Depleted PSG retain belief ahead of Barcelona clash

Laurent Blanc’s side are without a number of stars but take confidence from Chelsea win

It was Laurent Blanc who brought up the need for "a minor miracle" on the eve of Paris Saint-Germain's quarter-final, referring specifically to Thiago Motta's chances of starting at Parc des Princes, but a roll call of the locals' likely absentees against Barcelona reinforced the sense he is not alone in needing help from above.

PSG are without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco Verratti and Serge Aurier through suspension, as well as the hamstrung Motta. Lucas Moura, who is not fully recovered from a groin injury, will only be on the bench while David Luiz, treated recently for hamstring issues, is unlikely to feature.

PSG’s lavishly assembled squad boasts depth but they confront a team whose reputation on this stage is established. Barca have won 30 of their last 34 matches and whose players, as Blanc volunteered, are capable of “playing PlayStation football against anyone”.

In the circumstances, the fact they have been beaten in Paris already this season, the hosts winning 3-2 in the group stage, would appear to count for little. Yet, beyond the manager’s realism, this is a club that believe their time has come.



That knockout-round elimination of Chelsea has pepped conviction that PSG, quarter-finalists in the last two seasons only to be jettisoned on away goals, need not fear any opponents as their pursuit of four trophies is maintained. They are top of Ligue 1, in next month’s French Cup final and League Cup winners. There are plenty of reasons to be bullish.

PSG are unbeaten in 33 home games in Europe going back to 2006. In Edinson Cavani they boast a forward anxious to seize the opportunity afforded him by Ibrahimovic's absence. Javier Pastore, whose impact in Ligue 1 since arriving as the first major signing of the Qatari ownership's tenure had been so fitful, is enjoying the best form of his career.

Blaise Matuidi is all aggression in midfield, with Adrien Rabiot a player of huge promise at his side, while Marquinhos is developing into a defender of class alongside Thiago Silva.

Depleted they may be, but there is still faith in the collective born of the resilience and stubborn refusal to wilt which was demonstrated at Stamford Bridge last month.

"Knocking Chelsea out gave us belief and proved we were progressing as a team and a club," said Maxwell, another former Barca player. "It convinced us we were ready, and that we were close to the level required to win this competition." The left back pointed to the damage that can be inflicted on the visitors by a revamped forward line of Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Pastore.

Blanc was more cagey and acknowledged the considerable threat posed by Barca’s attacking options. He is attempting to strike a balance between the need to capitalise on home advantage and avoid conceding an away goal. “Barca are a team who can score from anywhere and against anyone in Europe. Sometimes you have to make sure you don’t concede at home, perhaps more than scoring yourselves.”

His principal concern is Lionel Messi.

“When he scores 40 goals, we say he’s out of form and he’s impossible to stop when he gets up a head of steam. He’s one of the best footballers ever, of any generation: a dribbler, a goalscorer, an exceptional passer. How do you stop him? Putting a player on him actually does him a favour because he’s never afraid to dribble at a marker, one-on-one. Put two or three on him, then? He’s a problem you have to address collectively.”

Celebrated front three

The visitors, top of La Liga, will unleash their celebrated front three with relish though

Luis Enrique

must determine whether to fling four across the back or retain a three with Dani Alves suspended. “This PSG team have already shown they’re a force in the last few seasons,” said the Barca coach. “To have beaten Chelsea . . . well, it’s clear they have qualities. They beat us [in September] without Ibrahimovic, and we beat them when Zlatan was back in the team. They’re a threat whether those players are available are not. This tie is open.”

Guardian Service