PSG vs. Barcelona: Blanc's Physical Midfield Could Serve Up Enrique's 1st Loss

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterSeptember 30, 2014

PSG's Blaise Matuidi passes the ball during the Group F Champions League match between Ajax and Paris Saint-Germain at ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Peter Dejong/Associated Press

The UEFA Champions League returns for its second installment of matchdays and offers up a true cracker: Paris Saint-Germain hosting Barcelona at the Parc des Princes.

The two sides are enjoying different starts to their respective domestic seasons—PSG are floundering, Barca are flying—but all will be shelved as the two tussle on Europe's most prestigious stage.

Paris Saint-Germain Setup

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss the tie against his former club, with PSG confirming via their official website that his heel problem rules him out.

Le Parisien suggest PSG could field the same 4-4-2 diamond formation that we saw against Toulouse, with Javier Pastore continuing as a No. 10 and Lucas Moura joining Edinson Cavani up front.

Laurent Blanc, though, has intimated it'll be a more basic 4-3-3 with Cavani the lone striker and Lucas off the right. Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti will all thrive in midfield.

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The Frenchman is downcast about his side's chances, admitting Barca would be some triumph on Tuesday to reporters ahead of the game (h/t Reuters).

Barcelona Setup

B/R's Rik Sharma believes this match represents the first true acid test of Luis Enrique's Barcelona career, with PSG by far the most formidable opponent they've faced thus far.

There's no doubt la Blaugrana have been terrific, but Enrique has been getting by with kids in the lineup and racking up clean sheets as a method of winning.

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Per WhoScored.com, Barca still haven't conceded a goal this season and have scored 17 themselves. Claudio Bravo is 20 minutes away from breaking the clean-sheet record at the club, per SPORT, but it will likely be Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal in Paris.

Otherwise, it'll be a usual 4-3-3 formation but with some more experienced, battle-hardened players in the XI.

Key Point 1: Physicality in Midfield

B/R's Jonathan Johnson believes PSG will look to dominate possession against Barca rather than shrink away, and that's an intriguing proposition that the away side rarely face.

You're unlikely to outplay the Catalan club on the floor and starve them via technical skill, but an approach PSG can use is a more physical, rumbustious one.

Matuidi and Motta are not to be messed with in the central zones, and if Verratti is at his snapping best, Barca will have their work cut out for them. It'll be a culture shock dealing with such an impressive set of midfielders, and if they don't adjust quickly, they could go down early.

Key Point 2: Where's the Space?

With both sides seemingly set to line up in 4-3-3 formations, the systems mirror and create individual battles on the pitch. There's no "natural" space—no open zones by default—and players will need to take upon themselves to find pockets to work in.

The key areas in this match will be: In and around Verratti, beside Sergio Busquets and behind both pairs of full-backs.

If Lucas Moura carries his improving form into this match he can torture Jeremy Mathieu once Jordi Alba's gone forward; likewise, if Gregory Van der Wiel bombs forward, Neymar will be one vs. one in space.

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