With just over two days to go, the world of football begins to brew up the hype to the blockbuster clash just around the corner. It is always something special when the UEFA Champions League returns. Moreover so in the knockout rounds, as it always promises come delicious fixtures.
Barcelona slipped at the nth minute after leading their group all the way till the penultimate matchday. A meek performance at home against Juventus saw them crash down to the second place, meaning their hopes of an easy clash in the round of 16 had crashed.
On the day of the draw, as the representative drew out the fateful ball, anxious moments followed in Catalonia. Paris Saint-Germain it was. It immediately provoked a storm of emotions and memories for Barcelona faithful across the globe. That last-minute surge from Sergi Roberto, extending every inch of his body to the very fullest to craftily deflect a wonderful lob with pinpoint accuracy. Those emotions, the scenes at the Camp Nou, that day engraved in gold in Barcelona’s history.
That was, at the end of the day, a different team. The last time the sides faced off, Barcelona had a young Brazilian superstar who is now on the other end of the boat. The sides have changed dramatically, the ideologies with them. Barcelona since then have only gone down, while their opponents have slowly made their way up, right to the Champions League final last season.
The game needs no more hype because it is indeed a battle that is so much more than just football. It is a battle of pride, of prestige, and one that will be fought with vigour and valour. The night promises to be one of immense quality, with some of the biggest names in world football coming up head-to-head. Here are the top 5 players to keep an eye out for when Barcelona take on PSG:
Frenkie de Jong
Life can take a turn at any moment. And so does the story of Frenkie de Jong explain to its fullest. After being priced out of an invaluable Ajax side, the Dutch midfielder did not disappoint in his first season at Barcelona. Despite not putting up many bad performances, the wow factor just seemed missing. He was a great asset, yet not quite at the height, he was signed for. Over time, the criticism rose, but the No.21 kept his head close and worked unperturbed.
The rewards are now visible to the fullest. Credit to Ronald Koeman, de Jong is almost unplayable at the moment. The protege has had a stellar 2021, despite playing a lot of football out of position at centre-back. The month of January belonged to the youngster, who now has three goals and three assists in the League, not to mention his immense contributions in the Copa del Rey and the Supercup.
Heading into the clash, signs point to the midfielder starting once again in his niche. Once again in his own den, de Jong will be roaring to dominate his pastures once again. The Parisian midfield is a force to reckon with, but the dutchman on his day can price it open single-handedly. His performance will undoubtedly be crucial to the final result.
Being as vital as Keylor Navas is to his team, and yet not be included in a discussion concerning the best goalkeeper in the world must be hard indeed. Time and time again, Navas has proved his talent on the biggest stage. The end of his Real Madrid chapter was just turning the page over for another fantastic spell in France. To say he was one of the most instrumental players in helping his side reach the finals last season would be an understatement.
Along with his admirably speedy reflexes, the Costa Rican brings a powerful presence on the field. With impeccable leadership and immense experience, Navas continues to be one of, if not the best keeper in Ligue 1.
In 17 games, he has conceded only 0.5 goals per game, whilst making 2.5 saves per game! A save percentage of 84% is astonishing. At 34 years of age, Navas shows no signs of slowing down. Despite being the last wall of his side, he is the most important and reliable one. Barcelona will need something extraordinary to get the ball past Keylor Navas on the night.
The French prince taking on the French giants. After just being linked last summer with a move to PSG, Antoine Griezmann now welcomes them to the Camp Nou as a totally renewed figure in Catalonia.
The script of Barcelona vs PSG was always going to have extensive floodlight on Griezmann, especially after his poor start to life in Barcelona. Yet, here we are. The Frenchman has turned around his fortune and in some style.
Ever since the dawn of 2021, he has sprung to life in a whole new spirit. His chemistry seems to have hit an all-time high. His movements off the ball which once served no purpose now serve to split open opposition defences. The finishing has been on and of, however more so the former.
Moreover, he has proved to be an all-round asset for Ronald Koeman. In addition to the 11 goals to his name, he also boasts of 7 assists. Not to mention, his defensive work rate is as impressive as it gets.
At the moment, it seems impossible to imagine Griezmann heading back the wrong way. He can only get better, it seems. With every coming game, his confidence grows exponentially as he slowly inches closer to being the beast Barcelona signed from Atletico Madrid.
A name in world football that needs no further introduction. Kylian Mbappe has gone on to become the ambassador of young talent across the globe. Ever since his transfer from Monaco, his growth has been at an unbelievable rate as he has been polished to one of the worlds finest footballers.
Truth be told, the youngster has not had it easy since the managerial change. Since Pochettino took over the reigns, Mbappe has not breathed as freely as he would have liked to. The suffocation is visible, and he seems less involved in the team’s buildup and attack. However, he is a big game player, and nothing will stop him from putting on a show at the Camp Nou.
The explosive pace that can be compared to none, the immaculate finishing and remarkable maturity speak volumes on the qualities of Mbappe. He is a defender’s worst nightmare, a worrying matter for Koeman. Up against a weakened and relatively inexperienced defence, the 22-year-old will have his sights on a big night. One could expect the Frenchman to do some real damage on the night.
The list was always going to be capped off by Lionel Messi. Indeed, the eyes of the world will be almost exclusively on the Argentine come Tuesday night. While Barcelona fans will have eyes glued on Messi hoping for some magic, the Paris faithful will have eyes on Leo as well hoping for an off night.
That Messi can destroy any opposition on his day is not news, it is a plain fact. Though the 6-time Ballon d’Or winner had a slow start to the campaign, he has quickly caught up across all charts.
Messi heads into Tuesday’s clash off the back of a magisterial performance against Alaves. The performance, though routine for the Argentine, is one that many players would die to have. The game was not just a signal to PSG for what they are coming up against, but a warning call from the Barcelona captain that he still very much has it in him.
If Barcelona are to walk away with an advantage, Messi will have to be at his blistering best. He is the one cog that could set the two sides apart, as his mere presence can convert an average side into a competitive one. Can the Argentine steer Barcelona past PSG, and produce what the world will call an upset again? Only time will tell. I
Predicted Barcelona lineup against Osasuna — Ilaix, Trincao to replace Pedri, Dembele
A last gasp equaliser brought action of the highest calibre into a dramatic game at the Camp Nou against Sevilla. With the odds against them, Ronald Koeman’s side once again overturned a deficit and came back to win the game. It had happened in Granada and it did happen once again, this time over two legs.
Emotions ran high, celebrations went beserk and rightfully so. It had been years since Barcelona experienced that kind of adrenaline and positivity about themselves. Kudos to Ronald Koeman, for he has instilled an unquenchable thirst amongst the same crop of players that were once said to be ‘mentally weak’.
The weekend promises to be an eventful one for La Liga. The scheduled Madrid Derby provides massive opportunity for both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid to drop points. Meanwhile, Barcelona will look to pick up all the three points away at Osasuna to bridge that gap. The League could be a realistic shot of this weekend goes as planned. Or so they say. Here is how Barcelona could lineup against Osasuna.
If anyone still has acquaintances who say Marc-Andre ter Stegen disappears in big games, do not hesitate to put forth the clash against Sevilla. At a time when everything seemed lost, Ter Stegen pulled Barcelona out of the mud again. A sensational penalty save under the highest of pressure. He will certainly hold onto his spot on Saturday.
Gerard Pique’s injury against Sevilla has now left him a doubt even for the clash against PSG next week. That said, Koeman could likely look to revert back to his 4-3-3 approach.
Oscar Mingueza and Clement Lenglet would be the best possible centre-half pairing given the options available. While Mingueza did indeed give away a penalty, his individual performance midweek was one of the highest quality. The youngster impressed yet again with his calm, yet ‘no nonsense’ attitude.
Lenglet on the other hand has been dormant for Barcelona. In recent weeks, despite not doing any harm, he has not even produced any match-defining moments. It does appear that the Frenchman is slowly regaining his confidence. Saturday will undoubtedly be a huge step forward for him if the Catalans do maintain a clean sheet.
Sergino Dest continues to be the first choice Right back this season, moreover so with Sergi Roberto injured. However, that spark going forward that the world witnessed in his first few games is now not to be found. The American international has been superb in defence, yet there is a sentiment that he is capable of so much more going forward.
Jordi Alba will continue to hold onto his spot at the left-back. Whenever Barcelona have found themselves in a pressure cooker situation, the Spaniard has stepped it up a notch. With yet another assist in his tally, Alba looks more confident than ever.
Despite all the criticism constantly hurled at him, Sergio Busquets has been almost flawless in his last few appearances. Defensively more solid than ever and actually now covering more ground than before, we could be seeing the resurgence of a new version of the Spanish defensive midfielder. He will start as the deep midfielder on the night
After an injury scare and another stressful game immediately after injury, Pedri might be rested on Saturday. In his place, one could expect Ilaix Moriba to get his second start. The La Masia talent has been mature beyond his years, and an influential cog in both of Barcelona’s wins last week. This could be his time to shine.
Frenkie de Jong will round up the midfield. The Dutchman’s renewed role has brought out the best in him as well as the team. He has now finally cemented his place as an undisputed and deserved starter in every game. He will play as the advanced midfielder on the night.
Antoine Griezmann has been benched for three starts in a row. Though the decision might be tactical, it clearly shows that if the coach has a high-pressure clash which is a must-win scenario, he doesn’t count on the Frenchman. Griezmann ultimately did come off the bench and deliver the assist for Gerard Pique’s last gasp equaliser. However, the #7 will be more determined than ever to find a way back into Koeman’s main XI. The first step to that goal? A great showing against Osasuna.
Lionel Messi will continue to lead from the centre forward role as he looks to extend his lead in the Pichchi race. The Argentine has had a sublime 2021, and a goal or two against Osasuna would reiterate his blistering form.
With Ousmane Dembele too suffering an injury scare, Koeman would prefer to stay on the conservative side. Fransisco Trincao provides a more than a potent backup option, and the Portuguese winger could get a start come Saturday on the right-wing.
Griezmann · Messi · Trincao
Ilaix · Busquets · de Jong
Alba · Lenglet · Pique · Dest
Riqui Puig has not been used in the past few games, understandably due to the physicality involved in these clashes. Tonight could be the time to once again unleash the youngster in the latter half of the game.
Miralem Pjanic is back from injury, and has received the medical green light. The Bosnian could replace Sergio Busquets in the second half to provide the Spaniard with some much-needed rest and rotation.
Ousmane Dembele could too come on in the second half, to open up and exploit spaces if Barcelona are chasing a goal.