Creating a Barca Starting XI Without Lionel Messi to Defeat PSG in 2nd Leg
FC Barcelona took a slight edge in the UEFA Champions League semifinals as La Blaugrana and Paris Saint-Germain ended their first-leg game in a 2-2 draw at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday. Tito Vilanova returned to the Barca bench after his time in New York, receiving treatment for his illness. Barca takes an advantage back to the Camp Nou with two away goals in their pocket.
But it came at huge price.
Lionel Messi got the scoring going in the 38th minute, as the little Argentine scored off an amazing pass by Dani Alves. The Brazilian found Leo—who stayed onside—and Messi put one of the best finishes on the half-volley that you'll ever see. Golazo!
Late in the first half, Messi pulled up and grabbed his hamstring. He did not return for the second half, as Cesc Fabregas came on in his place.
In the 76th minute, a corner nearly led to a goal for PSG as Zlatan Ibrahimovic was kept onside by two Barca players, but Victor Valdes made the save.
PSG got the equalizer in the 80th minute as a set piece was headed toward goal by Thiago Silva. His shot hit the post, rolled toward the other post and Ibra scooped it in. The goal should not have counted, however, as Zlatan was very, very offside.
Javier Mascherano exited late in the game with a knee injury. After the game, it was revealed that Masche would be out six weeks. Anims Masche.
A foul on Alexis Sanchez by goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu led to a penalty given. Xavi Hernandez stepped up and smoothly delivered the goal to give Barcelona a late lead.
But in the final seconds of the game, PSG equalized as Blaise Matuidi's shot deflected off a Barca player and slipped passed the outstretched fingers of Victor Valdes for the goal.
While the draw leaves a bitter taste in Barca's mouth, it is Messi's injury that overshadows everything.
On Wednesday, FC Barcelona confirmed that Messi is out for Barca's game versus Mallorca on Saturday with a muscle thigh injury (via The Guardian). Leo is out for a minimum of 10 days, but he may be available for the PSG game, depending on the doctors' evaluation next week.
With Leo potentially out for the PSG game, Tito Vilanova will have to look at what is the best formation and rotation for his team.
Let's look at the players who will have to step up, and the formations that FC Barcelona could use in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League matchup against PSG.
Players Needing to Step Up: Alexis Sanchez
David Ramos/Getty Images
With Messi out for a while, and with Barcelona lacking in strikers, the wingers will have to step up the goals and the creativeness.
The first player is Alexis Sanchez. Against PSG, Sanchez struggled terribly. His saving grace was the penalty that was called in his favor.
If there was a moment that FC Barcelona needed to see if Alexis Sanchez can handle the pressure of playing for this club, the moment has just arrived. I am hopeful that Sanchez will rise to the occasion and prove his merit over the next few weeks.
Victor Fraile/Getty Images
For me, there is not doubt Cristian Tello deserves to start in the second leg of the Champions League duel against PSG.
But with Pedro expected to be ready for the return leg, Tello may come off the bench.
Tello's ability to widen the pitch will be needed, especially with Messi being out. It will create opportunities for the Barca midfielders to get more space on the PSG defense and frustrate them. Cristian's speed will be needed as well.
Whatever needs to be done to keep the ball away from Victor Valdes' goal.
We all know he can score. Now, Cristian Tello needs to go into the second leg and cause havoc to the PSG defenders on the left or right side.
David Ramos/Getty Images
If Pedro is able to go against PSG next week, he needs to perform like he does with the Spanish national team.
And by "perform," I mean "score goals."
Take a look at this interesting stat thanks to the big homie @barcastuff:
Pedro has scored more goals (10) in 8 matches for Spain this season than in 37 matches for Barcelona (7 goals) [via @infostradalive]— barcastuff (@barcastuff) March 27, 2013
Pedrito, we need you now more than ever!
He has big-game experience and performed great. We need to see that Pedro again.
David Villa and the Andres Iniesta Factor
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
In my opinion, I believe David Villa should start at the No. 9 position for the return leg of the PSG clash.
El Guaje did not have a good game against PSG in the first leg, but I have faith that he will have a better game at the Camp Nou next week.
Tito Vilanova must decide if he will put Villa as the striker to fill in for Messi.
This is where Andres Iniesta comes in.
One option for Tito is to move Iniesta to the left wing and move Villa to the centre-forward position. Cesc Fabregas would come into the starting lineup to replace Andres in the midfield.
Iniesta plays well on the left wing, and with Leo out, Andres could take over for Messi as the primary playmaker for the Barcelona forwards.
Another option for Tito is to move Fabregas into the "false nine" spot, a la the role Cesc played for Spain during Euro 2012 and keep Villa at the LW spot.
Remember, with Barcelona having the edge in this matchup with the two away goals, this team does not have to score three or four goals in the second leg. I'm not saying Barcelona should play it too safe. I'm just saying that a 3-0 scoreline is not required. I'll take a 1-1 tie or a 2-1 win for Barcelona.
An attacking starting lineup is not needed, and I doubt Tito Vilanova will create one for the PSG game.
Option 1 for a Starting XI vs. PSG
Let's look at three possible starting lineups Tito Vilanova could start against PSG next week.
I don't see Alexis Sanchez in the starting lineup; Pedro should be back to start on the right wing. His experience in big games will be needed.
As far as the defense is concerned, we'll see the usual defense with the exception of Alex Song at the centre-back position. Javier Mascherano is out with an injury, and after two subpar games in a row, Marc Bartra may be passed up for this big game.
While Alex Song has not played at centre-back very often, he has shown he is capable of playing the position. He has more experience in the Champions League than Bartra, and his experience will be needed in defending against Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It's a toss up between choosing Bartra or Song, but for now, let's put Alex in there for display purposes only.
This first option has David Villa at the striker position, and moves Pedro back to the starting XI at right wing. Cristian Tello moves to the left-wing spot vacated by Villa. Cesc Fabregas would more than likely become the first substitute of the game.
But the main focus of this lineup is having Villa play his old position of striker and Andres Iniesta moving up a bit on the pitch to help fill in the playmaking role of Messi.
Option 2 for a Starting XI vs. PSG
Option two for a starting XI sees David Villa staying at the left-wing spot, with Andres Iniesta staying level with Xavi in the midfield.
This lineup is highlighted with Cesc Fabregas playing the role of Messi in the false nine role. One advantage is that Cesc is familiar with this role following his exploits for the national side at Euro 2012.
One disadvantage is that this lineup in not as offense-minded as the previous option. This lineup is more to protect a lead or keep things tied up.
Perhaps that's exactly what Tito Vilanova wants.
Option 3 for a Starting XI vs. PSG
Option three gives us as good, if not better an offense-minded lineup to the first option, but not as defensive/safe as the second lineup.
This lineup has Andres Iniesta moving to the left-wing position—he plays this role regularly with the Spanish national team—Cesc Fabregas moves to Andres' midfield position, Pedro stays on the right wing and David Villa moves to the striker position.
One advantage of this starting XI is that Iniesta will be able to help Villa in creating goalscoring opportunities. It'll make El Guaje's workload a bit easier. Also, Cesc is able to play his natural position in the midfield instead of playing the false nine.
If more offense is needed, Cristian Tello and Alexis Sanchez are on the bench and ready to come in.
For me, this is the starting XI that Xoel would start against PSG at the Camp Nou.
Yes, I just spoke in the third person.
Tito Vilanova will have a very interesting decision to make next week, as he'll try to keep this team rolling without the best player in the world.
While no one can replace Lionel Messi in a starting lineup, this FC Barcelona team is more than talented, experienced and skilled enough to get past PSG without Messi next week.
Which is your favourite lineup? Do you have a different lineup you'd start? Let us know in the comments section.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona.
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