After closing the gap to La Liga’s summit to just three points, Barcelona now return to action to accomplish another second-leg comeback, this time, in the Champions League, against PSG.
Date and Kickoff Time: 10 March; 21:00h CET
Stadium: Parc des Princes
Competition: UEFA Champions League
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Barça fans enjoyed a memorable week where they beat Sevilla twice, out of which the second-leg 3-0 victory in the Copa del Rey semi-final can be regarded as the most outstanding game of the Ronald Koeman-era. Having put themselves in the domestic cup’s final, they then went on to produce another commanding display versus Osasuna, winning 2-0. The telling factor that the Madrid derby ended as a stalemate has certainly bolstered the belief that the slow start to the 2020/21 season can be turned around.
But now, the attention turns to the Champions League, where they were blown away by a Neymar-less PSG in the first-leg. The 4-1 loss did not only dent the Catalan outfit’s hopes of progressing deep into the competition, but Kylian Mbappé’s hattrick also scarred them psychologically.
The Blaugrana have been receiving extremely humbling exits from the Champions League in recent times. Every year, the blow inflicted has only been more painful for the fans. After AS Roma, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich showing the door to the Spanish outfit, they are now at the jaws of another elimination. Conceding 4 away goals has put them in a painstakingly obstinate situation where even a 3-0 win at the Parc des Princes would still see them out on away goals.
The mood around Camp Nou was severely gloomy after the first-leg defeat. But the recent run, combined with a phenomenal reversing of the 2-0 first-leg defeat to Sevilla in the Copa semi-final would certainly lift the spirit. However, they face a side that is led by a determined Mauricio Pochettino, who will be raring to boot the Catalans out of Europe considering his connection with RCD Espanyol de Barcelona.
What to expect from PSG?
The hosts firmly sit in the driving seat for this tie and will be aware that they will be facing a Barcelona side that will push for early goals. It’s this sense of urgency that Pochettino will be looking to exploit. He is likely to set his team up to play to Mbappé’s strengths and thereby struck the visitors on the break. The Frenchman’s electric pace proved to be a herculean task in the first-leg, where he breezed past the midfield and backline with minimal effort. And now, because the onus is on Barça to launch more men forward to the attack, this only makes things easier for the 22-year-old.
PSG will have Ángel Di María back for tomorrow’s clash. The 33-year-old former Real Madrid winger missed the first-leg with a thigh injury. While Neymar remains out despite returning to training, there is evidence of enough quality in the attack to hurt the visitors without the Brazilian’s expertise. Unfortunately for them, they will be without Moise Kean, who scored a header in the first-leg. Needless to say, Pochettino is likely to stick with a 4-3-3 with a roughly conservative midfield to preserve physicality in the centre of the pitch.
It’s relatively easier to maintain more possession in the Ligue 1, but against Barcelona, that will not be the case. As a result of this, they will have more opportunities to hit the visitors on the break. With highly progressive fullbacks, an industrious midfield, and an explosive frontline, the Parisians will be looking to put the tie to bed with a professional performance. Pochettino will be aware that holding a firm lead in any Champions League tie means nothing, as he was the brains behind Tottenham’s miraculous comeback against Ajax two seasons ago. And so, complacency is a no-go for the hosts.
What to expect from Barcelona?
Koeman has had enough time to reflect on the first-leg humbling and will have to find a set-up that limits Mbappé’s usage of his explosive pace. However, the outlandish nature of the scoreline puts him in a peculiar position where he has to ask more men to commit to the attack. While this would be nothing but playing into PSG’s hands, Koeman’s hands are now forced into it. Overturning a 4-1 deficit away from home will carry an immense weightage of risk. While the media, fans, and neutrals will be solely focused on what Lionel Messi can conjure up alongside Ousmane Dembélé and Antoine Griezmann, Koeman has the responsibility to keep an eye on the defence as well.
The backline needs to drop a bit deeper. In the first-leg, they made the fatal mistake of giving Mbappé too much space, which he loves to exploit. The Azulgranas will be without Gerard Piqué, whose heroics in the Copa semi-final came with the price of suffering another knee injury. But Óscar Mingueza has settled into his role in quite a remarkable fashion. The 21-year-old will look to hold the fort alongside Clément Lenglet, who needs to start regaining his form. They can’t afford any mistakes at the back, as conceding more goals would only put the tie even farther from reach.
The positive element to be observed is that the Catalans have conceded only one goal in all competitions since the first-leg battering. The defence is slowly starting to show improvement, but they will have to dig deep to deliver an impeccable collective performance to stop the creative flow of PSG’s attack.
Up top, the visitors will be relieved that Messi is now getting support from his fellow attackers. Dembélé was outstanding against Sevilla, where he scored a fantastic early goal to kick-start the comeback. On the flip-side, Griezmann is having a much better season when compared to his first year at Camp Nou. The patterns of play between the frontline are improving, with Pedri and Frenkie de Jong acting as the anchors of the supporting cast. Indeed, when an insurmountable challenge is put forth, all the eyes turn to the expected saviour, but it’s encouraging to see that there are more game-changers in the attack to pose questions at PSG’s defence.
The key will be to get the first goal as early as possible. Scoring within the first ten to fifteen minutes not only boosts the morale but also starts to tick the psychological pressure on the hosts, who will be aware of their historic blemish four-years ago.
With Neymar ruled-out, there is no doubt that the spotlight will once again be on Mbappé. Andriy Shevchenko was the last player to score a hattrick in the Camp Nou in the Champions League in 1997. And now, 24-years later, Mbappé’s star-studded performance surely has struck a bitter chord.
First-leg performance in numbers:
Minutes played: 90′
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 1
Shots blocked: 1
Dribble attempts (succ.): 11 (10)
Big chances missed: 1
Acc. passes: 26/31 (84%)
Key passes: 4
Crosses (acc.): 3 (1)
Big chances created: 1
Ground duels (won): 15 (13)
There is no doubt that the 22-year-old will be itching to inflict more damage on the visitors. With whispers of a new and improved contract on the horizon, he enters another phase in his career where he will have to make a decisive decision. Throughout the season, numerous media outlets were dampening his commitment to the French champions, citing that his head was elsewhere. However, that one performance at the Nou Camp was sufficient to silence all his critics.
An impeccable combination of raw pace, close-control, and instinctive decision-making make him one of the best players in the world. He will be aware of the pressure that comes with achieving so much at such a young age and is now setting sights on the only major honour he is yet to clinch. While on paper, the tie seems to be close to dust, Mbappé will look to pitch in another excellent performance to crush the Blaugrana‘s hopes of making a comeback.
Previous games: WWWLW
Brest 0-3 PSG | French Cup
Bordeaux 0-1 PSG | Ligue 1
Dijon FCO 0-4 PSG | Ligue 1
PSG 0-2 AS Monaco | Ligue 1
Barcelona 1-4 PSG | UEFA Champions League
Position in Ligue 1
60 points in 28 games
19 wins, 3 draws, and 6 losses
62 goals scored, 17 conceded
+31 goal difference
Previous games: WWWWD
CA Osasuna 0-2 Barcelona | La Liga
Barcelona 3-0 Sevilla | Copa Del Rey
Sevilla 0-2 Barcelona | La Liga
Barcelona 3-0 Elche | La Liga
Barcelona 1-1 Cádiz | La Liga
Barcelona 1-4 PSG | UEFA Champions League 20/21
Barcelona 6-1 PSG | UEFA Champions League 16/17
PSG 4-0 Barcelona | UEFA Champions League 16/17
Barcelona 2-0 PSG | UEFA Champions League 14/15
PSG 1-3 Barcelona | UEFA Champions League 14/15
- There have been over 2.5 goals scored in 8 of Barcelona’s last 9 games (Champions League).
- PSG have seen over 2.5 goals in their last 5 home matches against Barcelona in all competitions.
- PSG have won their last 4 matches (Champions League).
- PSG have scored at least 3 goals in their last 3 matches (Champions League).
- There have been over 2.5 goals scored in PSG’s last 3 games (Champions League).
Injuries: Neymar (Thigh), Juan Bernat (Knee), Moise Kean (Covid)
Possible line up
Florenzi • Marquinhos • Kimpembe • Kurzuwa
Verrati • Paredes • Gueye
Di Maria • Icardi • Mbappe
Coach: Mauricio Pochettino
Injuries: Ansu Fati (Knee), Gerard Piqué (Knee), Ronald Araújo (Ankle), Philippe Coutinho (Knee), Sergi Roberto (Thigh)
Possible line up
Dest • Mingueza • Lenglet • Alba
Pedri • Busquets • de Jong
Dembélé • Messi • Griezmann
Coach: Ronald Koeman
The writing is on the wall. Koeman’s men need to score at least four times to change the narrative. Having been on the receiving end of several second-leg comebacks, it’s now time for them to deliver a European night to remember for a change. And who better to do it than against the same team that was on the receiving end of the great Remontada? Every single Culé will be having the 6-1 comeback against PSG running at the back of their mind. While the circumstances are now far from what they were in 2017, one thing is obvious, the fans will not accept anything less than 100%. If Barcelona are going out, they will have to go out with a bang.
Barça Universal Prediction: PSG 1-1 Barcelona