Barcelona vs. PSG: 5 Storylines for UEFA Champions League Quarterfinal 2nd Leg
The first leg featured four goals, two comebacks, a 37-year-old Englishman and one extraordinarily high-profile hamstring injury. Imagine what the second leg might bring.
Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain are set to play what promises to be a thrilling UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg on Wednesday at Barca's Camp Nou. Last week, an exciting first leg ended 2-2 in Paris, giving Barcelona a slight edge with two away goals and leaving PSG hope of pulling off the upset.
The Parisiens will also take hope from the uncertainty over Lionel Messi and his hamstring. The prolific Argentine forward left last week's match early and is a doubt for Wednesday's second leg.
But that's just one of the storylines that we're looking forward to watching on Wednesday.
Lionel Messi's Hamstring
Lionel Messi, the world's best player, winner of four straight Ballon d'Or awards and scorer of 91 goals in 2012, might miss Wednesday's match after leaving last week's first leg with a hamstring strain.
On Monday, Marca reported that Messi and Barcelona will decide on Wednesday whether or not he will play. On Tuesday, The Guardian reported that Messi came through Monday's training without issue but remains a doubt.
Messi had another injury scare last December when he was stretchered off the pitch during Barcelona's draw with Benfica in the Champions League group stage. He returned quickly then, but that's no guarantee that he'll be able to do the same this time.
As The Independent points out, Messi has gone from being the first name on Barcelona's team-sheet to the last. The world's attention will focus on that team-sheet ahead of kickoff on Wednesday.
Cesc Fabregas as the False 9?
Barcelona coped well without Messi over the weekend, winning 5-0 at home to Mallorca in the Spanish league. Cesc Fabregas, a midfielder by trade but this time used as a forward, stood out.
Fabregas, playing in Messi's "false nine" role, scored his first career hat-trick. Alexis Sanchez added two more, dedicating one to defender Eric Abidal, who returned to the side after a year-long absence due to liver surgery.
Manager Tito Vilanova, who had been away from the team since January while he received treatment for cancer, returned to the touchline as well.
PSG will obviously pose a more potent threat than Mallorca, who prop up the La Liga table. But Fabregas's performance in Messi's role will encourage Barca ahead of Wednesday's match.
"I feel very comfortable playing as a false striker, but that position is filled by the best player in the world," Fabregas said (via The Guardian). "I am still a midfielder."
The Beckham Experiment
That question seemed to be answered in the negative when Beckham started for the Parisiens last week against Barca in the first let. French newspaper L'Equipe gave Beckham a rating of 3/10 for the match (via Daily Telegraph), and PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti had to deny allegations that club officials forced him to start the Englishman.
"Criticism of (Beckham) is abnormal and unjust. He had a very good game. He followed exactly the strategy I asked, giving the ball quickly," Ancelotti said (via BBC Sport). "If Paris was good in the first 30 minutes against Barca it's because Beckham was good, because he sought to play fast."
Now, Ancelotti is saying that Beckham will again start the return leg (via ESPN FC). But while the Beckham situation might be PSG's highest-profile selection saga, other issues remain.
Brazilian defender Thiago Silva sat out the weekend win over Rennes with a minor injury (via ESPN FC) but is in the squad along with fellow defender Alex, who has recovered from a thigh problem (via The Independent). Influential midfielder Blaise Matuidi is suspended.
As B/R's Jonathan Johnson outlines here, PSG have plenty to sort out before their bid for the upset.
The Swedish striker, who joined PSG from AC Milan last summer, was a Barca player from 2009 to 2011 but spent the 2010-11 season on loan with Milan after reportedly falling out with Pep Guardiola, who managed Barca at the time.
He scored in the first leg after having a game knocked off of his UEFA suspension, though he appeared to be offside, and will no doubt be looking to complete his personal revenge against his former team.
Messi's hamstring is not the only injury-related concern facing Barcelona. Defender Javier Mascherano suffered a knee injury in the first leg last week and will miss Wednesday's match.
The injury left Barcelona thin at the back, with another veteran defender, Carles Puyol, recovering from knee surgery.
Centre-back Marc Bartra, a 22-year-old with little first-team experience, played well alongside Gerard Pique in Saturday's league win over Mallorca and could start against PSG. Another option could be Alex Song, a midfielder who can play in defense.
"We'll see what options we have against PSG," said Barca assistant Jordi Roura (via The Independent).
"It's a pity about the injuries, both Mascherano and Leo," said Barca midfielder Xavi Hernandez (via The Guardian). "We'll see how Leo is, but it looks like Mascherano is out for a month or a month and a half."