Champions League: Why PSG Can Knock Barcelona Out at the Nou Camp
As one of the greatest sides to play the beautiful game, Barcelona were understandable favorites at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday evening.
They were facing the nouveau riche pretenders to the European throne, who are attempting to fast-track their path to success with the injection of glamor and petrodollars.
Yet the relatively young upstarts of Paris Saint-Germain refused to back down to the Catalan giants and for periods after Zlatan Ibrahimovic's (suspiciously offside) equalizer, looked like they could steal a valuable lead. Yet an error from goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu led to a penalty that restored Barca's lead, only for his Spanish counterpart to allow a 94th-minute goal to even the score at 2-2.
With two league away goals in their favor, Barcelona remain heavy favourites to make the semi-finals. The Blaugrana have not lost a European match at home for over three years and have progressed in their last six Champions League quarter-finals (the last team to deny them was Juventus in 2002-03).
In their 23 first-leg draws in this competition, Barca have won on aggregate on 18 occasions. They have only lost to French opposition at the Nou Camp once in seven attempts.
And, of course, in their last Champions League match at home, they responded to being thrown on the ropes at the San Siro with a rousing 4-0 victory.
These are all impressive stats, yet they are not conclusive.
PSG poster boy David Beckham believes there is no reason they cannot pull off a famous victory at the Nou Camp next week. Before the first leg, Arsene Wenger also tipped the Ligue 1 leaders to overcome the La Liga leaders. The Arsenal coach said (via Yahoo!):
Barcelona are not invincible. It's clear that Barca are the superior side technically, but they have lost a bit of spark recently.
Whether or not they have lost "spark" recently is debatable, but there is definitely something else they have lost: players.
After scoring the opener in Paris, World Player of the Year Leo Messi did not appear in the second half due to a hamstring injury. On his official Facebook page, Messi confirmed that the injury was not serious—perhaps shortening the original estimates of three weeks on the sidelines—but it is not yet known if he will be fit for the second leg.
Even if Messi does make a speedy recovery, this may actually act to Barcelona's detriment. According to OPTA, the Spanish side have won 56 percent of Champions League matches with the diminutive Argentinean, but 71 percent without him.
Top goalscorer Messi isn't Barca's only injury worry. Javier Mascherano picked up a knee ligament injury that will keep him out for around six weeks (but he would have been suspended for the PSG visit anyway). With Carles Puyol and Adriano Correia injured—and Eric Abidal having only just returned to training from his liver transplant—Barca are facing a defensive crisis.
Gerard Pique is currently the only fit centre-back, meaning Tito Vilanova will need to recruit from the youth or B sides, or perhaps bring Alex Song or Sergio Busquets into the back.
Clearly, a makeshift defence is not ideal when a man like Ibrahimovic is returning to a club and stadium he knows intimately. Also returning are Barca alumni Thiago Motta and Maxwell, who should be able to provide their visiting team mates with the "inside scoop" on their fearsome opposition.
PSG are currently in rude health. Aside from opening up their lead in Ligue 1, the French side have won their last three European away fixtures. They won in Valencia in their last away match, which was part of their fourth victory in five two-legged encounters against Spanish opposition. Plus, Barcelona have already failed to beat PSG twice in normal time in this campaign, following a preseason match that also ended 2-2.
Les Rouge-et-Bleu are aiming for their second-ever Champions League semi-final spot, having last reached that stage in the 1994-95 season. In the quarter-final of that campaign, they drew with Barcelona in the first leg and beat them in the second. The odds may not be in their favor, but don't be surprised if history repeats itself.
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