The Champions League resumes this week, as we are down to the last eight. The competition always brings together some highly anticipated matchups and PSG hosting Barcelona is one of them.
This clash is full of storylines, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic facing his former team, PSG’s finances and the magnificent Lionel Messi leading the way. Barcelona come into this tie as favorites, but have shown potential chinks in their armor recently.
For each team, there are key players who may very well hold their club's fortunes at their feet.
For PSG, trying to control the Barcelona attack is the obvious key to them finding success. With Messi, Xavi and company, this is not an easy task. A lot of pressure will be on the back four to try and keep Barcelona at bay, but the key figure for PSG will be Blaise Matuidi.
The best way to slow down Barcelona is to win the ball back before the final third. With Barcelona’s skill and quick passing style, this is difficult Matuidi will need to provide protection for the back four by keeping pressure on Barcelona’s midfield.
If he can successfully harass Barcelona into some bad passes and break up some on his own, PSG may be able to keep their opposition from gaining rhythm.
When Matuidi is able to break up play in the midfield, he will need to be quick in transitioning PSG to the counterattack. Barcelona’s defense has had some questionable moments this season and the best way to break them down will be to hit them on the counter.
On the other side of the field, the key will be containing Ibrahimovic. Ibra will be looking to prove a point in this matchup. He is difficult enough to deal with, but with extra motivation, he can be nearly unstoppable.
The duty of trying to keep Ibra at bay will mainly fall on Gerard Pique’s capable shoulders. Pique has the size to battle physically with Ibra. Pique’s positioning will be key, as Ibra is a master at finding a crease to wreak havoc in.
Beyond the personal battles with Ibrahimovic, Pique will have to keep his back line organized to deal with the threats of Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Barcelona may be able to keep Ibrahimovic under wraps, but the Swede is adept at holding the ball up and finding his mates in dangerous positions.
Given the wealth of talent set to take the field, it is impossible to say that only a single player will determine their team’s fate. With Matuidi and Pique, the chances of advancement for their respective sides increase exponentially with how well each player performs.