With Thiago Silva out and the Paris Saint-Germain midfield yet to mesh perfectly, Valencia might have a chance to win on Tuesday. Then again, PSG still has Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Unlike Chelsea, who were a Champions League team when they were bought by Roman Abramovich, or Anzhi, Malaga and Manchester City, who failed to make the most of their new owner's big spending in their first seasons as rich clubs, Paris Saint-Germain has made the transition from mid-table mediocrity to Champions League contender in one year. While they disappointed down the stretch last season, failing to win the Ligue 1 title, they secured second place comfortably and had no problem qualifying for the knockout stage of Champions League this season.
They've yet to face Europe's elite in their first foray into Champions League football under their new ownership, and that won't change on Tuesday. Valencia is similar to PSG group-mates FC Porto, in that they are consistently one of the top 20 or so teams on the continent, but around a decade removed from truly being a contender for the Champions League crown.
With new manager Ernesto Valverde in charge, Valencia have soared up the La Liga table and come into their match against PSG unbeaten in their last four games -- a stretch that includes matches against Real Madrid and Barcelona. Valverde has made subtle changes to the team's shape and first-choice personnel, and those changes have paid off. He looks to have figured out exactly who he wants in his first-choice squad in a couple of months.
Unfortunately for PSG, that's something Carlo Ancelotti is trying to figure out. He knows what Zlatan Ibrahimovic's role in the team is, but everyone else has been shuffled around frequently.
Antonio Barragan, Aly Cissokho and Jeremy Mathieu are all out for Valencia, making their selections at fullback and left wing rather easy. They have serious depth at those positions, and shouldn't lose anything without those three players. Expect Sofiane Feghouli to get a start now that he's back from the Africa Cup of Nations, though it wouldn't be terribly surprising if young Juan Bernat got a chance.
PSG are without Thiago Silva, their superstar defender, through injury. Central midfielder Thiago Motta is out as well, which is a potentially big loss, but Blaise Matuidi is in solid form. New signing David Beckham has not had much time to train with his new side and is not in Ancelotti's team.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Marco Verratti vs. Ever Banega: Though Verratti and Banega don't operate in the exact same position in their current roles -- Banega has been moved higher up the pitch under Valverde and Verratti is a deep-lying playmaker -- they serve similar roles in their team and have similar games. Neither does a whole lot of defending, but the balance of play in this match might be decided on which one of them is willing to do a lot more of it. They'll end up in the same spaces quite a bit, on both ends of the pitch. Maybe one of them will be bothered, due to their managers' instruction or otherwise, to do some closing down.
Adil Rami vs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic: During his press conference on Tuesday, Valverde stated that defending Ibrahimovic "isn't just a job for Rami, but for the whole team." He's not incorrect, but Rami's going to be the man seeing the most of Ibrahimovic, both during open play and on set pieces. Ibrahimovic has had an outstanding season and is difficult to contain for anyone. As Valverde stated, Rami will need some help, but that doesn't mean that Valencia has a chance to win if he's anything less than stellar. He'll have to not only avoid mistakes, but beat Ibrahimovic to a few 50-50 balls as well.
Carlo Ancelotti vs. himself: Ancelotti has won numerous trophies, including this one, and PSG's success is partially attributable to what he's done with the squad. He's not perfect, though, and still hasn't quite figured out what his best team is. He's shuffled the back line, the center of his midfield and the attackers around Ibrahimovic. The center forward has been the team's only true constant, as central defenders have picked up injuries, while midfielders have gained and lost form. Can Ancelotti pick the right team, or make the right substitution choices if things don't go according to plan? Any three of Lavezzi, Pastore, Lucas, Kevin Gameiro and Jeremy Menez could start. Or he could play three central midfielders — who knows? Ancelotti's inconsistent selections make his team anyone's guess, and not necessarily in the good Alex Ferguson kind of way.
Had these two teams met back in December, no one would have given Valencia much of a chance. They're still underdogs, but their recent positive surge makes it hard to write them off. Paris Saint-Germain also hasn't played a truly elite team this season, and have only had a handful of games against teams with Valencia's quality. It's tough to know how good they really are. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is virtually unstoppable, however, and Carlo Ancelotti has made multiple deep runs in this competition for a reason. Los Che all but bow out of the tournament with a 2-1 loss at the Mestalla, and head to Parc des Princes with little hope of advancing.