[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Preview] Barcelona’s clutch 4-0 win over AC Milan in Spain three weeks ago revealed the immense resolve lying beneath the surface of this outwardly humble cast of champions, but it will find cash is still king in Paris, where it’s bought a world-class roster for Paris St. Germain coach Carlo Ancelotti to pick from for their quarterfinal clash on Tuesday.
TV: Paris St. Germain-Barcelona (Tuesday 2:45pm ET, Fox Soccer)
WE MEET AGAIN:Paris Saint-Germain’s only previous quarterfinal appearance in the Champions League came in 1995, when it defeated Barcelona. Sergio Busquets’ father Carles was Barca’s keeper in both legs.
These two teams played a few miles north of PSG’s Parc des Princes at the Stade de France last August in a friendly, and 11 of their players were on that same field for Spain’s 1-0 victory over France in World Cup qualifying last Tuesday. Barcelona had eight players appear for Spain, three PSG players appeared for France.
CASH IS KING: Since buying PSG in 2011 the Qatar Investment Authority has spent over $300 million on players. The influx of pricey talent has included Javier Pastore, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi, as well as some bargains like Jeremy Menez, Marco Verrati, Alex, Blaise Matuidi, former Barca defender Maxwelland starting keeper Salvatore Sirigu.
QIA’s cash is already paying dividends. Owning just two French titles, PSG’s currently first in Ligue 1 after finishing a close second last season.
LEO & ZLATAN:One resembles your local paperboy and the other looks like a huge bad guy sneering his way through a Hollywood film. They scored two of the best goals ever, but how about tangible facts on Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
Barcelona is the only club Leo’s ever known, it was Zlatan’s fifth, PSG is No. 7. Messi has 48 percent of Barca’s La Liga goals; Ibrahimovic has 46 percent of PSG’s Ligue 1 goals. Ibra is the only player to score with six different teams in the UCL; Messi is the only player with four Ballon d’Or trophies. Messi is the greatest player on planet earth, and Ibrahimovic has a black belt in taekwondo, so let’s just call it a push.
ALL HANDS ON DECK:Tito Villanova hopes to be on the sidelines in Paris after a 10-week absence for cancer treatment in New York, but Barca’s coach has several player concerns.
Pedro, Xavi and Jordi Alba all returned from the international break injured. Pedro’s out; Xavi and Alba are questionable. Carlos Puyol could be out for the year and Adriano’s hurt, which could mean 21-year-old right back Martin Montoya at left back.
Thiago Motta’s out for PSG and more critically $54 million Lucas is questionable. The 20-year-old Brazilian’s speed and skill could really trouble Barca’s makeshift left flank.
THE SKINNY:Zlatan’s red-card reduction was big. PSG’s players draw confidence from his bravado, and sheer talent, when he’s not berating them. PSG is unbeaten during its last 23 home games in European competition.
Barcelona’s lost twice in its four Champions League road games this season, and Xavi’s health may dictate Villanova’s approach. Cesc Fabregas in the facilitator role has failed. Andres Iniesta’s magic is muted when asked to play error-free in central midfield. Thiago is serviceable, but Xavi is that reassuring hand effortlessly conducting Barca’s symphony.
Barcelona is certainly the favorite to make what would be its sixth straight semifinal, but PSG’s talent is real, Paris has been buzzing since drawing the world’s best, and this first leg could go either way.