After everything that has happened in the past week and half, it is amazing to think that this Barcelona game has kind of slipped under the radar. It just epitomises how busy the schedule has been as of late with the last three matches all being season defining. We took a stranglehold of the title race with the classique victory. Booked a place in the Coupe de France Final against Auxerre. And just last Saturday we won our first major piece of silverware this season in the Coupe de la Ligue. What a time to be welcoming the Catalans to the Parc des Princes!
Tomorrow night the stadium will be absolutely electric. Our European adventure has been incredible thus far. It all really took off after that 3-2 win over Barca last September where we cruised to four successive wins in the group-stage but come up short in the final game at the Camp Nou where they pipped us to top spot.
That night asked some serious questions of Laurent Blanc in the French press. We needed to avoid defeat in order to win the group but we gifted them two goals in the first-half after taking the lead via Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Nothing LB could have done about that, he was not at fault at all in my opinion. Yet the whole conundrum has been that he is judged ultimately on results in Europe. And what happened last season against Chelsea and then not going through as group winners in this campaign just intensified the scrutiny.
But, what transpired in the last-round against Chelsea will go down as one of the biggest moments in this club’s recent history. And with it, Monsieur Blanc gave a two fingered salute to all those critics who practically wrote him off before the first-leg. What happened, especially in the second-leg has given everyone affiliated at the club hope for this quarter-final. The fact that we have beaten a team of Chelsea’s calibre over two-legs, and also beaten Barca themselves will give the lads enormous confidence. On their day, they are a match for anyone!
We did come unstuck at the Camp Nou back in the winter. We have to consider though that the team was about to embark on a mini blip where the garden was nowhere near as rosy as it is now. We hit the buffers. The whole kafuffle with Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel would ensue; causing friction with the coach. The pre and post winter-break was not a good time for the club. Fast forward four months and look where we are now. It is fantastic!
We may be in a much better place but so are our opponents. Barcelona are arguably the best team in Europe right now. They have been sensational! Since they beat us, the Blaugrana have lost just two games out of 26. They sit top of La Liga, two points ahead of Real Madrid. Yet they will be disappointed after squandering a two-goal lead away to Sevilla last weekend to end up drawing 2-2. Yet, to take a point from one of Spain’s most in-form teams can only be a positive. Guess who scored the equaliser? Former player Kevin Gameiro.
The biggest difference, along with their more direct style of play, is their defence. Out of 31 league games, Luis Enrique’s troops have conceded just 19 goals. It is incredible when for years Barca’s weak point was perceived to be their defensive duties despite their superiority in attack. Well, they have not only got better at it they are mastering it in their own division. Real have conceded 27 goals and the champions Atletico have let slip 25.
We are expecting to come up against that fearsome trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. However, reports emanated yesterday that Neymar could be dropped after the Brazilian visibly aired his frustration at being substituted against Sevilla. Spanish daily AS reported the apparent rift in detail yesterday between the player and coach but in a game of this magnitude, would Enrique start him on the bench? I doubt it but we shall see.
As for us we have nothing but positivity at the moment. Thiago Motta could be in line for a return after participating in training at Camp des Loges yesterday. That will be fantastic news, especially with Marco Verratti, Serge Aurier and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all suspended. David Luiz is also out injured for at least a month. But Lucas Moura returning at the Stade de France is huge after nearly two months out. He could be in line to start the game tomorrow.
This is a massive test but as we proved against Chelsea, we must go about our business with patience. Not once did we panic in that first-leg against the Blues, we bided our time after going a goal behind. We must continue in that vein because it is going to be a long 180 minutes – maybe even more! As long we can take something back to the Camp Nou, we will have a chance. Two years ago we were undone on away goals. It could very well come down to that again.