By Jason Pettigrove
This Wednesday sees a Champions League winner-takes-all tie played out at Camp Nou. Unbeaten in all competitions this season, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) stroll confidently into Barcelona knowing just a draw will see them through to the next stage as winners of Group F.
A win for the French side against the Catalans earlier in the competition has brought about this do or die scenario, and the implications for both Barca and the rest of Europe are huge.
In each of the last seven years, Barca have finished at the summit of their group, thus making a passage through to the business end of the competition a little easier to negotiate.
This year, there is every chance that PSG will beat Barca to the punch, especially given that the Blaugrana have still to beat their French counterparts in any competition. Their progression the last time the two teams met in the Champions League was only as a result of the away goal.
It should be noted too that both Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were missing from the first leg this season – two players that are the heartbeat and spine of PSG at opposite ends of the pitch.
The Swede has endured a miserable personal campaign due to the heel injury which kept him out of that first tie this season. Consequently he is being used sparingly at this juncture. That said, as Nantes found out to their cost this past weekend, when he plays, inevitably Zlatan is still the match winner.
His inclusion was unexpected, given that multiple reports suggested he was being “saved” for the game against one of his former employers. It’s a battle that he always seems to enjoy and were he to have played in that first leg, against a nervous and disjointed Blaugrana, it’s highly likely that the margin of victory would’ve been much wider.
No matter. A superb team performance, where Lucas Moura was particularly effective, was more than Barca could cope with and that will be a concern to Luis Enrique leading up to Wednesday’s tie.
Barca’s manager has an ace up his sleeve of his own mind you. Whilst not yet of Liverpool vintage, Luis Suarez has shown enough to warrant regular inclusion in the side, and he too was missing from the Parc Des Princes defeat.
PSG struggled to contain the twin terrors of Messi and Neymar at times in Paris. Could the inclusion of the industrious Uruguayan tip the balance in favour of the home side?
As it stands, they could potentially meet Chelsea or Bayern Munich in the next stage, and if results were to change the make up in Group A, Juventus might stand in Barca’s way of progression.
All three have the potential to ruin Barca’s charge for European glory and send them out of the competition at the earliest point since Chelsea defeated them in the round of 16 in 2004-05.
Quite what that would do for Enrique’s own credibility is a moot point at this stage, but abject failure in Europe’s premier competition is hardly likely to endear him to Barca’s notoriously hard to please fan base.
Who do you think will win Group F?
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