WHO: Barcelona vs PSG
WHEN: Tuesday, February 16, 3pm ET
LINE: Barcelona +100 | Draw +295 | PSG +235
I’m on the record in the High Press Soccer Round of 16 predictions piece leaning toward PSG.
And I looked at everything at stake in Barcelona-PSG in the watchability rankings for the eight games to be played over the next two weeks. It says a lot that this match-up stood out as a pretty clear No. 1 despite all the other must-see clashes ahead in the Champions League.
Now, it’s time for a closer look at who will take the field this week and what we should expect between the lines. Speaking of the line, for Tuesday’s game at Camp Nou, Barcelona is favored at +100. PSG is a long shot at +235. The odds on who advances, are however, are dead-even: Barcelona (-112)-PSG (-112). Oddsmakers do realize fans will not attend either game, don’t they??
I’ve got a million questions about this game, but I’ll stick to three, for brevity’s sake.
Can Barcelona’s Back Line Hold Up?
With Lionel Messi leading the charge and Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele finally looking like solid complements to the Argentine, the Barcelona attack leaves little to be desired right now.
In the midfield, Frenkie de Jong is in the midst of his best stretch since joining the club ahead of the ’19-20 season and 18-year-old Pedri has been an absolute revelation.
The problem for Barcelona this season has been the back line – Marc-Andre ter Stegen is not the one to blame for the 21 goals allowed in 22 La Liga matches. The Catalans struggled defensively this year before Gerard Piqué suffered a knee injury, and his absence since late November has not helped. In the Champions League, Barcelona lost 3-0 to Juventus with Piqué out of the lineup on December 8. PSG’s attack, even without Neymar, is arguably better than Juve’s, so Piqué’s play in his return after nearly three months out – assuming he’s back – is huge.
Who Joins Jordi Alba?
Jordi Alba will start at left back, but the right side of the back four could be extremely green. When you think about Barcelona’s breakout teenagers this season, you think about Ansu Fati up top (before his injury) and Pedri, but two young defenders have quietly showed promise.
Manager Ronald Koeman has coaxed several good performances out of center back Ronald Araujo and center back/right back Oscar Mingueza. Could both those players start against the high-flying Parisians? That’s up in the air, as Araujo is recovering from an ankle injury earlier this month and USMNTer Sergiño Dest has also missed time recently, but could start ahead of Mingueza. It’s a safe bet that at least one of Araujo and/or Mingueza starts, and how they fare will be fascinating.
That’s a lotttt of uncertainty (and I haven’t even taken into account rust for Piqué), which means PSG should be able to score at least a couple goals in this one.
Who Fills Neymar’s Shoes For PSG?
Neymar (with just nine starts in Ligue 1 this year) has been out plenty this year, so PSG shouldn’t look lost without him. It also helps that Mauricio Pochettino can turn to the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and Moise Kean. Unfortunately for PSG, they’ll also be without Angel Di Maria, who has been their top assist man domestically.
While the star power Pochettino can turn to is enviable, it’s still hard to shake the memory of what Neymar did last fall in UCL play. The Brazilian scored six of his team’s nine goals in PSG’s last three games of group play, making his absence impossible to overstate.
Can Barcelona Step Up Against A Top Opponent?
The Catalans still have enough talent to look like an absolute juggernaut against undermanned opponents. See this weekend’s romp over Huesca as the latest example. But in recent years, the likes of Liverpool and Bayern Munich (as well as their top Spanish rivals this season) have exposed them. Right now, PSG
may not be — OK, they’re not – quite as good as the last two UCL champs, but they’re closer to those sides than they are to the Huescas of the world.
In addition to Barcelona’s loss to Sevilla in the Copa del Rey last week, this season has seen them lose 3-0 to Juve back in December, lose 1-0 to Atleti on November 21, lose 3-1 to Real Madrid on October 24 and draw Sevilla 1-1 back on October 4. That’s a pretty lengthy list of disappointing results against the best clubs in Spain/Europe.
So while PSG is not itself in Ligue 1 this year, I’m not sure why we should expect Barcelona to win this one. PSG, after all, still has just about all the pieces that nearly won the Champions League a year ago, not to mention their recent managerial upgrade with the hire of Pochettino. Koeman has exceeded my expectations this year, but I don’t see him outscheming Poch.
Barcelona vs PSG Prediction
Barcelona’s in good enough form to keep this close, but I’m going with a 3-2 win for PSG.