Paris Saint-Germain will have some key players back, but the task facing them at the Camp Nou on Tuesday is one of historic proportions. Missing several key players for last week’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg, PSG were given the run-around by a Luis Suárez-inspired Barcelona in a 3-1 victory for the Spanish league leaders.
Two of those missing, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti, will be available for PSG after suspension, but they will have to inspire a turnaround managed just once in the 60-year history of Europe’s premier competition. In the 281 knockout ties played in the European Cup, only six teams have progressed after losing the first leg at home, only Ajax in 1969 did so after overturning a two-goal home deficit.
It is not just history that stands in the way of PSG reaching only their second ever semifinal in the competition, and their first since beating Barcelona in the last eight 20 years ago. Barcelona have failed to win just twice in their last 24 matches in all competitions, and on current form look to be the team to beat in Europe this season. Much of that can be ascribed to their devastating front three, which continues to prove near impossible for any opponent to shut down.
In a hard-fought win against high-flying Valencia on Saturday, Lionel Messi scored his 400th goal for the club, but, more than just goals, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner is now more consistently influential for the team than he arguably has been in two years. If he’s not cutting in devastatingly from the right flank, he’s offering valuable creative support in the middle. Over on the left, the fact that Neymar is now just two goals shy of 30 for the season has gone almost unnoticed such is the star quality around him.
It was the Brazilian star who opened the scoring at the Parc des Princes last Wednesday, before Suárez brilliantly stole the show. On a run of 12 goals in as many games, it seems barely conceivable now that there were genuine doubts about his ability to assimilate to this Barcelona team during what was a slow start following his biting-related suspension. Twice in the second half in the French capital, the brilliant and relentless Uruguayan embarrassed PSG defender David Luiz by sticking the ball through his legs en route to finding the back of the net. While Jeremy Mathieu’s subsequent own goal gave the Parisians something to take from a chastening evening, it is difficult not to think that Suárez’s second exceptional goal was the moment that the result of the tie was put beyond doubt.
A 3-0, or even 4-2, victory for PSG at the colossal Camp Nou, where Barcelona have lost just once in their last 31 Champions League home matches is close to inconceivable. It is made even more so by the insipid way that PSG performed on such a big stage last week. While the loss of Ibrahimovic, Verratti, Thiago Motta and Serge Aurier, as well as an injury forced that Thiago Silva off and the half-fit David Luiz on, offer mitigating circumstances, they do not provide a full justification by any means.
Their season has been far from a convincing one -- demonstrated by the club lying second in a league in which their huge financial advantage suggests they should dominate. But there had been strong signs that Laurent Blanc’s men were able to produce their best on the big occasion. The performance with 10 men in twice battling back from a goal at Chelsea in the last round of the Champions League was admirable, while they also battled back to beat Ligue 1 title rivals Marseille earlier this month.
Last week, though, they were flat from the start. For a club that has poured so much money into becoming members of Europe’s true elite and regular contenders to win the Champions League, PSG still looked a long way short. And, while Ibrahimovic and Verratti will add star quality, the absence of the influential Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta could mean that simply failing to avoid another convincing defeat at the hands of their in-form hosts will prove beyond them.
Prediction: Barcelona over Paris Saint-Germain, 2-0
Barcelona: After injuring his back in the first leg, Andres Iniesta returned to training on Sunday. Thomas Vermaelen is the only confirmed absentee.
Paris Saint-Germain: With Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Serge Aurier still out, Gregory van der Wiel is likely to keep his place at right-back, while David Luiz should partner Marquinhos in the center. Lucas Moura may also be in line for a place in the lineup, having made his first start in two months in a 3-1 win at Nice on Saturday.