The UEFA Champions League will move through to the quarterfinal stage this week when Barcelona travels to France to take on Paris Saint Germain.
The Spanish heavyweights overcame a two-goal deficit from the first leg to knock off AC Milan in the round of 16 and will no doubt carry plenty of confidence with them into this one—as would any team boasting their midfield and the presence of Lionel Messi.
PSG have proven to be a tough team to break down all season both in the domestic and European competitions and certainly won't be pushovers here.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lucas Moura will lead the French club's attack, and given their on-ball skill, the home side can't be underestimated.
Who will emerge victorious from the opening leg of this fascinating Champions League quarterfinal? Read on for a full preview and prediction.
Date: Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Start time: 2:45 p.m. ET (Eastern Time, United States)
Venue: Parc Des Princes, Paris, France
Live Stream and TV Info
Fox Soccer Channel, FOX Deportes and SiriusXM FC will all provide coverage of the match throughout the United States (per Live Soccer TV).
Champions League Story So Far
|FC Barcelona||Paris St. Germain|
W4, D1, L1
(11 goals for, five against)
W5, D0, L1
(14 goals for, three against)
W1, D0, L1 vs. AC Milan
(Four goals for, two against)
|Round of 16||
W1, D1, L0 vs. Valencia
(Three goals for, two against)
Key Player to Watch: Jordi Alba, Barcelona
Out of all the big-name players who will line up for both teams here, it seems somewhat bizarre to look to defender Jordi Alba as a big player to watch.
Yet the reality is that Alba has a huge role to play offensively and defensively in this one for the Catalan club—much like he did against Milan—and his ability to do that will greatly influence the final result.
Alba is one of Barcelona's best counterattacking weapons on the left flank, and he can often find himself in great space out on that side. However, against PSG, the defender might not be afforded such space and freedom to be his usual attacking threat.
Christophe Jallet has really come into his own of late, and will be more than capable of pushing up into the space on that side. The defender loves to get forward and play a similar role to Alba, so he could well find himself coming up against Alba several times in this one.
And if that happens, Lucas Moura—who is at his best when in space down the right flank—could well find some room to hurt Barcelona on the counterattack. Moura has the physicality, pace and on-ball skill needed to hurt La Blaugrana by himself, and if he can exploit the space in behind Alba then PSG could well end up doing what Milan did against Barca.
Alba has a key role to play here—defending against Moura and potentially even Jallet—and getting forward like usual by finding space on the left.
If he can do that, then Barcelona will be in a very strong position here.
Biggest Storyline to Follow: Who Can Stop Lionel Messi?
After netting 91 goals last season and picking up his fourth Ballon d'Or in a row, Lionel Messi has continued where he left off with an incredible 2013 so far, leaving many to wonder whether defenses around the world are capable of stopping the star striker.
Messi has scored in his last 19 La Liga games in a row (one against every team) and has proven to be the same attacking threat as usual. However, Milan did offer a blueprint as to how to beat Messi, and it will be interesting to see if PSG can execute that again in this one.
The key for the home side will be forcing Messi to play at the top of the attack, where he is less comfortable. If he can get in behind a Barca attacker and play in the No. 10 role, then he is dangerous, but he is not as effective when playing in the false-nine.
PSG must look to push up on Messi all night, and at times, sacrifice playing a high backline in order to shut down the space that the striker would find.
It's already been seen how deadly Messi is with David Villa ahead of him, and if that pairing lines up here, PSG could have a long night ahead of them.
They must get early pressure on the Argentinian international and somehow try to end his incredible goal-scoring and goal-creating run of form.
Three Stats to Consider
23. Paris Saint Germain are unbeaten in their last 23 games at home in European competition, qualifiers included (15 wins, eight draws). Their last home defeat came against Hapoel Tel-Aviv in November, 2006.
3. Barcelona have only won three of their past 14 away games in the knockout stages Champions League, despite making the semifinals in the last four years and the final twice.
5. PSG have the second-best defensive record in the Champions League this year, with only five goals against. Juventus have the best defensive record with four goals against, though the French club have not allowed more than one goal against yet in the competition.
Given Paris St. Germain's home ground dominance and Barcelona's inconsistencies on the road, this one should be a very close and fascinating game.
La Blaugrana should come into this one as favorites, and deservedly so, but PSG do have the attacking weapons needed to hurt Barcelona on the night, and with a chance or two falling their way, could well give the home fans something to get excited about.
However, it's hard to see anything other than a Barcelona win here, simply because the style of the game will suit their tika-taka brilliance.
What will the final result be?
PSG play a very similar game to the probable Spanish champions, yet they just aren't as good as Barcelona in doing it. You can read my full thoughts on that here, but in essence, everything that the French club can do, Barcelona can do better, and they'll be too good on this night.
Look for a fairly solid first 30 minutes or so in this one, with a late goal before half-time giving Barca the lead in this one. A late away goal on the counterattack will double that lead, however, and cripple PSG's chances of pulling off an upset heading to the Nou Camp.
Though, as we've seen, anything is possible in the Champions League.
Prediction: Barcelona 2, Paris Saint Germain 0
Twitter? Hit me up for everything sports: Follow @dantalintyre