PARIS, France, April 1 – 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.”