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Three questions and three answers from PSG 2-3 Barcelona

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Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona and PSG engaged in an enthralling battle over 90 minutes at Parc de Princes last night. The game had no dearth of goals despite neither Kylian Mbappe nor Robert Lewandowski getting on the scoresheet.

The 3-2 win in Paris that the game boiled down to might well be Barcelona’s greatest UCL win in a long time, let alone one away from home.

The team showed great spirit, patience and fortitude to pull through, and one can only admire the manner in which they came back despite a poor start to the second half.

Raphinha’s brace and Andreas Christensen’s late winner helped the team get across the line and enter the second leg with a one-goal lead on aggregate. Needless to say, there is everything to pay for at Montjuic.

Barça Universal brings you three questions and three answers from the team’s first-leg win over PSG.

Three answers

Who would Xavi pick in midfield?

A lot was said about Xavi’s options in midfield ahead of the game at Parc des Princes, especially given the return of Frenkie de Jong from injury.

With the Dutchman lacking match fitness, some debated again his inclusion in the starting lineup while others advocated for him to start in place of Sergi Roberto alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Andreas Christensen.

Xavi’s lineup thus left many taken aback, for he went with neither school of thought.

The manager did count on Frenkie de Jong from the first minute, taking a bet on his match-readiness, but played him in place of Andreas Christensen as the defensive midfielder. Sergi Roberto and Ilkay Gundogan were the two players who accompanied him in midfield.

Who would step up in attack?

Raphinha-Robert Lewandowski-Lamine Yamal was the widely anticipated forward trident expected for the clash against PSG, and Xavi stuck to the template.

While many expected Lamine Yamal to be Barcelona’s single point of difference in the final third, however, the youngster was not at his best.

Starting his first UCL quarterfinal at 16 years of age, Yamal was nervous throughout his performance and failed to clear his mental block. He was indecisive in his distribution and sloppy with his passes.

Raphinha and Lewandowski starred for Barcelona. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

The players who stepped up for Barcelona instead were Lewandowski and Raphinha – both of whom dominated the field throughout.

The Brazilian superstar netted a sensational brace against PSG, showing great vertical runs and finesse in front of goal and was the team’s best player in attack. He recorded four shots on target, two successful dribbles and three key passes.

Lewandowski, meanwhile, stood out with his hold-up play and kept the ball under pressure to dictate the game in attack. He may not have got on the scoresheet, but he effectively allowed the wingers to make incisive runs into the PSG area.

How would Xavi use his substitutions?

A high-intensity clash like the one against PSG was always largely going to rely on the impact players could have on the bench. Xavi, in that sense, got his substitutions spot on last night.

Calling on Pedri and Joao Felix in his first round of changes, the manager improved the team’s stamina in the middle of the park after PSG enjoyed a dominant start to the second half.

The impact was seen in seconds. With his second touch of the ball, Pedri provided a sumptuous lobbed assist for Raphinha’s equaliser and turned the game back in Barcelona’s favour.

The manager’s next round of impact players saw Andreas Christensen, Fermin Lopez, and Ferran Torres arrive, all of whom did well to keep the pressure on PSG in the final ten minutes.

Christensen’s arrival was crucial for the result, for he headed the ball into the net for the winning goal with his first touch of the ball.

Three questions

How will the suspensions affect Barcelona?

Seven Barcelona stars risked missing the second leg through suspension ahead of last night’s clash, and it was thus inevitable that at least one would fall into the rabbit hole.

As it happened, two of the players on the list saw themselves booked on the night and will thus be unable to take part in the reverse fixture in Catalonia – Sergi Roberto and Andreas Christensen.

Christensen is suspended for the second leg. (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images)

Considering that the likes of Ronald Araujo, Lamine Yamal and Frenkie de Jong escaped and will be able to participate is indeed big news for the manager, but the two absentees will also prove critical.

Xavi’s best bet to tackle both suspended players’ absences will lie in keeping Pedri fit for the game next week and ensuring that he is ready to start. After all, the Canary Islander can take the captain’s place in midfield while Frenkie de Jong can cover for Christensen as the pivot.

How will Xavi control the left flank at Monjuic?

If there is one weak link in Barcelona, it is the left-back position. After all, Joao Cancelo plays a very attacking role in Xavi’s system, leaving the defence slightly compromised.

Barcelona survived last night because PSG had both their starting right-backs unavailable, forcing them to deploy Marquinhos in the position.

Fast forward one week and Luis Enrique will have Achraf Hakimi available at right-back. The Moroccan’s presence will change a lot, for he will go head-to-head against Cancelo on the flank.

It is thus vital that Xavi does not depend entirely on the Portuguese star to neutralise the right-back’s threat. A possible solution would be to play Cancelo as the left-winger and allow the likes of Hector Fort to hold the fortress at left-back.

Who are the favourites to advance?

Halfway through the tie, it is hard to see Barcelona as anything but slight favourites to advance. A one-goal lead and the home advantage in the second leg, after all, is significant.

Yet, Barcelona have had difficulty in converting winning positions in Champions League second legs, and it is imperative that they look to undo that record.

PSG are surely not out of the game, for the threat Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Hakimi will offer on the counter next week will be difficult to defend against. A solid showing at the back is thus the key to qualification.

Xavi insisted in his post-match press conference that he still sees the French side as favourites to advance, and it is indeed better if the team played with that mindset. Complacency, after all, could undo their hard work of 90 minutes.

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