Zlatan Ibrahimović will be denied another opportunity to take on former club Barcelona, with the Paris Saint-Germain striker set to miss Tuesday’s Champions League duel at the Parc des Princes with a heel injury. The Swedish star, who struck 10 goals in the Champions League last season, spent a single season with the Catalan giants five years ago, which ended in disappointment after a Champions League semifinal defeat and a falling out with then manager Pep Guardiola. While he scored when PSG and Barcelona last met in the quarterfinals in 2013, he will be forced to sit on the sidelines for Tuesday’s group stage match after failing to recover from a heel problem picked up a week ago.
“Zlatan is still nursing his heel injury and didn’t participate in training this morning,” PSG manager Laurent Blanc said, according to UEFA.com. “That’s very unfortunate, but I have prepared for this match with this possibility in mind. It’ll be difficult without him -- it always is -- but we’ll have to make do and we have some very talented forwards. We’ll have to compensate with a great team performance [against Barcelona].”
A great performance and, indeed, a win would come as a much-needed boost to Blanc on a personal level, too. The former France coach has come under scrutiny following a disappointing start to the season that sees PSG lying fourth in Ligue 1. The big-spending champions have drawn five of their eight league games this season, including against Toulouse on Saturday. Their Champions League campaign began the same way when conceding a late equalizer at Ajax, making Tuesday’s encounter, in which they’ll also be missing captain Thiago Silva and Argentinean forward Ezequiel Lavezzi, all the more important.
Blanc’s counterpart at Barcelona, Luis Enrique, will come into the clash in much better spirits. After recording a disappointing goalless draw against Malaga last week, Barcelona excelled in a 6-0 thumping of Granada on Saturday. The result saw Barcelona extend their record of not conceding a goal this season to seven games in all competitions, while establishing a two-point advantage at the top of La Liga. Up to that point, the start to Enrique’s reign had been characterized by solid rather than spectacular performances, including a narrow 1-0 win over Cypriots Apoel Nicosia to begin Barcelona’s attempts to regain a trophy they won three times between 2006 and 2011.
But the weekend’s win saw the team and, in particular, Lionel Messi hit their stride, with the four-time world player of the year producing two assists to go along with two goals that took him over the 400 mark in his career. While Messi has more assists than goals to his name this season, Enrique, who has only defender Douglas ruled out through injury, believes the 27-year-old remains at his peak at both creating and scoring.
“I think he’s still an incredible player in both aspects,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “We’ll have to look at see what his statistics are at end of season, but the way he’s going at the moment he’s scoring goals and providing assists. But he’s also contributing in other aspects you may not realize, like pressing the opposition. He’s still the no 1 player in the world in several aspects.”
Prediction: While they perhaps didn’t add to their squad this summer in the way many in the French capital will have hoped, Paris Saint-Germain have a squad that should be capable of going a long way in the Champions League and certainly playing significantly above their current level. Blanc still has much to prove that he can get the best out of his players at the highest level and he won’t be helped on Tuesday by the absence of his two most influential performers -- Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva. Without the latter they may struggle to keep out Messi and Neymar, whose combination continued to show positive signs against Granada.
PSG 0-1 Barcelona
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Soccer Deportes
Live stream: Fox Soccer 2Go