Who should Luis Enrique start for PSG to overcome Barcelona in Champions League quarterfinals second leg?


Paris Saint-Germain will take on Barcelona on Tuesday in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie down 3-2 on aggregate after an entertaining but ultimately disappointing opening leg at Parc des Princes (as always you can catch coverage of all the action across CBS, Paramount+CBS Sports Golazo Network, and CBS Sports Network). The Ligue 1 leaders fought back from 1-0 down to 2-1 up early in the second half only to be pegged back and ultimately undone 3-2 to leave Luis Enrique and his players with everything to do in the return game in Catalonia this midweek.

The Spanish tactician is no stranger to wholesale changes in big games and it already cost PSG on a few occasions this season — notably the heavy 4-1 loss away at Newcastle United in the group stage as well as the 2-1 reverse against Milan despite having taken the lead. Achraf Hakimi’s suspension certainly threw a spanner in the works but it does not account for a number of Luis Enrique’s decisions further up the field and the former Barca boss now has a big challenge to get his gameplan right for this one.

“After 27 games without defeat, we lost this one,” he said on Monday ahead of the game. “We must get up and go again — perform well. We accepted that loss and congratulated Barca but now we must show a different version of ourselves and surpass our best levels. We have had time to prepare and we are ready. We know exactly what we want to do and we are convinced that we can turn this around.”

We look at some of the positional questions from PSG’s 3-2 loss to Xavi’s side last week and which of those must be reversed or resolved in order for Les Parisiens to stand a chance of progressing to the semifinals for the first time since 2021.

Goalkeeper

Gianluigi Donnarumma did not have his finest moment in Paris last week and was questionable on multiple Barcelona goals as well as a few opportunities which the Italy international was fortunate did not cost the home side further. Although Luis Enrique might be tempted to make a change between the sticks, that is probably the worst thing that the Spaniard could even contemplate doing and it is unlikely that he goes that far. Although Keylor Navas has the undoubted experience, he is nowhere close to being as sharp as he was before Donnarumma’s arrival while Arnau Tenas’ moment to seize the starting role came and went earlier in the campaign. Since then, the former Milan man’s form has generally been strong and he must deliver a more assured showing on Tuesday than he did last week.

Defense

With Hakimi coming back in, that is the right side of the defense sorted with an improved natural attacking outlet which enables Marquinhos to move back into a more central role where the captain can be more effective. The big debate is who to partner the Brazil international with as Lucas Hernandez perhaps makes the most sense as a natural left-sided central defender but he has spent most of the campaign at left back. Luis Enrique’s biggest decision is whether to go with one or both of Hakimi and Nuno Mendes because the Portuguese matching the Moroccan on the left gives PSG much more width. With that in mind, not to mention Lucas Beraldo’s difficulties last week, Hernandez in the middle does make a lot of sense.

“Our idea of the game will be the same as it has been since the start of this season,” said Hakimi pregame. “We want to be patient, get on the ball and create chances. This is how we can and will win. Our strength is the collective as we can attack and defend together. We are stronger and the head coach knows Barca very well. I think that our style of play is quite similar but they have very good players who we must control. We have to win the duels so that they have no freedom to play.”

Midfield

The big absentee from the opening leg was Warren Zaire-Emery and Luis Enrique is expected to correct that by starting him here with a contract extension thought to be imminent now that he has turned 18. Vitinha impressed enough to ensure that he is not dropped so the big question focuses on Fabian Ruiz and whether or not he stays in the XI or possibly makes way for a Manuel Ugarte whose physical presence and defensive discipline could be vital in balancing the midfield and freeing up Zaire-Emery and Vitinha to roam forwards. That would arguably make most sense if Ousmane Dembele is deployed through the middle instead of out wide which is a possibility as we have seen it already in Europe this year.

Attack

With Kylian Mbappe under pressure to perform much better than last week’s disappointing effort, it is a question of who features up top with him. Bradley Barcola put in an impressive second half showing last week but Luis Enrique might prefer to keep that up his sleeve for the second half and go for Goncalo Ramos’ goal threat and better utilize Dembele’s wizardry in a more central role which lessens the need for pace out wide. Mbappe and Dembele could obviously take up roles on each flank before joining Ramos more centrally but having that fixed focal point in attack was sorely missed last week and the Portugal international brings a goal threat from all different types of situations.

Is this the winning XI? Donnarumma; Hakimi, Marquinhos (c), Hernandez, Mendes; Ugarte, Zaire-Emery, Vitinha; Dembele; Ramos, Mbappe.



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