Barcelona will take on Paris Saint Germain in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal with the aggregate score delicately locked at 2-2.
The Catalan giants will be favored to book their place in the final four of the competition against PSG given their attacking talent and midfield strength but will likely have to do it without their best player—Lionel Messi—who suffered an injury in the first leg and did not play the second half.
Messi sat out Barcelona's game against Mallorca on the weekend (which they won 5-0), and it is still questionable as to whether he'll play this week or not. The star striker has been picked as part of the team, but given his name appears last on the team sheet (per The Independent) it appears likely he won't be picked in the starting team for this fixture (per The Guardian).
Barcelona have a number of talented players who will easily cover the void that Messi leaves in their team, but there's no denying he'll be dearly missed.
He is, after all, the best player in the world for a reason.
His absence will no doubt give PSG extra confidence that they can cause a stunning upset here and knockout the Spanish champions elect in this one—meaning that Barca will need to step up their game. And with the absence of Messi, that task will fall on certain players in particular.
Which players will need to step up for Barcelona in Messi's absence?
Read on to find out.
Pedro (RW or RF)
With the formation not quite set from Tito Vilanova (who will likely wait for a final word on Messi before making that call), we don't yet know which players will be played in which positions for this one. Yet one that does appear likely to keep his starting spot is Pedro, who will likely be used out on the right flank in this one as a forward/winger for La Blaugrana.
Pedro has netted five goals and five assists for Barca this year in La Liga and will likely take some of the attacking burden should Messi be ruled out.
However, what Pedro most needs to do is convert some of his domestic form across to the Champions League, where he has just one assist so far this year.
Granted, the presence of Messi (eight Champions League goals, two assists) hasn't helped that, but this is a huge chance for Pedro to make his mark as a legitimate attacking threat and not just a winger who can run a good line outside of Messi's shoulder.
PSG are a good defensive team, so Pedro will need to be on his game here.
Cesc Fabregas (CM, CAM or ST)
Played as a midfielder throughout the majority of his time at Barcelona and Arsenal before that, Cesc Fabregas was a surprise inclusion at the top of Barcelona's attack against Mallorca on the weekend.
What was even more surprising was the result, with Fabregas netting a hat-trick as Barca's attack found its range once more against their La Liga opponents.
His match stats (below) were simply incredible, via WhoScored.
Six shots, five on target
63 passes at 89 percent completion rate
Four goalscoring opportunities created
One assist, man-of-the-match
If deployed in the false-nine role again against Paris Saint Germain, or even further back in midfield, Barca will be looking to Fabregas to step up and provide attacking chances and goals for them.
It was a very encouraging performance from the 25-year-old on the weekend, and if picked to start against PSG his ability to produce a similar showing could well determine the outcome of this one.
He's a potential game-changer if he can link up well with his Barca teammates.
Andres Iniesta, M
However, for me, there is no player who must step up more in Messi's absence than Andres Iniesta, who was rested for part of Barca's big win against Mallorca on the weekend—so that he would be completely ready to go for this key fixture.
Without Messi to drop back and create the attack, Iniesta will become Barca's sole playmaker in attack, and La Blaugrana will look to him for their direction. Moreover, they'll look to him as the crux of their tika-taka style and their ability to turn that possession into attack.
Against Milan at the San Siro, Messi was not able to find space in attack and thus Barca could not turn their possession into attacking chances.
Iniesta must provide that link here, as he's done well all season, otherwise the home side may suffer a similar fate here as they did against Milan. For whilst his 15 assists in 28 appearances this year are a testament to his abilities and skill, can he do without Messi ahead of him?
That could be the question that defines this quarterfinal.
Hit me up on Twitter for more sports goodness: Follow @dantalintyre