PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN VS FC BARCELONA
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINAL (FIRST-LEG)
VENUE: PARC DES PRINCES
DATE: 2ND APRIL 2012
KICK-OFF: 19:45 (GMT)
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The eyes of the world will be on the Parc des Princes tonight. It is Europe’s most dominant force up against one that is developing. It is a striking realisation for PSG as to how far it has come in the last 18-months. To be at this dance, the last-eight of the UEFA Champions League, against arguably the greatest football side in history FC Barcelona is not a dream, but a reality.
Ever since the draw was made three weeks ago in Nyon, this has been the talk of the city of Paris. There have been nearly a million enquiries for tickets, the club shop on the Champs-Elysee is stacked full of merchandise for the occasion and montages have been played at the Parc on match-days which has built the atmosphere superbly. You could sense the excitement on Friday night when the big screen was showing footage to promote the game and the famous ‘Champions’ anthem bellowed around the ground. It was greeted with a roar by the Parisien faithful. It is quite simply the biggest game in nearly 20 years. I said this also last month against Valencia. The fact that we had reached the knockout-stages was enormous, a huge step in the development of this club, something which had not been achieved for nearly two decades. But, this is something else, something unique. Accompanying seven of the continents biggest names in the last eight and going toe to toe with ‘THE’ biggest name in this current climate, the famous Blaugrana from Catalonia. It was something that was not even imaginable two years ago.
We are facing European champions, world champions, domestic champions, some of the greatest players of their generation along with arguably the greatest player ever. The Catalans are simply special. Not only in a football perspective but also as an institution. They have set the bar which we along with so many aspire to be at. The fluid football, the humility and the special ethos they have is something that is revered. This is why tonight is so special. We are not facing just any other team, we are facing the team to beat. If you can overcome them then absolutely anything in this game is possible. Just ask Internazionale, just ask Chelsea. The last two clubs to knockout them out in this competition who have subsequently gone on to become champions of Europe. Yes, our project is in progression and it is going beautifully at the moment but as the club’s motto states; ‘Dream Bigger’, it could not be any truer. If we dare to do that, then anything is possible.
So how do we do it? How do we beat this formidable entity? Beating them in one game is difficult enough, let alone over two legs. Just ask AC Milan who were tremendous in their home-leg at the San Siro in the second-round. Running out deserved 2-0 winners but were then swept aside with ease at the Camp Nou 4-0. But, we can take encouragement from the Italians. What they did in the first-leg was squeeze Barcelona, pressed them when they had possession. Even if they loitered around the penalty area they kept their defensive line, coming inside and not allowing them to open up those pockets of spaces. It is a tiresome task that requires all hands to the deck. Everyone has to put in a shift, remain focused and stick to the drill. One lapse and it is goodnight Vienna. They will punish us.
We saw signs in the game against Montpellier on Friday night. We pressured them when they had the ball, forcing them to try and play out of trouble. Obviously we need to be doing this for 90 minutes tonight when they have the ball – which they will – the vast majority of it as well. We are not used to being bossed at the Parc des Princes territorially but that is what is going to happen. Our threat will come via the counter attack and if we can exploit those wings with Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi then we will create openings. Their full-backs Dani Alves and Jordi Alba (who has been a doubt despite travelling to Paris) will leave spaces behind as they love to get forward but they will be aware of our threat on the break. The opening stages will perhaps be cagey in that respect but as the game wears on we can definitely exploit them if they are in our half.
The midfield will be interesting. Carlo Ancelotti may go for three men in midfield, something he usually applies away from home. But, he knows we have to match them there as this is where the likes of Sergio Busquets, Xavi (who has not been fully fit) and Andres Iniesta can unhinge teams. Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti will start most definitely leaving one from two out of David Beckham and Clement Chantome. Beckham made an impact when he came off the bench on Friday but Chantome performed steadily as he started. There is food for thought for Carlo but I just wonder if Beckham’s experience may give him the nod.
The greatest player on the planet Lionel Messi will play centrally up top for the guests with perhaps David Villa and Cesc Fabregas supporting him either side. Pedro Rodriguez is suspended but Alexis Sanchez is another option for their coach Tito Vilanova to call upon to support Messi. One thing is for certain, the Argentine will start as the central figure of the trio and stopping him would be a feat in itself. But, we cannot fall into the trap of just focusing on him. If our midfield stays compact and the defence keeps its line, not only will we quell Barca, but also Messi. Easier said than done of course.
Even though we are worrying about Messi, no doubt the La Liga club will be sceptical on their former employee Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede spent a season there which was largely frustrating for both he and the club who never really saw eye to eye. The Barca players undoubtedly have a lot of respect for him, as Zlatan does for them. It was his frosty relationship with former coach Pep Guardiola which soured his time in Spain and not being utilised in his favoured central role. He will be up for tonight, hoping to make a point or two. We need him to be on his ‘A’ game if we are to stand a chance. He is a match winner, just like Messi, and when he performs, more often than not we reap the benefits.
We need a positive result, something to go the infamous Camp Nou to fight for next week. It is not a guarantee that it will get us to the last-four but it would certainly be a start. No doubt this is the biggest challenge of the majority of the PSG players who have not quite experienced a game of this magnitude. The likes of Zlatan, Thiago Siva, Maxwell and David Beckham have and their experience will be massive. They need to keep the young guys in check, lead them, guide them and make sure they remain disciplined.
I have absolutely no idea how tonight is going to pan out result wise. We are novices to this sort of stage as a club but I will go back to the club’s motto of ‘Dream Bigger’. It has never been as appropriate as it is for tonight and if we do, the Parc des Princes will be the most revered place on the planet come the end of the game.