European football expert Graham Hunter previews tonight’s Champions League quarter final between moneybags PSG and runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona.
Champions League | PSG v Barcelona
It should be simple enough to predict Paris St Germain’s most likely avenues to score at home to FC Barcelona tonight.
In Thiago Silva (who scored a headed equaliser for Milan at the Camp Nou last season), Alex and Zlatan, Carlo Ancelotti’s side have three players perfectly able to take advantage of the fact that Barça have perpetually lost goals or goal assists to headers inside the box this season.
More specifically, the Spanish champions-elect consistently allow crosses too easily from their left back position and Dani Alves, who is having an absolutely exceptional season in an attacking sense, continually fails to order his centre halves to take a couple of steps towards the back post.
The Brazilian, instead, will dive into the penalty spot melee (usually to little effect given that he’s … little) and the crossed ball will drop to an opponent hovering or arriving at the back post to create or score a goal.
There has been a lot of delightful, Machiavellian ‘did he, didn’t he’ in the Spanish media this week about whether Jose Mourinho volunteered to supply Ancelotti with Real Madrid’s ‘golden’ scouting manual which over the last few weeks was sufficient to inspire Los Blancos to a 3-1 Camp Nou win and a 2-1 home victory in La Liga.
How to score against Barcelona
Lesson No 1: Punt the ball long from the edge of your own penalty box to a runner in the wide positions (Di Maria or Ronaldo for Madrid) Lavezzi or Lucas for PSG) and then support him more quickly than Barça get back for the perfect breakaway goal.
Lesson No 2: exploit Barcelona’s aerial vulnerability.
Did the Special One send the document? ‘Oh yes he did … OH NO HE DIDN’T…’ that’s been the enjoyable tone over the last few days.
However even for a project in construction PSG must have scouts capable of doing their own homework and these conclusions won’t have been hard to draw.
In reality, the counter attack goal is just a version of what PSG inflicted on Valencia at the Mestalla in the last round. They could have won by five or six (had Lavezzi who is their top scorer in the Champions League not missed a hat-trick of chances) and they looked viciously dangerous. However, at home, PSG flirted with going out and Valencia ruled the night.
As for Barça if you favour them to win away then take into account that their record since 2006 reads –winners-last 16, semi final-winners-semi final-winners-semi final ….
The Hurt Locker
Losing 2-0 at Milan in the opening-leg of the last round hurt them terribly badly and I’d expect a higher tempo, physically more robust display tonight.
Good though PSG are on their day, and while they own players who threaten Barça’s specific weaknesses they don’t often encounter players of the calibre of Iniesta, Xavi, Villa, Messi and Alba. Messi has 50 goals and 15 assists in his last 50 Champions League appearances. I take him to add another of one or other (goal or assist) and Barça to get a 2-2 draw.
Those who follow such things might note that referee Wolfgang Stark has sent off a couple of Barça players (Saviola and Motta back in 2004 against Celtic) but he’s also red-carded three opponents Rab Douglas, Pepe and Alberto Aquilani and awarded Barça a penalty last time out in Milan.
Four of the seven times he’s reffed a Barça game have yielded a total of only 13 bookings total but Stark’s only time out with PSG the game held eight yellow cards. Make of that what you will. There’s a Parisian threat for Barça here, no doubt, but perhaps they know how to take the right result home this time?