The Match of a Thousand Questions: Barça – PSG

The battle we’d all be happy to see.

Champions League Quarterfinal, Leg 2: Barcelona vs Paris Saint-Germain (2-2 aggregate)

If the preceding matches are anything to go by, tomorrow’s encounter with PSG will be anything but a sure thing. Dortmund left it late and offside (but then again so too Eliseu), but were able to pull one out in dramatic fashion. Galatasaray were unfortunate enough to go into this match without away goals and led 3-1 into the dying embers when another Madrid goal sealed what was probably already sealed. That Drogba goal was ridiculous, the reffing was absurd in the Dortmund match, and Barcelona enter without a true lead in the contest. Losing with any score means adios; 3-3 and higher is goodbye; 2-2 is extra time.

This is what we expect out of a quarterfinal, of course and while Barcelona are in a good spot (don’t concede 2! don’t lose!), it’s far from an easy task. Thiago Silva’s return from injury, Zlatan’s continued existence…these things make it difficult. Beckham will start, Ancelotti says and that may be the key, if indeed the crowd can convince the team to play anything like it did against Milan. Ancelotti will have to be further complicit, though, and sit back in a situation where he can’t really afford to do so. He’ll need to take the game to Barcelona at some point, but perhaps pushing his line up high is the way to do that. Suffocate the tiki and the taka will collapse with it.

But no one really cares about what PSG will do. No one really cares about who they’ll play, how they’ll line up, or whether they’ll wear white, though that last bit might just be suicide. Everyone just wants to know one thing: Messi, sí o no? Given that Mallorca was badly whipped by a side not involving Messi, there will be those who wish to rest Messi, or at least keep him on the bench. Others will rightly point out that PSG is hardly Mallorca and we should act as if Cesc and Alexis will simply waltz through them, scoring manitas left and right. So what should it be?

Now that Messi has suggested he wants to play, feels good, and is fully capable of playing, it’s up to the doctors. We, as fans, must trust that there are those who understand Messi’s body and the hamstring muscle in general better than we do. And if you happen to be the type of person who understands hamstrings better than most or all top level trainers, then you’ll know to look for their okay anyway. So if Messi receives medical clearance to start, start he may, with few grumbles from this opinionated armchair analyst. I’d rather see him kept on the bench in case of emergency–break glass in case a goal is required, but try to avoid hurting Adriano in the process!–but again, if he’s cleared and 90 minutes isn’t a problem, okay.

Another thing: Wolfgang Stark, notorious Barcelona fan responsible for one of Mourinho’s por ques, has been suspended by UEFA for the rest of the Champions League because, frankly, he and his crew blew a bunch of calls in the first leg. Yet it would be absurd to think that anything other than simple errors were involved. And it would be absurd to blame Stark if Barcelona is eliminated tomorrow. Galatasaray has more to complain about, really, and no doubt they’re doing so (and I’m sure Mourinho is riddled with guilt about el escándalo del Bernabeu, part deux), but it all smacks of conspiracy that doesn’t become an institution as privileged as Barcelona. Official complaints to UEFA are fine, they’re a matter of course (grandstanding press conferences are not a matter of course, however), but moaning about reffing before a second leg is boring. I’ve heard enough out of you, Twittersphere!

The teams line up last week in Paris. Far left stands Xavi. Zlatan on the far right in the pants.

Further questions: Cesc, Pedro, Villa, Alexis? If Alexis has the green light, I say play him. He’s been rather good recently–not just against Mallorca but throughout the last few weeks. Cesc certainly earned himself a starting spot with his absurdly good display on Saturday, but only if Messi doesn’t start. I simply don’t see there being enough space on the field for both to fully play their roles. The other player I’d start is Pedro, for his whirling dervish defensive abilities as well as for Villa’s super sub capacity. Tello is also a substitute if needed, but his skill set is more out-and-out attacking, something suited for something needs scorched rather than the slow cooking portion of match. The human equivalent of afterburners, if you will, rather than Xavi’s metronomic cruise control.

If you’re troubled by the team’s reliance on Messi, look no further than Michael Cox’s excellent statement over at ESPNFC:

The secondary issue with “Messi-dependencia” is that he dominates Barcelona too much and to the detriment of their other attacking talents. Of course as problems go, this isn’t particularly troublesome — every other club in world football would thoroughly enjoy having “the world’s best player being a little too dominant” as a major discussion point. It’s the equivalent of having so many $100 bills that you’re forced to leave some $20 bills at home, simply to make space in your wallet — you wouldn’t exactly complain to your friends.

Not too shabby.

Before we go further, the squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Fàbregas, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Bartra, Busquets, Pedro, Jordi Alba, Montoya, Adriano, Abidal, Song, Tello.

The problem here is that we’ve got another question to deal with now: who to play in defense? With Puyol and Mascherano both injured, do we start Bartra, Busquets, Song, Adriano, Abidal? The last name on that list is probably out. It seems too soon to expect 90 minutes of him and we can’t afford to have an automatic sub in defense. So he’s out. The first name seems too inexperienced against players like Pocho Lavezzi, but the second and third seem to slow. Not that Song is truly slow, but Busi is, and anyway Lavezzi is capable of turning quicker players like Mascherano. So Adriano seems the best choice…except he’s injured. Yes, he’s in the squad, but he’s hasn’t received medical clearance and unless there’s some serious gamesmanship by Tito, he might not be able to play. The same is true of Alba, so if the choice is between Song and Busquets, the question may very well hinge on comfort: Busquets should start at CB and Song at DM. And yes, I shuddered just a tiny bit there while typing that.

So, what shall we see? I think PSG will come out of the gate as hard as possible and it will be up to Barcelona to control the tempo early. If they let PSG into the game with an early goal, that could really spell trouble as PSG sit back and spring counterattacks, so control is paramount. Will we do it? I see no reason why we shouldn’t.

Official Prediction: 2-1, goals by Iniesta and Xavi to feel like things are wrapped up before a late goal by PSG unnerves a few people.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

115 Comments

  1. April 10, 2013

    CL semi-final draw is goon be on Friday!

    am hoping we get Bayren & BVB vs. EE (BVB knows how to play Madrid), but if we get clasicos in both games (German& Spanish) i’d say Madrid almost would get a free ride to the finale, it’s not good news at all for us.

    • rg23
      April 10, 2013

      A free ride in a clasico? That ain’t happening.
      Yes, we might lose. Madrid will go in as favorites… But this is a clasico at the end of the day.
      And our boys will be playing with a massive chip in their shoulders after the recent clasicos this season.
      I have a feeling that if we get Madrid, we might get another performance for the ages, similar to the Milan second leg.

      Believe!

  2. April 10, 2013

    ” No one’s as good @ anything as Messi is at soccer. Messi is so good at soccer that Messi’s not even as good at soccer as Messi is at soccer. ” YUB!

  3. KEVINO17
    April 10, 2013

    I think people have under-estimated PSG a bit. They are a top class outfit with some very technical players. Indeed, technically better than RM.
    I thought that, if there is a problem with our approach it was with the high pressing. Against a side that good, the high pressing has to be relentless – but we gave them too much time to start threading balls through the midfield.
    Still, I thought the backline was magnificent today. No free headers. Only one goal conceded against a very good side that often over-ran our midfield.
    My MOM was iniesta. For long periods of the game he was our only creative spark.

    • nzm
      April 10, 2013

      My MotM was Victor Valdes.

      Without his saves, we would have been out.

      • KEVINO17
        April 10, 2013

        True, true. Maybe the decision to leave has taken a burden off his shoulders.

      • mom4
        April 10, 2013

        Strangely, the idiots at Fox Soccer Chanel were calling him our weak link after the game.

      • Eric THE EYE Wynalda
        April 10, 2013

        this is a cut and dry issue: Valdes is not a good enough keeper for a squad of Barcelona’s pedigree. Everyone knows it. The English know it. The Germans know it. The Italians definitely know it. How long before it clicks in the Barcelona superstructure that they NEED a world class keeper like Buffon or Casillas?
        For me, Barcelona – the team, not the city – is dynamite. It’ll blow you out of the water, unless you cut its fuse before it counts down to zero. And that fuse is Victor Valdes. He’s gotta be cut.

      • ooga aga
        April 11, 2013

        wynalda (funny you choose the name of a football analyst i cant stand), do you realize how many times he has saved our bacon? valdes IS world class. it is cut and dry for me that he IS good enough. tell me how many times he has failed us this season, or how many points we have lost because of him. i need some evidence. i cant disagree with you more strongly.

        for one, name a keeper out there taht is as good with his feet as valdes. do you realize how important his ability with his feet are?

    • rg23
      April 10, 2013

      Agree.
      I think people(fans only, not the players) were underestimating PSG.
      It was always going to be a tough game… Just look at the quality of their players.
      Dare I say, they are as strong as a Madrid/Dortmund/Bayern.
      I am sure they will be regular quarter/semi finalists for the next few seasons, with all that money and quality of players. And they have a very good coach as well.

      They breezed through the group stages with 15 pts out of a possible 18.
      Beat Valencia in the round of 16. We need to appreciate their strength.
      It was never going to be 4-0 and out like the Milan game.
      Although we could still do that on our day, but that doesn’t happen so often. Especially with so many key players banged up.

      • KEVINO17
        April 10, 2013

        Agree. PSG were so much better than Milan it wasn’t funny. Tito will be feeling fantastic that he dodged this bullet.
        Regarding the PSG goal, I noted that Barca’s tactic was to go the full-Dani on the right side and basically play him without a winger for defensive support (Villa played centrally) However, that left Dani an awful amount to do when PSG broke through the left channel.

  4. rg23
    April 10, 2013

    It’s not very often that a team can overrun our midfield over 2 legs.
    There were periods of time in the first leg where PSG was on top of us.
    And then of course we had our own moments of brilliance.
    Same story in the second leg.
    Playing at level like that against Barca is not a fluke, it’s the sign of a very good team.
    I would say over 2 legs barca were slightly better… And only slightly. Also PSG had that offside goal given to them.
    Hence, on the balance of it, we deserve to go through.

    • Jim
      April 10, 2013

      I wouldn’t say they over ran our midfield at all. We controlled large swathes of both matches. However, they played really well in the gap between our defence and midfield which made it seem like they were doing so. They also used runners from midfield beyond our defence very skilfully. We need to sort that.

  5. Clouseau
    April 10, 2013

    Messi and Hummels have given their Teams in the few minutes they have played so much more confidence and calmness. Impressive players and leading figures.
    Today’s game reminded me of the game againsts Basel four years ago but unlike today they struggeld to create opportunities until Leo came on.

    Team reached the most important task and I’m happy and proud about it but I’m not sure if it still makes sense to burden an already weakened defensive line with two slow paced Midfielder..

    On a positive note like what i saw from from Bartra overall! Came on a difficult Time but he didn’t care and played his game.
    Big kudos to Valdés who made sure Barca we´re still in the game. Impressive performance MOTMOTMOTM.

    • ooga aga
      April 11, 2013

      Leo helped, but by early in the second half we had twice as many shots (20-ish) and several more shots on goal. later in 2nd half, esp after we scored, PSG narrowed the statistical gap, understandably.

  6. KEVINO17
    April 10, 2013

    According to Barcastuff, Cesc’s daughter was born during the game and he’s off to the hospital!!

  7. KEVINO17
    April 10, 2013

    Absence of Alexis from the roster was quite interesting. Right or wrong, surely this means he will be very keen to leave at the end of the year and maybe go to a team where he can be the playmaker. Pedro will always play, no matter what happens; Neymar will probably turn up. Why hang around and be the auxiliary false-winger.

    • stefan2k
      April 11, 2013

      Didn’t he pick up a knock in the Mallorca game?

  8. Eric THE EYE Wynalda
    April 10, 2013

    Hey guys, long time fan and reader, don’t always get the time to chat about the beautiful game as much as I want, but a good space you guys have going here.

    To me, Messi was the key to tonight’s game. Soccer’s a game of two halves, but tonight, boy, I don’t think we’re looking at an even 45 split if you know what I mean.

    When he’s not in the game, Barca just can’t score goals. Yet as soon as he comes off the bench they pull out the magic? To me, it just doesn’t get any simpler than that: you gotta stick with the players who will win you the big games. And to win games, you gotta score goals. That’s what the Champions League is all about.

    Maybe it’s just me, but Ancelotti should’ve gone with Beckham from the start. Class is permanent, and does it get any classier than Becks? No offense to Thiago Motta or Veracatti or whoever, but if you got Beckham in your squad, you gotta bring him out for a game like this, even if just for the dead-ball situations.

    It would have only taken PSG one more goal to have gone through and they had a full 90 minutes to do it in. The best team didn’t win, because no one won, but the best team is advancing.

    • ooga aga
      April 11, 2013

      i dont think we were bad in the 1st half at all without messi. at end of 1st half we had plenty more shots than the other team, and more shots on goal. with a bit of luck, we could have been ahead. as is typical, our style of play gave them counterattacking opportunities, and they looked dangerous when they came forward. but it’s not like we couldnt get near the goal.

      messi helped, for sure.

      valdes was awesome.

      • ooga aga
        April 11, 2013

        official uefa stats have 61$ possession us, 22 shots to 14 shots us, and 10 to 9 shots on goal in our favor. and besides pedros goal we didnt have any other shots on goal after messi came on.

  9. jmiddy05
    April 11, 2013

    long time follower, read daily – unfortunately don’t post nearly enough…

    does anyone have a list of who is suspended from each team for the semi-finals?

    ps: (and you heard it here first) we will draw Bayern…while Madrid will draw Dortmund (who they will trounce in the first leg…while we will have a very tough two legged affair with more injuries and scares…but we’ll still win the comp!)

    • April 11, 2013

      Dortmmund is a side i don’t want to play in semi’s. don’t go by what happened against Malaga. In that match they were the firm favorites and they couldn’t sit back and hit on ethe counter. They had to take the initiative. But against Barca, Bayern or Real; Dortmund will sit back and hit on counter. That’s a hell of a cup team.

      • jmiddy05
        April 11, 2013

        i still prefer Dortmund. I believe you are wrong in the sense that Dortmund are a counter attack team. Dortmund have a similar style to us, in the way they like to dominate possession and play short quick passes. I think they will struggle to sit back and don’t believe their counter is as strong as Madr*d’s or even PSG’s for that matter. Either way, at this stage its all so close…i just don’t believe Dortmund have the quality and form to deal with Mard*d’s attack (if they were to face one another)

    • ooga aga
      April 11, 2013

      Adriano will miss the game due to accumulation of yellows.

      BTW adriano was not injured….just that he was cramping, that is why he came off.

  10. April 11, 2013

    Review’s up!

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