentine some rest in the next few weeks. But with Adriano out, Martin Montoya remains the only backup to fill in for either Dani Alves or Jordi Alba.
Xavi may be the easiest player to cover for with Thiago and Cesc Fabregas both enjoying strong seasons, but the game-reading ability of the midfield maestro can never be made up for.
Tito Vilanova will have a true test on his hands between now and April. If Barcelona are to decide the tie in Paris, the Catalans cannot afford anymore setbacks in their squad.
Can Barcelona take a strong enough lead in the first league? How should the Catalans prepare for the Champions League encounter in Paris? Don’t forget to leave your thoughts and comments below.
Tre’ Atkinson. Follow me on Twitter for more discussions on Barcelona, La Liga and the Champions League.