When UEFA Champions League play resumes on Tuesday with the first leg of the quarterfinal round, the newly rich Ligue 1 leaders, Paris St. Germain, host the always talent-rich La Liga leaders, Barcelona, at the Parc des Princes.
There will be a plentiful amount of talent out on the pitch in Paris, but one talent will stand taller than the others, and that talent is Lionel Messi.
Messi powered Barcelona into the quarterfinal round with his spectacular performance in the second leg of his club's round of 16 tie with AC Milan, where the Catalan club won 4-0 and 4-2 on aggregate.
Now, it will be the job of the world-class talent in the PSG defense to attempt to shut down the world's best footballer.
Many may view this as an impossible task, but the Parisians were handed some strong advice on how to handle Messi and the rest of the powerful Barcelona attack from the first leg effort of AC Milan in the round of 16.
In that 2-0 loss to AC Milan back on February 20, Messi could only muster two shots on goal, and his influence on the Barca attack was limited.
Will PSG Be Able to Stop Lionel Messi?
PSG may not play in the same formation that AC Milan did back in February at the San Siro, but they do have plenty of world-class defenders who set themselves up in a unique formation that could cause Messi trouble.
Carlo Ancelotti's PSG team lines up in a 4-2-2-2 formation that features a dynamic duo at centre-back in Thiago Silva and Alex as well as a strong pair of defensive midfielders in Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti.
Silva and Alex are known quantities, and they will provide quality defense in the back four, but it is the unknown quantities in the defensive midfield that will have to up their play on Tuesday.
The one player out of the defensive midfield duo who has the highest probability of stepping up and shutting down the passing lanes of Barcelona is Matuidi.
The 25-year-old Frenchman flew under the radar with his performances in Ligue 1 during the beginning of the season, but he is developing into a superstar, and his coming out party will come on Tuesday night at the Parc des Princes.
Matuidi earned valuable experience with the French national team last week against Spain in Paris when he played against five Barcelona attackers not named Messi. Matuidi should have learned some about the tendencies of those players in his 90 minutes on the pitch.
Barcelona and Spain do play a similar style on the pitch, but the one difference in the two squads is Messi. You may think that inserting Messi into the squad alongside the Spanish internationals would make a world of difference, but it really does not.
Matuidi is used to defending against that style of play now, and with the tiki-taka style still fresh in his mind, he can pass on some knowledge to Verratti or whoever plays alongside him in the defensive midfield.
The key for Matuidi is to shut down the access to the middle of the pitch that Barcelona needs to effectively run their offense. If Matuidi can cut off the passing lanes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Messi, the Catalans will have to rely more on Pedro, David Villa or Alexis Sanchez.
Making Barca rely more on their wingers instead of their central midfield maestros gives PSG a chance to leave their home stadium with a lead on aggregate over the four-time Champions League winners.
Occupying the middle of the pitch and denying Barcelona any rhythm will benefit the Parisians greatly, and the one midfielder who can do that with perfection on Tuesday is Matuidi.
With a capable defender in Matuidi on the pitch to thwart the Barcelona attack—and more specifically Messi—PSG should be in good hands as they look to advance further in the UEFA Champions League.
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