Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona have numerous brilliant players worthy of attention in their UEFA Champions League encounter on Tuesday, but the spotlight will be on one above all others. And it's not Lionel Messi.
Though Zlatan Ibrahimović scored 21 goals and won a La Liga title during his lone season at Barcelona, it was the only club at which he did not excel during his career. He was expected to become the centerpiece of the team's attack and the perfect compliment to Messi when he was brought in for Samuel Eto'o, plus €40 million, but he was so unwanted by Pep Guardiola that he was loaned to AC Milan with an option to buy for just €24 million one season later.
Since his departure from Barcelona, Ibrahimović has been highly critical of the team and now-former head coach Guardiola. He'll likely have further words of criticism for the Blaugrana even if his team is handily outplayed in the Champions League quarterfinal, and will almost certainly be out to vindicate his previous statements with a dominant performance at the Parc des Princes.
Ibrahmović's showdown with Barcelona is almost certainly the biggest story of the tie, but not the only excellent one. In a bit of uplifting news, Tito Vilanova has fully recovered after cancer treatment in the United States and will reclaim his place on the Barcelona touchline from assistant and interim manager, Jordi Roura. The Blaugrana have looked less formidable in his absence, despite his involvement in training sessions and tactical decisions from abroad, and his presence can only be a positive for his side.
Ibrahimović, previously suspended for this match, is available after UEFA reduced his suspension. He was sent off for a dangerous challenge in the first leg of PSG's tie against Valencia and missed the second leg of that tie, but UEFA apparently believed his challenge to be less reckless than the referee initially believed. Thiago Motta is expected to miss out through injury, while Lucas Moura is fit again.
Adriano and Carles Puyol did not travel with the Barcelona squad to Paris. Xavi Hernandez and Jordi Alba, who both sat out over the weekend with nagging injuries, did travel with the team and should be in the 18-man squad at the very least. Pedro is suspended. Victor Valdes is suspended in La Liga, but available for Champions League and should start.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Paris Saint-Germain (4-3-2-1): Salvatore Sirigu; Maxwell, Thiago Silva, Alex, Gregory van der Wiel; Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi, Clément Chantôme; Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi; Zlatan Ibrahimović
Really? Gregory van der Wiel?: He's only in the lineup over Christophe Jallet because he's been starting for over a month in Ligue 1. The projections above are not a personal preference, but a guess at what Carlo Ancelotti is thinking. But, while we're on the subject of personal preferences: I'd put in Jallet for van der Wiel, David Beckham for Verratti, and I'd keep Lucas out even if he is 100 percent.
Ugh, Cesc?: With Adriano injured and Pedro suspended, yes, Cesc. Sorry. I guess you can hope for Thiago Alcantara or Christian Tello to get a look, but it's not likely.
Will Ancelotti copy Massimiliano Allegri's plan?: It's quite possible. Heck, maybe that was the point of this three-man center he's been running in Ligue 1 for the last two games. Lucas Moura's absence was a more plausible explanation, but it's not like Ancelotti is lacking in attacking midfielders or wide players. He chose to change his tactics instead of inserting Jeremy Menez or Kevin Gameiro.
Barcelona's defense is shaky enough that they'll concede a goal, while the Paris Saint-Germain defense can definitely keep Barcelona off the board for an extended period of time. The absence of Thiago Motta will be felt, however, and Ancelotti's probably going to pay for it if he starts van der Wiel at right back. A 1-1 draw will set up a very favorable situation for Barcelona at Camp Nou.
An edit was made to this preview. Pedro Rodriguez was not previously listed as suspended.