The French Champions- Paris Saint-Germain- travel to the Camp Nou for a blockbuster clash in the Champions League round of 16. It is a clash the world has set its sight on. The colourful streets of Catalonia will again hope for their warriors to repeat the heroics of last time. Meanwhile, the exuberant lanes of Paris hope that this year is the end of their Champions league curse.
The fortunes of the two sides heading into the clash could not be more puzzling. PSG- the publicly backed favourite for the clash has witnessed a slump in performance in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Barcelona has been at the peak of their powers this season, and seem to cast away La Liga sides with ease.
Nevertheless, the Catalans have not had great fortunes in clashes against the big names so far this season. Heading into a clash against last year’s finalists, one hopes that the renewed squad does Barcelona proud. Here is how Barcelona could lineup against PSG
After what seems ages, Barcelona finally have a solid core of undisputed starters under Ronald Koeman. This starts right from the man between the posts. Marc Andre ter Stegen has had a season of few mistakes and carried the team on many occasions. Up against fearsome names in Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappe, the German will have to be at his sharpest.
An injury could not come at a worse time for Ronald Araujo. At a time when Barcelona needed its form defender, the Uruguayan has almost certainly been ruled out of the clash.
Though Gerard Pique has begun training with the group, it is highly unlikely for the Spaniard to be given a start. Oscar Mingueza, though not flawless himself provides the most reliable option for Koeman on the night. He will likely be alongside Clement Lenglet who has been on a dismal run of form. The centre back pairing is a concerning front, especially given the quality of the opposition.
After receiving his medical all-clear ahead of Saturday’s clash, Sergino Dest seems set to start at right-back. His performances leading up to his injury were disappointing, to say the least. The Champions League provides a new slate to make a fresh image. Undoubtedly, the USMNT star will be looking to capitalize.
Jordi Alba was given a day off in the 5-1 demolition of Alaves, not even featuring off the bench. All signs indicate that he will once again start against PSG. The Spaniard will have a massive part to play in the final result, given his critical contributions in both attack and defence.
The one department that seems sorted in its entirety. After months of permutations, combinations and rotations, Koeman has struck gold. The trio of Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets and Pedri has surpassed all expectations.
Barcelona finally have a midfield combination that can effectively contribute to attack. With De Jong making constant runs into the box, and Pedri’s eagle-eye vision and incisive passes, the attack of the Catalan side has a new cuttings edge.
On the night, Busquets will once again dictate the play from deep midfield. Not much has been spoken of his world-class displays since the new formation. A good game for Busquets almost certainly means a positive outing for the Catalans.
While de Jong will continue in his renewed advanced role, Pedri will be deployed in the half-space to exploit ever slip up from the French Champions
The rest for Ousmane Dembele ahead of the crucial Round of 16 ties was the most conspicuous indication of his involvement. Undoubtedly, the manager counts heavily on the Frenchman to break open the Parisian defence. Moreover, this is a massive game for Dembele on a personal level. It promises to be an opportunity to directly impress the decision-makers in Paris, and earn back a spot in the National team squad. He will certainly look to be a constant menace on the left-wing.
Antoine Griezmann faces off against the side he was heavily linked to in the summer. However, this time he approaches them as a new figure. He is now a part of the flesh and blood of this Barcelona side, not a liability in any sense. The No.7 has been the direct inspiration for so many of the Catalans goals in recent games and is not beginning to show his full ability. He will start at CF on the night.
Lionel Messi will cap off the lineup, starting on the right-wing. The Argentine has been inspired in recent games, the clash against Alaves being a prime example. He provided the apt war cry that echoed across every street in Paris on Saturday.
Pochettino and PSG should be scared because a Lionel Messi in that kind of form can obliterate any opposition. Undoubtedly, it will take a team effort, but a potent Leo could well be the difference on the night.
Dembélé – Griezmann – Messi
De Jong – Busquets – Pedri
Alba – Lenglet – Mingueza – Dest
Fransisco Trincao has turned around his season, and in what style. All of a sudden, he looks more inspired than ever. He will be high on confidence after his two goals against Alaves. He will be a potent option for Koeman to utilise in the latter half.
Riqui Puig put up a solid performance at the weekend and made a statement. The manager even acknowledged the youngster’s attitude and impact. With differences sorted, Puig could well minute to make a difference on the night.
A significant week in Barcelona for Lionel Messi’s future
It is a topic that gets the football world giddy. The fantasies of Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League, the formation of another star-studded front three alongside Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe, and for the romantics, a return to Argentina is set in their hearts.
After the infamous events of the summer of 2020, now more than ever, the biggest legend of FC Barcelona looks closer than ever to leaving.
Many Barça fans feel that it could be a good thing that the six-time Ballon D’or winner leaves, bringing up the point that the Catalan side needs a hard restart next season and the idea of building a team around a 33-year-old does not seem logical, as it only benefits the near future.
This is a valid point and most likely comes from those who want not only the best for Barca but Messi as well, as Cúlers are not ignorant to the fact that the club cannot promise their beloved number ten the fifth Champions League trophy he craves in its current situation.
However, in an ideal world, Barça fans would want Messi to stay and win his fifth European Cup wearing Blaugrana and if that is to happen, the week that went by is the only decider on course for the club and player alike.
The Copa Del Rey comeback
In the interview with Jordi Évole on LaSexta last December, Lionel Messi stated that he “wanted to keep competing to win trophies.”
Two weeks ago, that desire for this season looked unlikely. Atletico Madrid had a sizeable lead over the Catalans in La Liga, Paris Saint-Germain built up a 1-4 lead in the Champions League, and Sevilla had a 2-0 advantage in the Copa del Rey.
The first of these tasks was addressed on Wednesday night, in what turned out to be a memorable night in the history of FC Barcelona. A 94th minute Gerard Pique header sent Barça into extra time, where Martin Braithwaite completed the comeback to send the Catalans through to the final 3-2 on aggregate.
The chance to win another trophy would no doubt have pleased Messi but it is the story of the match that will help keep the Argentine at the club next season.
If Messi stopped and looked around the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, he would have seen determination and heart from his teammates to keep going to the final whistle, an abundance of youthful talent performing at a level beyond their years, and world-class players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen ready to step up when certain challenges emerged.
Throughout one night, all these combined into a sort of presentation to the Argentine, exhibiting the future of FC Barcelona and where the team is headed.
There is no denying that the gap between Barcelona and Europe’s elite is still large, but this performance showed the signs Messi has called for and that is something that can be noted down for the future.
The perfect Liga weekend
Looking ahead to the weekend, the second of Barcelona’s comeback missions received an encouraging boost.
The Catalan side were looking to go 16 games unbeaten in La Liga in a match against twelfth place Osasuna and a win would not only see them extend this run but close the gap on Atletico Madrid to just two points, albeit with two games in hand.
The importance of this weekend lied in Atletico’s game as they face city rivals Real Madrid. In an ideal world, Barça fans would hope that the spoils are shared in El Derbi allowing the Blaugrana side to gain points on both Madrid clubs.
Barcelona’s prayers were catered to, and not only did the Catalan giants pick up three ugly, yet important points from their encounter against Osasuna, the capital outfits had to settle for a draw. Playing the angel’s advocate, even if Atleti had come away with the three points, it would essentially narrow the title race to just two teams considering Los Colchoneros gap at the top.
From Lionel Messi’s point of view, winning the La Liga title from the position Barça found themselves in a few weeks back would be a huge encouragement to stay for another season, especially if it is accompanied by the Copa del Rey. The Argentine has been part of teams that let leads slip over the last three seasons and to flip the script on that, would ultimately show progress.
The Presidential election
The final act of the week was the 2021 Presidential Election, where the next president of FC Barcelona was chosen on Sunday night. Joan Laporta, Victor Font, and Toni Freixa were the three candidates fighting for Barça’s top spot, and all have addressed the situation of Lionel Messi throughout their campaigns.
Joan Laporta had emerged as the favourite for a second spell, and like everyone suspected, the Spaniard swayed the elections, coming on top as the winner. Ideally, it would have a significant impact on the future of La Pulga, as Messi showed up to vote for the elections for the first time in his life. In fact, Laporta went on to claim that Leo congratulated him on the night. His renewal will be one of the many hurdles Laporta will have to jump over.
Throughout the presidential campaign, it has been rumoured that Messi will not stay if Joan Laporta does not win. Laporta himself fuelled these rumours on Tuesday during the last of the Presidential debates.
The Spaniard stated, “If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona”.
“If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona. “Messi will weigh up the offer we make him. I’m convinced that if the other candidates win, Messi will not remain at Barcelona. He wasn’t happy during Freixa’s time on the board.”Joan Laporta in the presidential debate
If these feelings are believed to be true, the future of Lionel Messi could take a dramatic twist on Sunday.
Having said all this, Lionel Messi’s future could come down to one simple desire, to win a fifth European Cup. At 33 years old, the Argentine does not have time on his side in this pursuit, and it could be years before Barcelona can compete for Europe’s top prize again.
With ready-made teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain waiting on the side-lines, the final decision in June could come down to this week — if this week does not make it for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, there is little chance anything else will.