Barcelona coach Luis Enrique insists he is taking nothing for granted as his team prepares to take on a Paris Saint-Germain side depleted by injuries and suspensions in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal at the Parc des Princes. The two sides shared a victory apiece when they met in this season’s group stage, but PSG’s chances of making the last four for the first time in 20 years have been hit by a series of absentees.
Former Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended, along with midfielder Marco Verratti and defender Serge Aurier, while another former Barcelona man, Thiago Motta, is ruled out through injury. Enrique, though, cites PSG’s 3-2 win in Paris last September, when Ibrahimovic was also unavailable, as reason for Barcelona not to take their opponents lightly.
“Paris have several major absentees, let's face it But let's not forget they won against us when Zlatan was out, and we won when we met and he played,” he said, according to UEFA’s official website. “So you never know how important the absentees will turn out to be.”
While injury is also expected to restrict Lucas Moura to a place on the bench, there has been more positive news for PSG on the eve of the first leg. Originally expected to miss the match after suffering a thigh injury against Marseille 10 days ago, the world’s most expensive defender, David Luiz, has been included in the squad.
PSG’s mood should be improved, too, by their upturn in fortunes in Ligue 1. Expected to dominate domestically thanks to their huge financial advantage, the French champions have struggled to assert their superiority on the pitch this season, putting huge pressure on Blanc. But they have now moved to the top of the standings with seven matches remaining, and on Saturday they lifted the Coupe de la Ligue after a 4-0 victory over Bastia. Blanc admitted, though, that keeping a Barcelona side, featuring a forward trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, quiet will be no mean feat.
“There are a lot of teams that play on the counterattack against Barca with the aim of not conceding a goal,” he said, reports Paris Saint-Germain’s official website. “At the end of the match, they've always conceded at least one. This team possesses players that can score at any moment. We saw that in the return leg in the group stage. We will need to defend well. The paradox of the Champions League and the advantage of away goals is that, even when you're playing at home, you must defend well.”
Barcelona suffered disappointment at the weekend, when their lead at the top of La Liga was cut to two points after letting a 2-0 lead slip to draw 2-2 at Sevilla. Much of the post-match discussion was dominated by talk of Neymar’s seemingly angry reaction to being replaced by Xavi in the second-half. While playing down the incident, Enrique, who also reportedly angered Messi when leaving him on the bench for a match in January, insisted his decisions had to be respected by all.
“I didn’t see any images of his reaction, we record the game from the top of the stand and we don’t see the expressions of the players,” he said, according to Spanish publication Sport. “As a coach I understand that everyone wants to be on the pitch, but as players they need to understand that I am the one that takes the decisions. Every player needs to understand my decisions, without exception.”
Enrique’s selection problems do not come close to those of his counterpart, but Barcelona will be without Dani Alves due to suspension.
D: Van der Wiel, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Maxwell
M: Cabaye, Rabiot, Matuidi
F: Lavezzi, Cavani, Pastore
G: Ter Stegen
D: Adriano, Pique, Mathieu, Alba
M: Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1