Paris Saint-Germain vs. Barcelona: 3 Key Battles to Watch
The UEFA Champions League cranks up a notch again this coming week with the first of the quarterfinal first-leg matches. In maybe the most intriguing clash of the week, Paris Saint-Germain will host Barcelona in a game which will see a number of interesting head-to-head battles on the pitch.
One of the notable personalities on show will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who of course represented Barcelona a few seasons ago before moving on to AC Milan and now PSG.
Free-spending PSG have brought in a number of high-profile signings, in contrast to Barcelona's preference of developing their own talent. Both teams are on top of their respective divisions, with the French side having won 1-0 in their league match on Friday and Barcelona having drawn 2-2 on Saturday evening.
Here are the three most likely battles to have an impact on the outcome of the game on Tuesday.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano
Former Barça forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been in irrepressible form domestically, hitting 25 goals in 27 games. But he has not yet found his best goal-scoring form in the Champions League, scoring twice in seven outings.
Even so, he will be one of the biggest threats for the home team as they seek to play around Barcelona's midfield and maintain possession in the final third. Ibrahimovic will be key to this with his hold-up play and ability to fashion chances for himself and his teammates—he has five assists in Europe this term already.
With his habit of roaming around the final third, both central defenders, likely to be Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique, will have to keep an eye on him.
Both are capable of putting tackles in and starting Barcelona's attacks from the back, but neither is overly dominant in the air, an area where Ibrahimovic could certainly get some joy during the match, if the delivery is quality.
Lucas Moura vs. Jordi Alba
Barcelona's left-back Jordi Alba has been battling injury, but he looks like he will return to action in time for the match against PSG.
One of his team's best outlets on the counter-attack, Alba brings something difference to the table down the left side of Barcelona's attack. During prolonged spells of possession, with a sudden burst of pace, he is able to stretch the depth of the pitch.
What that inevitably leaves, of course, is space in behind him down the opposition's right side of attack.
In PSG's 4-2-2-2 system, Lucas Moura has been best utilised when able to rampage down the entire right channel and has such great pace, physicality and skill on the ball that he has had an immediate impact for them since his January transfer.
If he is able to steal into space behind a forward-moving Alba, he can cause Barcelona numerous problems. Indeed, Moura may even necessitate leaving Jordi Alba out of the team and employing a more sturdy left-back, at least for one leg of the tie.
Thiago Silva vs. Leo Messi
At the other end of the field is the most skilled forward on the planet. Ultimately, you feel that how Leo Messi performs on a day-to-day basis can determine the end result of whichever game he takes part in.
Messi continues to score goals and break records, and he can certainly put Barcelona through to the semifinals with his unerring ability to find the back of the net, even if the service to him is substandard.
With Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc around him, it will probably be better than that.
Thiago Silva will be one of the men tasked with shackling him, likely playing on the left of centre with Alex at his side. Due to Messi's preference for picking up the ball down the inside right channel and running from deep, it will be Silva who gets to see plenty of him, more likely than not.
How well the Brazilian deals with the threat of the Argentine could well determine how the first leg shapes up in Paris.