PSG, Barcelona in battle of ideas




PARIS –  (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona have reached the pinnacle of the European game with very different strategies, and the Catalans will be hoping to show their nouveau riche opponents that their way is still the best way when the clubs meet in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday.

PSG have been here before, but not for a long time.

This is their first Champions League quarter-final since they beat Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate before losing to Milan in the last four 18 years ago.

Top of Ligue 1, and on course to win the domestic title for the first time since 1994, these are good times to be a Paris supporter, even if their club appears to epitomise the exact opposite of Barcelona.

PSG can compete with the best in the business because they have had more money than anyone else since the arrival of new Qatari owners in 2011.

A whole new team has been bought, with Thiago Silva, once a Barcelona target, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played for the Catalans in 2010-11, the most significant recruits.

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Just two years ago, average attendances at the Parc des Princes had fallen drastically. Now the ground is sold out most weeks, and there were one million requests for tickets for this game.

Aiming to win the Champions League for the fourth time in eight seasons, Barcelona are one of the richest clubs in the world too, and are also backed by Qatari investment via a shirt sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation.

But they lead the way when it comes to producing world-class players, rather than simply buying them.

Seven home-reared talents started Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo, in which Barca conceded a late equaliser after Lionel Messi netted his 43rd La Liga goal this season.

That result kept Barcelona 13 points clear at the top, with Real Madrid also drawing, and the mood around the club has improved hugely over the last month since consecutive defeats to Madrid in La Liga and in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey.

The rousing comeback from a first-leg defeat to beat AC Milan 4-2 on aggregate in the last 16 has restored confidence, while the squad are relieved to have coach Tito Vilanova back taking training again after two months in New York receiving cancer treatment.

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“To see Tito again gave us great happiness,” said Messi. “It is important to have him with us for the run-in. He looks in good shape and is raring to go.”

Xavi Hernandez and Jordi Alba did not play at the weekend but have since returned to full training, although Pedro Rodriguez is suspended.

His absence could open the door for Cristian Tello to start after he impressed at the weekend, scoring one goal and setting up the other.

Barcelona will not be too worried about who lines up against them in the French capital, but one man they will be aware of more than any other is Ibrahimovic, a world-class talent even if his record in the Champions League is often held against him.

He has scored twice in this European campaign but was not on target in the last-16 tie against Valencia, which PSG won 3-2 on aggregate.

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Indeed, it looked like he would be missing for Tuesday’s game after being handed a two-match ban following his sending-off in the last-16 first leg, but UEFA have reduced the ban to a single match, meaning he can now play.

That is a huge boost for PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti, who should also have Lucas Moura back after an ankle injury, while Ezequiel Lavezzi should play after being rested for Friday’s 1-0 home win against Montpellier.

“We will send out a team that will try to play football,” said Ancelotti, who knows his team are underdogs.

“The players are happy to play this match. There is a little bit of concern because we will be up against a fantastic side, but we need to think positively because it is great to be able to play a Champions League quarter


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