Parc des Princes prepares for perhaps one of the biggest matches in PSG’s history, with Barcelona the illustrious visitors.
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.
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.
“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.
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-final.”
Barcelona may be the favourites but they are prepared for a tie of “maximum difficulty” against Paris Saint-Germain as the clubs meet in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday.
The tie brings together the leaders of La Liga and Ligue 1 but while Barcelona are in the quarter-finals for the sixth season running and are looking to win the Champions League for the fourth time in eight seasons, PSG are relative novices at this level.
The French side last made the quarter-finals 18 years ago, although they have quickly put together a squad capable of competing with the best in Europe, and Barcelona are not taking anything for granted ahead.
“If anybody thinks this will be easy for us they are mistaken,” said Barca’s assistant coach Jordi Roura on the eve of the game.
“PSG are a great team, with many great players. The difficulty for us is maximum.”
The visitors are intent on avoiding a repeat of what happened in their last-16 tie against AC Milan, when a flat performance in the first leg in Italy saw them lose 2-0, and only an exceptional display in winning 4-0 in Barcelona saw them progress.
Scoring an away goal could be vital.
But Barcelona will also need to watch out for the threat posed by PSG on the break, especially with Brazilian starlet Lucas a contender to return to the home side after injury, and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic available to play after having a suspension for the game overturned.
“Counter-attacking is one of their strong points, but we are used to playing teams like that,” said Roura.
“Really, most teams play that way against us. PSG have lots of qualities though, and there are other aspects of their game we need to take into account.”
One of those aspects might be the threat posed in the air at set-pieces, and Barcelona will have to cope without skipper Carles Puyol at the Parc des Princes.
Two familiar faces did travel with the squad to the French capital on Monday.
Eric Abidal was named in the squad after a year on the sidelines recovering from a liver transplant, while coach Tito Vilanova is set to be on the bench after returning from a two-month course of cancer treatment in New York.
“In principle, he will be on the bench,” said Roura, who once again filled in for Vilanova in front of the press.
“He is the coach, the boss, and it is good to see things coming back to normal after a very complicated time. It is great news for everyone.”
Striker David Villa, who has won back his place in the side and rediscovered his touch in front of goal in recent games, was also delighted to have two such important personalities back.
“Everything is much easier now with the boss back,” he said.
“Personally too, it is great to see him happy and healthy.
“Abidal is an example for all of us. He never let his head go down and with strength and hard work he has come back.”
While Villa hopes to lead the visitors’ attack with Lionel Messi, former Barcelona striker Ibrahimovic will line up for PSG after a two-match ban handed down for his sending-off in the last-16 first leg against Valencia was reduced to a single game on appeal.
“It is not easy to stop him (Ibrahimovic),” said Villa.
“We need to hope we have a good night and defend well. There is not much else we can do because Ibra is an extraordinary player.
“PSG are a team who, thanks to their new owners, have made some huge signings.
“They deserve to be where they are on merit and are a great team, but I am hoping for a good tie and obviously hope that the result is favourable towards Barcelona.”
Paris Saint-Germain are confident they can upset the odds at the Parc des Princes here on Tuesday in their Champions League quarter-final first leg clash with red hot favourites Barcelona.
It is a long time since PSG made it this far in Europe’s top competition, and only a handful of their likely starting line-up in the game have experience of playing in the last eight of the Champions League.
However, they remain on course to win a domestic league and cup double and have momentum on their side just now, so coach Carlo Ancelotti, who arrived at the helm just over a year ago, was optimistic when he spoke on the eve of the game.
“I have a good feeling,” said the Italian, who has won the European Cup both as a player and as a coach with AC Milan.
“Everyone knows the difficulty, but it will be a fantastic match. To be in the Champions League quarter-finals after just a year is very good and I want all the players to be happy to be here.
“It is maybe the hardest match we could have asked for, but I would like to see a courageous PSG, with personality.
“We might not have lots of possession, but we will have clear ideas to attack, score goals and win.”
Paris probably need to win the first leg at home in front of a sell-out 45,000 crowd if they are to stand any chance of winning the tie, although even that might not be enough, as AC Milan found out in the last 16.
The Serie A side won 2-0 in the first leg, before losing 4-0 in the return at the Camp Nou as Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona to a stunning comeback victory.
“They are probably the best team today and the best team ever,” admitted PSG’s former Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“It will be very difficult. We know they will have the ball, but we want to have possession too because we are at home.
“It is exciting to play this game and try to find a solution, so let’s just see what happens.”
Ibrahimovic, who, along with Thiago Silva, played for Milan when they lost to Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season, has scored 25 Ligue 1 goals this season as well as two in the Champions League.
He was set to miss this game after being handed a two-match ban following his sending-off in the first leg of the last-16 tie against Valencia, but was handed a reprieve last week when UEFA reduced the ban to a single game on appeal.
“This is a game that everyone wants to play in,” said the Swede. “I respected the referee when I was sent off but the two-game ban was hard and to appeal it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
He will start in attack alongside Ezequiel Lavezzi, the Argentine who has scored five times in Europe this season, with Lucas Moura set to return on the right wing after injury.
With former Barcelona player Thiago Motta not in the squad, Marco Verratti will partner Blaise Matuidi in central midfield in a 4-4-2 formation as David Beckham starts the game on the bench.
Ancelotti is focusing fully on his team’s strengths rather than worrying about how to deal with the brilliance of Barcelona and Messi in particular.
“Messi is difficult to stop but so is Ibrahimovic,” he said.
“We are all concentrated on our game, so I haven’t thought too much about the quality of our opponents and their way of playing.”
Meanwhile, Ancelotti insisted that there is no truth in reports that Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho had sent him advice on how to beat Barcelona, and joked he was running out of time to do so.
“If Mourinho wants to give me any information on Barcelona he can do because he has lots of experience of playing them, but I have still not received these videos and the game is tomorrow,” he said.