1970 PSG: This will be our third meeting this season, both with a win apiece. But how has this Barca team developed since that defeat in Paris last September up until now?
totalBarça: Barcelona in September was almost unrecognisable. Before Luis Suarez made his debut, Luis Enrique played a completely different system, switching back to a standard 4-3-3 once Suarez’s ban ended in late October. And Barcelona played another different formation against PSG at Camp Nou, a variation on a 3-5-2 that got the job done, but has not been used since. So really, PSG has not yet come up against Barcelona in their default mode of attack yet, which is a 4-3-3 based on Neymar and Messi creating from the wings. It should be interesting
1970 PSG: What would you put your imperious form down to? Has Luis Enrique done anything in particular?
totalBarça: From the start, Luis Enrique’s team was clearly fitter and more determined than in previous seasons. There is also more depth at his disposal, and he has made the most use of it by rotating heavily all season. However, it took time for the team to gel together and accept their new roles. To me, Luis Enrique’s most impressive accomplishment in 2015 has been getting Messi to commit to the right wing – that’s really been the key that shifted the team into another gear and has allowed Barcelona to defeat so many quality teams.
1970 PSG: Lionel Messi will always draw the plaudits but who has been your most underrated performer you feel?
totalBarça: Sergio Busquets. He’s been widely recognised for his talent in previous years, but many hypothesised he would become obsolete in a less possession-driven system. If anything, he’s only become more important under Luis Enrique. He is the tempo-setter, able to slow play down but also initiate quick counter-attacks. The midfield duties are also shared more equally: Rakitic and Iniesta help out more defensively, which allows Busquets to get forward more, adding a new dimension to his game.
1970 PSG: That front three of Leo, Neymar and Luis Suarez seems to blossoming into something quite special. How do you rate their chemistry thus far?
totalBarça: Unbelievable. On the field, you have three of the most versatile forwards in the world, with all three able to play anywhere across the front line, and all three just as able to assist as to score. It’s no shock that they link up well. However, the off the pitch chemistry has surprised everyone a bit, even the players: Gerard Pique said he’d never seen anything like the relationship those three have developed. And considering how tight-knit Pep’s Barça was, that’s saying something.
1970 PSG: Your defensive record is stunning (just 19 goals conceded in 31 league games). What is the reasoning for that you think?
totalBarça: All credit goes to Luis Enrique and his coaching staff in that regard. Barcelona has often started the exact same back four as last season, but with dramatically improved performances. They are well-drilled and work as a unit, and Gerard Pique has really stepped up as a leader since he was benched back in November. A lot of work has gone into set pieces, both defending and attacking, and it has clearly shown on the pitch.
1970 PSG: What are your thoughts on PSG this season?
totalBarça: Haven’t watched a ton, to be frank, but after a disastrous start to the season domestically I’ve been impressed by how PSG have rallied. I never particularly rated Laurent Blanc, but his estimation seems to be growing in Parisian eyes, especially after the recent win over Marseille. And of course, I was thrilled to see Chelsea eliminated at Stamford Bridge.
1970 PSG: Was there anything in particular that impressed you from our last two meetings?
totalBarça: PSG have changed a lot in the past two years, and I think they’ve become a bit more of a team. I saw them play at the Camp Nou this time back in 2013, and the game-plan was entirely dependent on Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva’s individual talent. Zlatan won long balls and held up play for the speedy wingers, and Silva was a one-man wall at the back. Nowadays, neither of the two stars are at their best, but PSG seem to be functioning much better collectively, with a great midfield at the heart of things.
1970 PSG: Bit of a fun question but if you could take one player from Paris, who would it be and why?
totalBarça: Marco Verratti, no question. Extraordinary little player, one of the few midfielders in the world who would slot right into Barcelona’s system. He’s tidy in possession, but has the defensive grit to fit into Luis Enrique’s team – he had an excellent performance against Messi back in the group stages. He’s already being talked about in the Catalan papers as a target, but between the transfer ban and PSG’s notorious resistance to selling, it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.
1970 PSG: Finally, what is your prediction for the game?
totalBarça: I think the absent personnel will cost you. Set pieces have been an important tool for PSG in the Champions League, both against us in September and at Stamford Bridge. Unfortunately for you, it has also become one of Barcelona’s greatest strengths, so there are fewer chinks in the armour to prey on. And without Verratti and other absentees, it’ll be much harder to defend against Messi and co.
PSG 1-2 Barcelona.