Wednesday's match promises to be an eyebrow-raising encounter for Ancelotti
Paris Saint-Germain travel to the Camp Nou ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Barcelona level on aggregate, but coach Carlo Ancelotti needs to reshuffle his pack.
The suspension of Blaise Matuidi is a huge blow, but it gives the Italian the chance to throw caution to the wind and send out a PSG side that plays to their attacking strengths.
Sporting director Leonardo claims that PSG are in an “extraordinary position” ahead of the game. But how does Ancelotti set up to defeat Barca with so many potential absences and the status of Lionel Messi still the subject of speculation?
Matuidi’s absence arguably loses the midfield battle before the match even begins, so there is no point going with a congested three-man central midfield that would look to stifle the Catalans.
Beckham’s presence means that there is already a lack of pace in the middle for the capital club, so perhaps Clement Chantome would be the most adequate replacement for Matuidi. The French international is not as fast as his compatriot, nor is he as much of an all-rounder. But he is aggressive, technically excellent and would offer a similar work-rate to Matuidi.
Thiago Motta is back in training, but there are question marks over whether he is fit enough to play. A fully-fit Motta would have been a shoe-in to start, not least because Barcelona are a former club, but he has been to the Camp Nou and won a tie on aggregate before (although he did get sent off) and would fulfill the necessary defensive duties perfectly.
Does Ancelotti favour three in midfield with three up front, though, or does he stick with the successful two central midfielders, two wide men and two attackers through the middle? Based on fitness and availability, a three-man midfield is a poor choice as it will slow down PSG’s counterattacking style, plumping for a cautious approach with no lead to defend at kickoff.
Les Parisiens go to Barcelona needing to score and for that reason, Ancelotti needs to exploit his side’s advantage in the pace stakes. As we saw in the first leg, Barca struggled to cope with the capital club’s searing speed when going forward, and Lucas Moura in the middle would be better than out wide as he was in Paris.
Ezequiel Lavezzi is hard-working and highly creative, but he is not clinical enough when it comes to taking a solitary chance in a match. Going with him as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s striker partner in a high-pressure match runs the risk of the Argentine passing up PSG’s best opportunity as he did early on in the first leg when he hit the post.
Lavezzi cutting in from the left would pose a greater threat, replacing Javier Pastore who once again looked ineffectual in the first leg and continues to struggle to impose himself upon the PSG starting XI.
What to do about Pastore? Frustrating against Barcelona, and at this point just a big name in the lineup nothing more, he does not live up to his reputation on the pitch. With PSG arguably already carrying one passenger in Beckham, Ancelotti would be foolish to include a second.
Instead, Pastore could provide a threat and added creative spark from the bench possibly ready to replace either Chantome or Beckham if still chasing the game in the second half.
Pace and fight will be key characteristics in this match for the visitors and Chantome is the better option in every aspect over Pastore and even Beckham. The Englishman will provide the necessary fight, but without fielding the inexperienced Marco Verratti, the centre of midfield for PSG will be lacking mobility.
Jeremy Menez, in form after Saturday’s crucial win at Rennes; can provide a direct threat through the middle as well as wide on the right. Given the importance of taking any and every opportunity that comes their way on Wednesday, Menez would be better suited to starting out wide for the same reasons as Lavezzi.
However, his individual brilliance could well prove the difference in a game where one goal could potentially (although unlikely) decide the tie. An attack boasting Ibrahimovic and Moura, flanked by Lavezzi and Menez can get the better of Barcelona going forward. Defence is arguably a greater concern at this point, whether or not Messi plays.
Brazilian Alex didn’t travel to Rennes through injury, and captain Thiago Silva also missed out through a minor knock. Losing both would be a disaster for Ancelotti, but if Silva makes it, a partnership with Mamadou Sakho, who played the full 90 minutes in Brittany, would be better suited to this sort of match anyway.
Alex is a physical presence, but so too is Sakho. The Frenchman, though, is more athletic, faster and, considering that he would be playing for his future, has an opportunity to put in a mammoth performance worthy of Alex’s place in future selections. Sakho would put up a better fight in a footrace with the Argentine, but so much will depend on PSG’s full-backs and not central defenders, given how Barca’s wide men functioned in the first leg.
Like in midfield, mobility will be key. We saw at times last week that Barcelona can’t handle PSG’s sheer pace, and Ancelotti’s side do possess that quality all over the pitch. It would require the Italian to take a massive gamble, though, for us to see that from the start.
If Carletto does choose to go pace-orientated, Gregory van der Wiel could be favoured over Maxwell, perhaps even with the Brazilian pushing into midfield as he has done at times in Ligue 1.
A few good games in the league recently are probably not enough for the Dutchman to oust Maxwell for a match of this stature. But Cristophe Jallet and Van der Wiel are both more capable of getting up and down the line for 90 minutes, especially given that Maxwell played against Barcelona and Rennes for the entirety of the game.
Plenty to consider ahead of the match, then, but Tito Vilanova’s side have the ability to render any pre-match plans obsolete with one swift move. As Xavi Hernandez stated ahead of the clash, Barca still hold all the cards and whatever happens PSG must chase the tie.
Regardless of whether or not Messi plays from the start or comes off the bench, Ancelotti must be bold if the capital club are to triumph.