In-form Paris Saint-Germain will be without Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and new signing David Beckham as they prepare for their first Champions League knockout match in 18 years. The Ligue 1 leaders have won 12 and drawn one of their last 13 matches in all competitions to ease the pressure on coach Carlo Ancelotti and fuel belief that they can firmly establish themselves among the true European elite this season.
The Qatari group has spent fortunes since taking control of the club in 2011 to try and take them to the summit not only in France, but in Europe as well. Yet PSG’s record signing and key central defender, Silva, will continue to be absent for the first-leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Mestalla. Their most recent arrival, Beckham, has not yet got back his match fitness.
With both sides in form, Ancelotti believes that it is an evenly matched encounter.
“I don't think we're the favorites because this round is totally open,” he said, according to UEFA’s website. “Valencia are playing well again—they have well-organized and talented players. I think all the players have the same responsibility, despite having varying levels of experience in the Champions League. They all know what they have to do on the pitch.”
As Ancelotti pointed toward, Valencia’s domestic form has taken a sharp upswing since Ernesto Valverde took over from Mauricio Pellegrino in early December. And the former Olympiakos boss is keen to take those positive performances into Europe.
“It's always a good time to play a match like this—we're doing well right now,” he said. “We're high on confidence and this match offers us opportunities that we must make the most of. They have great strikers and attack with full force. Having possession doesn't mean constant danger; if we do that, it doesn't mean we will have PSG under control.”
Valencia were impressive in the Champions League group stage, finishing level on points with Bayern Munich. Regulars in the competition and its knockout stages in recent years, Valencia’s home record has been particularly strong. Los Che are unbeaten in their last nine Champions League matches at the Mestalla.
Valverde will have something of a defensive crisis with defenders with Aly Cissokho and Jeremy Mathieu out injured, while Antonio Barragan is suspended.
D: Pereira, R. Costa, Rami, Guardado
M: T. Costa, Albelda
Feghouli, Banega, Jonas
Paris Saint-Germain (probable)
D: Jallet, Alex, Sakho, Maxwell
M: Matuidi, Verratti
Lucas Moura, Lavezzi, Pastore
Prediction: This is a tie that really could go either way, with both sides in impressive form. PSG were able to rest the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Blaise Matuidi in their win over Bastia on Friday and should be refreshed for the trip to the Mestalla.
Ancelotti’s side have also been excellent away from home both domestically and in Europe this season, particularly defensively. Valencia will be encouraged by the absence of Silva, though, and will hope that Roberto Soldado can continue his fine form in the Champions League this campaign.
At the other end, Lucas Moura is still finding his feet after his big money move from Sao Paulo, but has already shown in flashes his pace, dribbling and long-range shooting ability. Although he likes to come inside, the young Brazilian could have a lot of success going up against Valencia’s weakened left side of defense.
A score draw could be on the cards, giving the French side a slight edge heading back to Paris.
Valencia 1-1 Paris Saint-Germain
Where to watch: The UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Soccer Plus, with a live stream available via a free trial to Fox Soccer 2Go.