A sumptuous lineup of Champions League quarterfinals was drawn at UEFA Friday morning, but the one that stands out and possesses the most intrigue and subplots is the clash between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
It promises to be a classic encounter between Barcelona, one of Europe’s grandest and most storied teams, and Paris Saint-Germain. Flush with new wealth, PSG are one of the new kids on the block aiming to topple the old order.
The tie will also witness the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the Nou Camp, a place where he endured an uncomfortable time in the 2009-10 season. It remains the one blemish on an otherwise exceptional career.
Though purchased for a record €66 million, Ibrahimovic looked out of place in Barcelona’s system and was moved on to AC Milan after a season.
Someone with his renowned ego and pride will be desperate to prove himself back on the Nou Camp stage.
The tie could come to be decided by how Barcelona’s defence deal with the Swede’s presence and movement.
It is difficult to see the 5'9" Javier Mascherano having much joy against him, so a lot will depend on how well Gerard Pique can combat his former teammate.
Barcelona know if they neuter Ibrahimovic, they will defeat PSG. It would be wrong to dismiss the French league leaders as a one-man team, but they do a good impression of it, and while Ibrahimovic has scored 24 goals so far this season, none of his teammates have got more than five.
After contemptuously brushing aside Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final at Wembley, Barcelona were hailed as the greatest club side Europe had ever seen.
But their failure to make it back to the final last season, failing to overcome Chelsea’s resolute defence over two legs in the semifinal, has put that grand title in doubt.
One season can be explained as bad luck and a blip, but two seasons cannot.
And after losing the first leg of their round-of-16 tie 2-0 against AC Milan, a pile of obituaries had been prepared to mark their exit and a possible end of an era, but by winning 4-0 in the second leg at the Nou Camp this week, they showed they remain the team to beat in the competition this year.
Barcelona need to adopt the same tactics they used to overwhelm AC Milan when they come up against PSG in the quarterfinals.
They secured that 4-0 win by lining up with a three-man defence, four in midfield and Lionel Messi in a slightly deeper role behind David Villa, while Pedro and Dani Alves pushed up on the flanks, allowing them to swamp the midfield and constantly trouble Milan.
The PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti will have studied that mauling of his old team, and much will depend on whether he can devise a better plan for dealing with how Barcelona will come at his players.
If the Barcelona we saw against Milan, full of quick passing, pressing high up the field and clinical finishing, rather than the cowed version who had lost their previous three games, shows up against PSG, they should get the better of them over what promises to be a fascinating two legs.
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