For Barcelona, after what turned about to be a disappointing 2-2 draw in Paris against PSG, they will now have home field advantage in the Champions League quarterfinals second leg on Wednesday, which will be played at the Nou Camp.
But that’s about where the Catalan advantage ends. Although heavily favored and often dominant in front of their home crowd, this tie is far from over as Barcelona could be without top player Lionel Messi, and PSG seems to be benefitting from some serious good fortune. Lastly, PSG will benefit from the vengeful Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who would love nothing more than to beat his former club on their home ground.
Ibrahimovic played a vital role in both of PSG’s fortunate equalizing goals against the Catalan side. On the first, a free kick that deflected off the post fell into Ibrahimovic’s path, and he nodded it home. Clearly offsides, the controversial goal stood and PSG got back into the game. Deep into stoppage time and a goal behind again, the large Swede got on the end of a long pass and headed the ball down for Blaise Matuidi to strike home. To the dismay of Barcelona, a kind deflection guided the effort past Victor Valdes and into the goal to send the sides back to Barcelona on even terms.
Even more distressing to Barcelona is the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had received a two-match suspension in the first leg of PSG’s previous knockout tie for a red card offence against Valencia. The suspension would have ruled out Ibrahimovic for the first leg match against Barcelona. But after an appeal, Ibrahimovic had his suspension reduced to just one game, making him eligible for this match where he performed so well earning a goal and an assist.
With Barcelona’s Lionel Messi now nursing a hamstring injury, his availability and effectiveness in the return leg is totally up in the air. Although Barcelona has the talent to manage without out Messi (as evidenced by Barcelona’s 5-0 beating of Mallorca this weekend), there is no doubt that missing their best player for such an important match could have an effect for Barcelona.
The Nou Camp is a fortress for Barcelona that is rarely breached. In four home matches in the Champions League this year, Barcelona has won 3 and drawn just 1 (which was a meaningless final group stage match). During the last round, Barcelona had to overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit to AC Milan, and they did so in powerful fashion at home, maintaining 65% of possession en route to a 4-0 thumping of the Italian side.
The Nou Camp test will be similarly stern for PSG this year, which is their first major Champions League match facing a top European side. They seem to have been riding a wave of good fortune that could catapult them to the semifinals, especially if a few lucky bounces or questionable refereeing decisions fall their way. PSG did a good job at creating goal-scoring chances in the first leg, and could potentially earn a famous victory at the Nou Camp if they play with their tails up.
However, in my judgment Barcelona will come away as victors, regardless of Lionel Messi’s status. This team is simply too good at home to be denied and have consistently put away teams in this competition.
Fortune completely fell the way of PSG last week, and although some sort of miracle is possible, it is highly unlikely that the French side will muster the courage to pull it out. There's no doubt David Beckham will fix his hair during the match a hundred times, and certainly whip in a few dangerous crosses and maybe even score an amazing free kick, but Barcelona has too much firepower. Ibrahimovic might score an early karate kick like volley for PSG to put terror into 90,000 Barcelona fans’ hearts, but Fabregas, Xavi, Pedro, Alves, and Iniesta will inspire a second half comeback and Barcelona will progress with a 2-1 victory.
Eric Abidal's Return
What's more, with the inspiring return of Eric Abidal to the Barcelona side after liver surgery, emotions and energy will run high at the Camp Nou and help lift them to victory if even the Atomic Flea is unable to play due to his hamstring injury.