Champions League football is back in our lives this week – with the blockbuster fixture of round 2 taking place at the Parc des Princes. French champions PSG welcome Barcelona to the capital; in the clash everyone has been keeping an eye out for in Group F.
PSG win 23/10
Barcelona win 11/10
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)
Neither team got off to the most impressive start in their first group game, despite the Catalans getting off the mark with a win in their first game. They struggled to break down a resolute APOEL defence at the Camp Nou, scraping an uncharacteristic 1-0 win through a set piece header from Gerard Piqué. If PSG are to take confidence from anything Barcelona have done this season, it will unfortunately have to be that. Luis Enrique’s team are top of La Liga after six games, having yet to be beaten, and staggeringly, yet to concede a goal (in any competition). Their 100% start in the league came to an end away at Málaga last week in a 0-0 draw, but they got back on track in style at the weekend – bludgeoning Granada by six clear goals at home. The early days of Luis Enrique’s tenure have drawn parallels to that of Pep Guardiola – in his undying commitment to promoting youth players, while not being afraid to leave bigger names out of his first eleven.
The 44-year old has introduced the likes of Munir, Sandro and Sergi Samper into his squad this season – with the former two already scoring goals and contributing to their success. Samper made his debut in their game against APOEL, earning widespread credit for such a mature performance. After his debut, Enrique said: “Samper? Congratulations to him. He showed personality. He will be another great discovery for the club. He’ll help us this season”. Despite all three players being just 19, and surrounded by an array of the world’s best players, the confidence Enrique has shown in them so far, has been nothing short of admirable – especially in a summer where the club spent a lot of money on external transfers.
For Laurent Blanc’s side, it wasn’t the best start in Europe, as far as results go. They drew 1-1 in Amsterdam against Ajax, but were fortunate not to succumb to a late rally by the home side. Lasse Schöne leveled the game in the 74th minute after a first half Edinson Cavani goal, but that man Schöne nearly won it for them late on – hitting the bar with a late free kick.
Things haven’t been too great for them in Ligue 1 so far either. Through eight league games, Les Parisiens have incredibly drawn five times – with a good chunk of the games being uneventful, low-scoring draws. After the latest of those disappointing draws, at the hands of Toulouse on Sunday, Laurent Blanc told local media: “We’ve had a difficult start to the season. We’ve got the same team and the same coach as last season but we’re not winning matches as easily. At the moment, we’re not better than the others.”
The 48-year old Frenchman has been under intensifying pressure in his role at PSG. After picking up their first away win of the season at Caen the week before, another lackluster draw against Toulouse has the doubts growing once again, and not at a great time either, as they prepare to welcome high-flying Barcelona to Paris. His future may be in serious doubt if his team fails to put up a fight against Catalonian opposition – but at the same time, his team also have the perfect opportunity to bounce back and eradicate the sloppiness of recent weeks. A win over the La Liga leaders would be as timely a win as possible for Blanc, but their performance must be watertight if they are to overcome this Barcelona side – a team still licking their lips after the demolition of Granada on Saturday afternoon.
While Luis Enrique has a near full-strength squad on his hands for the trip to Paris, Blanc is still sweating on the fitness of star man Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swedish striker has been missing in recent weeks with a heel problem, while the PSG boss has insisted that “the medical team will do everything they can to have him ready”. For a team who has drawn six games so far already this season, Blanc will be praying that the mercurial Swede can be fit in time to take on this Barcelona side – one who have yet to concede a goal. The 32-year old will surely be as desperate to play against his former side Barcelona – a place that ended up being one of the least pleasurable flutters of his career. While Ibrahimović still holds hope of featuring, Blanc will be certainly without his captain Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who are both recovering from injuries. For Luis Enrique, he will be without Rafinha, Masip, Douglas and Vermaelen – four players who have yet to feature a great deal this season.
When the teams clash on Tuesday night in Paris, the stage will be set for one team to right their wrongs, and another set to continue doing what they’ve been doing all along. A win for Laurent Blanc would earn himself some much needed job security, while a win for Luis Enrique would simply be another notch on the bedpost, but an impressive one at that. PSG must start fast against this Barcelona side, or dance with the devil of letting the Catalans get into their often-devastating rhythm.
Betting Instinct tip – Draw at half-time/Barcelona at full-time is 15/4 with AllYouBet.ag
JAMIE KEMP is a Spanish/European Football Writer for Inside La Liga, uMAXITFootball and a host of others. He is also an FA Licensed Football Coach with a passion for youth development. Follow Jamie on Twitter.