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Three key player battles that will decide PSG vs Barcelona

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Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

The time is nigh for Barcelona to take on PSG in the Champions League and turn their ailing fortunes around in a competition where they have grown accustomed to adversity.

The Catalan giants have squared off against PSG on various occasions in the past, but this time they will be looking to redeem themselves, having tasted defeat the last time the two sides locked horns.

Despite both Barça and PSG relying on many young players this season, the quality of this clash is expected to be through the roof.

In what will be a tightly contested affair between two quality teams, we take a look at the three individual battles that could define this highly anticipated showdown.

Ronald Araujo & Jules Kounde vs Kylian Mbappe

Barcelona’s success in neutralising Kylian Mbappe will be pivotal in determining their chances of qualifying for the Champions League semi-finals.

The 2018 World Cup winner’s tendency to step up on the big stages needs no introduction, as Barcelona especially experienced his talents firsthand when he ran riot at Camp Nou in 2021.

While Barça will be compelled to exercise caution once more, the Catalans have brick houses in defence to depend upon this time: Jules Kounde and Ronald Araujo.

The PSG forward’s ability to not only dominate in individual take-ons but also exploit spaces behind the opposition’s defence through well-timed runs will require the Catalans’ defenders to track his movements meticulously.

However, Mbappe’s goal-scoring prowess is what Barcelona will be most wary of. He has scored six goals in eight games in the Champions League thus far and notched an incredibly impressive 24 goals in 26 games in Ligue 1.

Kounde will have his task cut out against his compatriot, Mbappe. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Owing to his innate eye for goal, the expected scenario would be to employ Araujo centrally so he can disrupt his runs through central channels.

The Uruguayan is Barcelona’s most robust defender and has thrived with Pau Cubarsi by his side since he stormed his way into the starting XI. Moreover, Araujo as a front-footed defender prefers robbing the ball before the attacker is in an area of promise.

This trait will be especially crucial against a player who relishes baiting defenders by faking a finish to the far post and ends up baffling the defence with a near-post strike.

Of course, Araujo will need the support of Kounde, who is not the most athletic defender against pacy forwards, yet anticipates opposing wingers’ off-ball runs to a tee.

Kounde’s worth in the build-up is already worth its weight in gold. And he has seen a resurgence in his defensive form, having locked up tricky wingers over the past few game weeks.

⁠Lamine Yamal vs Nuno Mendes & Lucas Beraldo

Lamine Yamal’s place in the starting XI will hardly be in doubt. The 16-year-old winger has been one of the primary reasons behind Barcelona’s upturn in form, and Yamal will be eager to finally get his scoring underway in Europe.

However, the trials in front of him will only grow from here on. Against PSG, the defenders who will be vying to limit his influence will likely be Nuno Mendes and Lucas Beraldo.

Nuno’s defensive acumen often gets overshadowed due to his incredible presence up-field, but he is bound to be one of Yamal’s biggest tests at the back.

Can Yamal be the difference-maker? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

In addition to winning duels with his physicality, the left-back’s recovery pace is astounding and he rarely allows wingers to blitz past him with ease. With Yamal still just 16, he might have trouble dealing with Nuno physically.

On the other hand, Beraldo is a player Yamal already has experience playing against. The La Masia graduate went on a rampage against Brazil in the recent international break, getting the better of Beraldo many times, who started the game for the Selecao.

Still, Beraldo’s positional understanding is neat, and he has emerged as one of Brazil’s brightest young centre-halves.

Yamal is sure to have his work cut out, but even if his dribbling is contained to an extent, there is a lot more the youngster brings to the table.

For example, when he is not acting as a 1v1 outlet in transition or weaving his way past defenders, Yamal is busy picking out picture-perfect passes. As such, his creativity and understanding of when and where to roam will be decisive.

If Yamal is forced to find openings on the byline, Nuno will have a better chance of winning duels, but at the edge of the box, Yamal will have the best chance of dealing blows.

⁠Raphinha & Joao Cancelo vs Ousmane Dembele

PSG manager Luis Enrique will not be the only familiar face for Barcelona tomorrow, as former winger Ousmane Dembele will also feature in the clash, igniting old memories and locking horns with players he once shared a dressing room with.

Dembele’s two opponents on his flank are poised to be Raphinha and Joao Cancelo. Despite being primarily known to start on the right, the duo has done exceptionally well on the left-hand side over the past few game weeks.

Cancelo and Raphinha will be key to locking down Dembele. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

And facing off against a two-footed winger who thrives in 1v1 scenarios, Barcelona will need to be armed to the teeth against Dembele.

With Cancelo known to struggle defensively against classic wingers, Raphinha will have to work his socks off out of possession and track back to ensure the Portuguese defender is not left chasing shadows.

Luis Enrique’s preference to isolate his right-wingers was evident in his tenure with the Spanish national team, and he has repeated that formula with Dembele.

Barcelona will have to verify Dembele is not left entirely isolated so his threat can be negated. Moreover, Cancelo and Raphinha will be wary of any rotations in the PSG front line.

Dembele’s profile draws many similarities with Yamal, but owing to his experience on the European stage, he could be one of the biggest differential players – something that Xavi alluded to during his presser.

The Frenchman has merely two goals in Ligue 1 and the Champions League, yet his chance-creation skills and value as an outlet in transition render him a major hazard.

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