Paris St Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Beckham attend a training session at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona

Champions League preview: Sharp rise has taken Paris Saint-Germain to Barcelona

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Paris Saint-Germain’s project is as much about brand as it is their soccer, and in both respects, Qatari Investment Authority’s plans seem to be ahead of schedule. After disappointingly giving up last season’s Ligue 1 title to Montpellier, PSG’s running away from France’s top division, while in Champions League, the team’s made it as far as anybody could reasonably expect: A quarterfinal matchup with Barcelona, currently the world’s marqueé club, where the teams sit tied at two after 90 minutes.

Before we pull over the changes of PSG pulling off an upset Wednesday at the Nou Camp, consider how far the club has come since QIA took over in June 2011. Of course they’ve had nearly unlimited cash to fund their progress, but money hasn’t been enough for Manchester City to make a dent in Europe. Málaga’s economic might turned out to be a rouse, while clubs like Anzhi Makhachkala and Zenit St. Petersburg have yet to see their European impact parallel their expenditures. PSG’s rise is more reminiscent of Chelsea’s, a club that’s firmly established themselves as one of the world’s premier brands while winning almost every trophy imaginable.

Yet there’s a star power PSG’s already established that Chelsea has never been able to achieve, a quality that’s sure to create a celebrity-fueled buzz as the Parisians descent on Camp Nou. Only Real Madrid has stars to rival the likes of David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – players whose gravities are comparable to the Blaugrana’s own Lionel Messi. And of course there’s Thiago Silva, Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi – players whose celebrity doesn’t match their talent, no matter how dangerous they are on the field. Paris Saint-Germain may not be seen as top-level contenders for this year’s title, but when Cataluyna hums with the arrival of their star-laden squad, there’ll be little doubting the power of what’s destined to be one of the world’s sexiest soccer brands.

In that vein, PSG’s already accomplished what it set out to do when it began this year’s competition. Now that they’re here, of course they want to beat Barcelona, but at the onset of the tournament, nobody expected them to challenge for the title. Carlo Ancelotti and squad may have given lip service to their potential, but nobody at the Parc de Princes was reserving seats at Wembley. This first year back in Champions League was as much about establishing a presence as it was challenging for a trophy. Now with a chance to eliminate Barcelona at the halfway point of their quarterfinal, PSG’s established their European credibility – one of the things QIA set out to do two years ago.

Whether they can transcend those modest goals and stay alive in Champions League will depend in large part on Messi’s health. The Barcelona focal point left last week’s game at halftime with a right thigh injury, an ailment that kept him out of Saturday’s win over Mallorca. With interim coach Jordi Roura describing him as akin to a game time decision, there’s a chance Messi won’t play in Wednesday’s match. Same does for Pedro Rodríguez and Adriano, while Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol are definitely out.

Roura’s team is set to be a makeshift one. If that includes the absence of Lionel Messi, a PSG team that was already competing with Barcelona could become favorites to claim an unlikely semifinal spot.

As much of a long-shot as it seemed a week ago, there’s a decent chance Paris Saint-Germain can pull and upset that would allow their results to keep pace with their brand. Regardless, both are far ahead of schedule.

Notes

  • Without Messi this weekend, Barcelona beat Mallorca 5-0 thanks to a hat trick from Cesc Fábregas and two goals from Alexis Sanchez.
  • Get past Paris Saint-Germain, and Barcelona will qualify for their sixth straight Champions League semifinal.
  • Barcelona sought recourse with UEFA after a sequence of disputed calls led to PSG’s first goal last Tuesday. Not surprisingly, UEFA’s stayed quiet.
  • Eric Abidal, who underwent a liver transplant last year, made his return on Saturday, playing the last 20 minutes against Mallorca.
  • Despite his comeback, Abidal’s unlikely to get the start in Mascherano’s spot. Roura will choose between natural midfielder Alex Song and 22-year-old Marc Bartra.
  • For PSG, midfielder Blaise Matuidi, scorer of last Tuesday’s stoppage time equalizer, will be suspended for yellow card accumulation.
  • If Thiago Motta isn’t healthy enough to return, Ancelotti will be scrambling to replace Matuidi. Clement Chantome is a possibility, but so is Thiago Silva, with the defender used in midfield earlier this season.
  • Silva, however, has a knee problem which may keep him out. He’ll need to pass a late fitness test, as will central defense partner Alex, who was able to train with the full team on Tuesday.
  • With a team that only kept four starters from last week’s Champions League match, PSG won at Rennes on Saturday, getting goals from Jeremy Menez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on their way to a 2-0 result.

Possible Lineups

Barcelona (4-3-3): Víctor Valdes; Jordi Alba, Alex Song, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves; Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández; David Villa, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez

Paris Saint-Germain (4-4-2): Salvatore Sirigu; Maxwell, Thiago Silva, Alex, Christophe Jallet; Javier Pastore, David Beckham, Thiago Motta, Lucas Moura; Ezequiel Lavezzi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

LIVE: Europa League Round of 32 – Spurs, Ajax, Bilbao in action

Tottenham's Harry Kane, 2nd right, is congratulated by his teammates after scoring his side's 2nd goal during the Champions League group E soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and CSKA Moscow at Wembley stadium in London, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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The Europa League Round of 32 second legs keep coming on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

After Manchester United, Schalke and Krasnodar all booked their spots in the last 16 on Wednesday, the 13 remaining clashes take place across Europe on Thursday.

Tottenham Hotspur host Belgian outfit Gent at a sold-out Wembley Stadium as close to 90,000 fans will roar on Mauricio Pochettino‘s men. Harry Kane and Co. will need all the help they can get too as Tottenham trail 1-0 from the first leg in Belgium last week.

Elsewhere, APOEL Nicosia, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk will all look to overturn narrow deficits, while Ajax, Osmanlispor and Genk will be hoping to make home advantage count with their ties locked in a stalemate.

It’s an uphill battle for Villarreal, Sparta Prague and AZ Alkmaar, but strange things happen in this tournament (See: Liverpool’s stunning comeback against Borussia Dortmund).

The draw for the last 16 of the Europa League will take place on Friday and it could get quite tasty as there are no seedings and no protection against being drawn against teams from your own association and from your group stage.

So: Manchester United vs. Tottenham?

Click on the link above for live scores, updates and stats from the three games on Thursday, while we will have updates and analysis on all the action right here at Pro Soccer Talk.

Here’s the Europa League schedule below, with the score from the first leg in parenthesis.


Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32, second legs

Full Thursday schedule

11 a.m. ET
Osmanlispor vs. Olympiacos (0-0)

1 p.m. ET
APOEL Nicosia vs. Athletic Bilbao (Bilbao leads 3-2)
Besiktas vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Besiktas leads 3-1)
Ajax vs. Legia Warsaw (0-0)
Roma vs. Villarreal (Roma leads 4-0)
Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Anderlecht (Zenit trails 2-0)
Fiorentina vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (Gladbach trails 1-0)

3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. AZ Alkmaar (Lyon leads 4-1)
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Celta Vigo (Shakhtar trails 1-0)
Sparta Prague vs. Rostov (Rostov leads 4-0)
Genk vs. Astra Giurgiu (2-2)
Copenhagen vs. Ludogorets (Copenhagen leads 2-1)
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Gent (Spurs trail 1-0)

Wayne Rooney issues statement on Man United future

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 03:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United looks on during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between Fenerbahce SK and Manchester United FC at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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Wayne Rooney has issued a statement saying he will remain at Manchester United.

[ MORE: What is Rooney’s best option? ]

Rooney, 31, has been heavily linked with a move to the Chinese Super League and after his agent flew to China to meet with interested clubs those reports intensified. 

However, the all-time leading scorer for Manchester United and England has issued the following statement on his decision to stay at United.

Over to you, Wayne.

“Despite the interest which has been show from other clubs, for which I’m grateful, I want to end recent speculation and say I am staying at Man United. I hope I’ll play a full part in leading the team in its fight for success on four fronts. It’s an exciting time at the club and I want to remain part of it.”

Rooney is contracted to United until 2019 and although he has become a bit-part player at United this season he still has a big part to play.

With the emergence of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not to mention Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic around, Rooney is no longer the first name on the teamsheet in the attacking area.

That’s something he will have to accept under new manager Jose Mourinho and, after a little bit of soul-searching while on the sidelines injured for the past three weeks, it’s obviously something Rooney has begrudgingly come to terms with.

For now.

He will still contribute at key moments for United and get plenty of minutes between now and the end of the season as United are in the last eight of the FA Cup, the last 16 of the Europa League and face Southampton in the EFL Cup final this weekend as well as continuing their top four hunt in the Premier League.

Still, Rooney will want to play regularly and after 13 years at Old Trafford the chance of that happening seems very unlikely as long as Mourinho is in charge. That could impact his chances of being called up by England boss Gareth Southgate which will be especially damaging ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia (Rooney has already said that will be his final major tournament) next summer.

It’s likely Rooney will reassess the situation this summer and could still head to the Chinese Super League, or even Major League Soccer. The other option is to go back to boyhood club Everton to see out his playing days, if (and it’s a big if) the Toffees can afford his wages.

Right now, though, it seems like Rooney is set to become the next Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs as he prolongs his career with the Red Devils. He may not stick around as Giggs and Scholes, but given all he has achieved for United he deserves to leave or remain on his own terms.

Premier League player Power Rankings – Top 20

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04:  Ngolo Kante of Chelsea runs with the ball under pressure from Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on February 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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The Premier League action is back after the FA Cup and European action took center stage. Hug someone. This is awesome.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive

With that in mind, there are a handful of new faces in our Power Rankings, with Chelsea and Man City continuing to dominate.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Even
  2. Harry Kane (Tottenham) New entry
  3. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Down 1
  4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man United) – New entry
  5. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 1
  6. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Even
  7. Paul Pogba (Man United) – New entry
  8. Sergio Aguero (Man City) – New entry
  9. David Luiz (Chelsea) – Down 4
  10. Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton) – Down 4
  11. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Up 7
  12. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – Down 5
  13. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Man United) – Down 4
  14. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – New entry
  15. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 4
  16. Juan Mata (Man United) – Even
  17. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Down 4
  18. David Silva (Man City) – Down 1
  19. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Down 9
  20. Anthony Martial (Man United) – Down 4

Previews of every Premier League game – Week 26

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa (R) of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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There are eight Premier League games in Week 26 as the EFL Cup final sees Southampton and Manchester United both out of PL action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

With the FA Cup break over, we are now looking forward to plenty of big battles across the league as some teams try to scramble for points in their quests to finish in the top four, while others are scrapping away for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

With 13 games to go, it’s all getting rather tense out there…

Below you can find previews, team news and score predictions on every game coming up this weekend.


Tottenham vs. Stoke City

Everton vs. Sunderland

Chelsea vs. Swansea City

West Brom vs. Bournemouth

Leicester City vs. Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough

Hull City vs. Burnley

Watford vs. West Ham