Lionel Messi and Barcelona will travel to France this week to take on Paris Saint Germain in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.
And by all accounts, the probable Spanish champions should record a comfortable victory over the probable French champions here—regardless of whatever Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lucas Moura may attempt to produce on the field.
Barca are, after all, one of the top teams in world football, and their recent demolition of Milan at the Nou Camp showed just how good they can be at their best. However, as we all know, that result came only after they were stunned by the Italian powerhouse 2-0 away from home in the opening leg.
So what's to suggest that the same fate won't await Barcelona when they travel to Paris this week?
Perhaps a couple of key things—the biggest of which being that PSG are a better fit for Barcelona to impose their tiki-taka brilliance. That's not to suggest that the French side can't challenge Barca in that regard, it's simply an assessment of how their team stacks up against La Blaugrana.
The reality is that playing against Barca, teams aren't going to get possession.
They haven't been able to dominate the possession and attacking chances over Barca for several years now, and the only way that it seems possible to beat them is to park the bus—that is, defend like crazy and hope to snare a quick goal on the counterattack.
Chelsea, Milan—that's the way in which you can beat Barcelona.
You cannot beat them by holding onto the ball and trying to work them back into their own half. For starters, you'd have to get the ball off them in the first place, but more importantly, their midfield is set up in a way that they don't allow opponents the opportunity to out-pass them.
PSG, first and foremost, are a possession-based team.
They average 56 percent possession per game, and whilst it might not be in the 69 percent realm that Barcelona currently operate, what they do with the ball is also key. For unlike a team such as Real Madrid, their possession leads them to make more passes and less shots.
For their 69 percent possession, Barcelona average 13.6 shots per game. For their 56 percent possession, Real Madrid average 18.8 shots per game. And in that regard, PSG are much like Barca—averaging 56 percent possession but just 13.7 shots per game.
Moreover, both Barcelona and PSG are strong passers of the ball—ranking first and seventh out of teams in major European leagues this season for average pass completion percentage. The two take care of the ball when they have it, and they're unlikely to throw it away.
The problem for Paris Saint Germain is that their style of play almost mirrors that of Barcelona, except that Barca's is just a little bit better across the board. PSG love to hold the ball and love to attack through the middle. They have good individual skill and create plenty of scoring opportunities whilst dominating the game in their opponents' half.
If that sounds familiar, that's because it is. It's the way Barcelona play, and it's exactly how we'll see them operate against PSG in their upcoming match.
Barcelona will operate heavily in their opponents' half, they'll dominate possession and they'll create plenty of scoring opportunities. And in doing so, they'll force the French club into playing a style of game that they're not normally accustomed to—defending for the full 90 minutes.
That's not to say that PSG can't defend, per se.
It's just that it's not what they do, week in and week out. They're an attacking team who love to hold the ball—not try and keep their opponents from scoring—but that's precisely what they'll have to do here against Lionel Messi and La Blaugrana.
PSG's biggest weakness this season has been stopping their opponents when they have the ball. They allow plenty of scoring opportunities when they give up the ball and are often beaten by individual skill—something that's unlikely to bode well for them against Barcelona.
For if we learned anything from the 4-0 drubbing of Milan, it's that Barca are ruthless in attack and devastating going forward with individual skill.
The likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Pedro should have a field day against the midfield of PSG, and they will likely see plenty of goal-scoring chances fall their way. With Messi and potentially David Villa ahead of them, expect to see some of those chances to find the back of the net.
PSG just aren't equipped to beat Barcelona, for their styles are too similar. But more importantly, the things that they're good at, Barca are good at too. And as many teams can attest to in the world, Barca are just better at them than PSG.
Look for the Catalan club to cruise through this one with a comfortable win.
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