Decimated PSG need a miracle against Barcelona
With five good men missing, PSG need a miracle against Barcelona
QUARTER-FINAL, 1ST LEG
PARIS ST GERMAIN v BARCELONA
(Tomorrow, 2.40am, Singtel TV Ch 111)
Laurent Blanc insists that Paris St Germain have momentum. What they do not have is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The Swede is the momentum, a human wrecking ball with a ponytail.
The clue was in the title of his autobiography - I Am Zlatan.
Coaches will insist that there is no "I" in any team. But there are three in Ibrahimovic. They represent his three favourite teammates - me, myself and I.
He's a one-man army that goes to war every week.
At the weekend, the enemies were Bastia. They were blown away 4-0 in the League Cup final with Ibra bagging a brace.
He has 26 goals and five assists from 32 games. He has enough in the 33-year-old locker to scare any defence.
Barcelona should fear the one that got away in the second leg.
But that's a fight for another day. The first leg of their Champions League quarter-final is tomorrow morning (Singapore time). It could be a banker for Barcelona.
Ibrahimovic is out, after picking up a red card in the previous tie against Chelsea.
Marco Verratti and Serge Aurier are also suspended, effectively decimating PSG's right side. All three featured in the League Cup final romp against Bastia.
Injury also rules out David Luiz and leaves a question mark hanging over Thiago Motta's troublesome thigh.
All five featured in PSG's resilient win against Chelsea in the last 16.
Blanc speaks of momentum like it's a sticking plaster, pressing it gently over his side's gaping wounds in the hope that no one in the Barcelona camp notices.
But the affable Frenchman has lost the width of Aurier and Verratti, the defensive heart of Luiz and the soul of Ibrahimovic.
Right now, Blanc needs more than momentum. He needs men. It's hard to sustain one without the other.
The loss of PSG's spine threatens to leave them wobbling and flailing on home soil like a beached jellyfish.
Missing Ibrahimovic, Luiz and potentially Motta is not just a weak spot through the middle, but an open invitation to invade.
In recent months, Neymar and Luis Suarez have reconfigured their positions and tweaked their personal demands to serve one man, the only man, Lionel Messi.
Now the synergy between the trio is sublime. They are on the same wavelength - Messi's wavelength. All other concerns are secondary.
Barcelona's 2-2 draw against Sevilla at the weekend owed more to a tactical error on Luis Enrique's part, than any overriding deficiencies in the side.
He substituted Neymar to reinforce the left side defensively. The move backfired and they dropped two points. It happens, even at Barcelona.
But the Catalans rarely make the same mistake twice.
Neymar is going nowhere in Paris. His instructions are simple. Peck away at the hosts' Achilles heel like a hyperactive woodpecker. Target Marquinhos.
The 20-year-old Brazilian right back is an up-and-coming prospect, but he's still coming. He's not up yet. His countryman may smell a culling.
Blanc could play safe and tuck Marquinhos inside to hold Thiago Silva's hand in central defence and opt for Gregory van der Wiel at right back.
But the Dutchman is longer second best at PSG. He's fallen to third, behind Aurier and Marquinhos in the pecking order.
Safety in numbers may suit Blanc. Despite home advantage, damage limitation is a sensible option. Hold back the Barca tide and wait for the cavalry in the second leg, with the hope of an away goal from the pony-tailed avenger.
PSG's preferred 4-3-3 seems unlikely in Verratti's absence, with an extra body thrown into defensive midfield to cut the supply line to Barcelona's front three.
Newcastle old boy Yohan Cabaye is the leading candidate, with local boy Adrien Rabiot the other option. But inexperience counts against the 20-year-old.
Still, Blanc's biggest headache is up front. In one striker, he lost both his warhorse and his workhorse.
Ibrahimovic does the work of two men, so PSG must tweak accordingly.
Both Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi should be tasked with filling the void left by the incomparable Swede.
But Cavani missed the League Cup final with a slight hamstring pull. He's not fully fit. It looks a fitful attack.
Under the circumstances, a draw should please even the most parochial of PSG followers. But the odds are long.
With so many stars missing, it promises to be a dark night in Paris.
MESSI: I'M BACK TO MY BEST
Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has admitted that he struggled to overcome injuries in Barcelona's first trophyless campaign for six years last season.
As well as the disappointment at club level, Messi suffered the devastation of losing the World Cup final with Argentina and saw Cristiano Ronaldo oust him to win the World Player of the Year for a second consecutive year.
"Last season, I had an inconsistent season. I was out for a long time with injuries and I missed a lot of games," Messi (above) told Barcelona's website.
"When I returned to playing, I didn't feel good. It was a year I have tried to forget quickly to get back to my best with the effort, work and joy with which I have always had and thankfully now I feel very good."
Messi has stormed back to form since this season with 45 goals in 44 games to put Barca in position for just the second treble in the club's history.
Luis Enrique's men lead Real Madrid in La Liga by two points with seven games to play, face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final and travel to Paris Saint-Germain for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
"We went through times that we won everything, every year we would win a title and sometimes the fans and us didn't value what we were doing," Messi added.
"We had a bad year when we didn't win anything and now, when the success comes, we give it the importance it deserves and we enjoy it more because we know how difficult it is to achieve."
The one area of Messi's game that has let him down in recent months has been from the penalty spot as the 27-year-old has missed five of his last 11 spot-kicks, including against Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League.
"It angers me. Both with Barca and the Argentine national team, I am the penalty-taker and the goalkeepers study you and know you better every time.
"It is true that a well-taken penalty is very difficult to save but, at the moment, it is more difficult for me when I'm taking penalties."
Meanwhile, memories of their agonising Champions League exits in the last two seasons will spur PSG on when they host Barcelona in the first leg of their quarter-final tomorrow morning.
The French champions are desperate to make it to the last four after losing to Barcelona and Chelsea in the quarter-finals in each of the last two seasons, both times on away goals.
But their 3-2 win against the Catalans in Paris in the group stage, and the character they showed to beat Chelsea on away goals in the last 16, despite the sending-off of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the first half at Stamford Bridge, suggest they have what it takes to make the leap forward this time.
Asked if the thrilling win against the Catalans last September could be used as a reference point, PSG coach Laurent Blanc responded: "It is one of many games we have looked at to prepare this match.
"We have looked at what we need to do and what we need to avoid doing. We can draw lessons from that game, because we won it and are one of the only sides in Europe to have scored three goals against Barcelona." - AFP.
They are one point clear on top of the French Ligue 1 with seven games left. Also on track to win an unprecedented domestic Treble - they are in the French Cup semi-finals and retained the League Cup last weekend.
They are top of La Liga and have a Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao next month. However, their 2-2 draw at Sevilla allowed second-placed Real Madrid to trim the lead to just two points with seven games left.
ROAD TO LAST EIGHT
- PSG: Second in Group F behind Barcelona. Beat Chelsea on away goals after last-16 tie finished 3-3 on aggregate.
- Barcelona: Winners of Group F. Beat Man City 3-1 on aggregate in last 16. - AFP.