PSG vs Barcelona, Champions League: Preview


Paris Saint-Germain vs FC Barcelona


Competition/Round: 2023-24 UEFA Champions League, Quarter-Finals, Leg 1

Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Gavi, Alejandro Balde (out), Frenkie de Jong, Pedri (doubt)

PSG Outs & Doubts: Achraf Hakimi, Presnel Kimpembe, Nordi Mukiele (out), Bradley Barcola (doubt)

Date/Time: Wednesday, April 10, 2024, 9pm CET (Barcelona), 8pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 12.30am IST (India, Thursday)

Venue: Parc des Princes, Paris, France

Referee: Anthony Taylor (ENG)

VAR: Stuart Attwell (ENG)

How to watch on TV: CBS (USA), TNT Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), SONY TEN (India), Movistar (Spain), others

How to watch online: Paramount+ (USA), Discovery+ (UK), Movistar+ (Spain), others


Following a quality victory over Las Palmas and 10 full days to rest, recover and prepare in beautiful Catalonia, the biggest game of Barcelona’s season has arrived as the Catalans have made the short trip to France for their Champions League quarter-final first leg against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday night.

This is Barça’s first Champions League quarter-final match in four years, but we don’t need to talk about what happened then. Time has passed, the club has gone through one of its darkest periods ever, but things are slowly starting to improve and a dream run in Europe, as unlikely as it seems right now, could end what appeared to be a depressing season in the most incredible of ways.

The road to Wembley isn’t easy, but it could have been a lot harder. Barça have avoided all of the main favorites in the draw not only in the Last Eight but also in the semi-finals, and have a very realistic shot of making the Final if they can find a way past Luis Enrique, Kylian Mbappe and the French champions.

The first leg feels like the most important of the two matchups over the next seven days: Barça’s chances in this tie are almost entirely dependant on a good result in Paris. A bad defeat pretty much ends all hopes, a draw is not even close to the end of the world, and a win would make the semi-finals a real possibility ahead of next week’s second leg.

Xavi Hernández and his troops have had a week and a half, almost unheard of in today’s crazy football calendar, to fully focus on this match and come up with the best possible gameplan to get a result in France that they can feel good about. I am a big advocate that playing beautiful football is irrelevant when you get to this stage of the competiton: yes, playing well and winning makes victories more memorable, but a victory is really all that matters.

And Barça don’t even necessarily have to win. If they can salvage a draw and compete for 90 minutes against a PSG team that is, at least on paper, the favorites at home, then the prospects of a glorious night in Montjuïc next week are pretty good.

Slowing down Mbappe and former Blaugrana Ousmane Dembele will be the two big keys for this one, but the Catalans also have to be aware of Luis Enrique’s tactical mind: the Barça legend won a Treble in 2015 by turning his team into a counter-attacking machine, purposely conceding possession for extended periods so Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar could wreak havoc with space to run at full speed against terrified opposing defenses.

It would not be a surprise at all to see Lucho use a similar plan a decade later, allowing Barça to have the ball and then unleashing the pace of Mbappe and Dembele against the Blaugrana backline. It doesn’t need to be a 90-minute strategy; PSG will only need a couple of well-crafted counter-attacks to score a goal, and if their high-pressing is also effective they can force mistakes against a Barça defense that plays out from the back and is sometimes prone to mistakes.

Xavi’s initial strategy needs to be good but the coach also needs to react quickly and manage the game if things don’t work well early, and that has been his one glaring weakness in big European matches. There will be plenty of firepower on the bench if Frenkie de Jong and Pedri are medically cleared in time, and the likes of Fermín López, Ferran Torres and João Félix will also be ready to play decisive roles if called upon.

This needs to be Barça’s best all-around performance. Not only do they need to know exactly what to do with the ball and be clinical with their chances, they also must defend well as a team, control the counter-attacks and be mentally strong to endure the difficult moments which are almost guaranteed to come at this stage of the Champions League.

PSG are favorites, Barça have been a laughing stock in Europe for a half-decade, and Luis Enrique is widely expected to outcoach Xavi. Barça really have nothing to lose, and if they can upset the French champions we could be in for a memorable night in the Catalan capital next week.

Let’s dance.


POSSIBLE LINEUPS

Barcelona (4-2-3-1): Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Cubarsí, Cancelo; Christensen, Roberto; Yamal, Gündogan, Raphinha; Lewandowski

PSG (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Zaire-Emery, Marquinhos, Hernández, Mendes; Vitinha, Ugarte, Fabián; Dembele, Mbappe, Barcola


PREDICTION

Both teams are in good form, play in similar ways and have a couple of decisive individual talents in attack. I expect an open game with quite a few good chances for both sides, and a result Barça can feel reasonably good about: 2-2 draw.

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