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.

WATCH: Pulisic sends cross to Schurrle to equalize with Madrid

Real Madrid's Luka Modric, left, and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic challenge for the ball during the Champions League group F soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid in Dortmund, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Borussia Dortmund substitute and USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic subbed into Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League match versus Real Madrid and made a difference.

Given 17 minutes to work, Pulisic needed about 10. The 18-year-old American sent in a cross that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn’t volley but fell to another BVB player.

[ MORE: Big Sam canned ]

That was Andre Schurrle, and the ex-Wolfsburg and Chelsea man lashed a shot behind Navas to make it 2-2 at the Westfalenstadion.

Pulisic does well here, real well, and had a chance to make it 2-2 himself that was smothered by Navas.

England, Twitter reacts to Allardyce debacle: “Angry, sad, staggered”

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 06:  Sam Allardyce manager of England looks during the European Under 21 Qualifier match between England U21 V Norway U21 at Colchester Community Stadium on September 6, 2016 in Colchester, England.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images
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A 67-day reign as a national team blown up by allegations of corruption? We’ve seen similar situations in world soccer, but certainly not at a high-profile, traditional headline-grabber like the England national team.

[ MORE: Big Sam canned ]

English legend Alan Shearer called the Three Lions a “laughing stock”, adding that, “I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m staggered at the misjudgement from a guy who admitted this was his dream job.”

 

AT HALF: Leicester leads, Spurs level, BVB-Real square at 1 (video)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27:  Islam Slimani of Leicester City and Felipe of FC Porto watch the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Leicester City FC and FC Porto at The King Power Stadium on September 27, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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The UEFA Champions League’s group stage hits its second round of matches Tuesday, with two Premier League teams in play and a bevy of big names from outside England.

[ MORE: Dempsey out for 2016 ]

Leicester City 1-0 Porto

The chemistry between Algeria and now Leicester City teammates Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani is very real.

The former fed the latter for an opening goal on Tuesday in UEFA Champions League play at King Power Stadium, as the Foxes have opened up a 1-0 lead on Porto.

You can imagine the visitors aren’t too pleased with having to meet up with Slimani, who they just managed to see out of their league only to watch him arrive in their UCL group.

And how about the mad dabbing kid shown just after Slimani’s celebration? Wild nights in Leicester.

CSKA Moscow 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs are controlling the play, but have yet to find a goal in Russia.

Dinamo Zagreb 0-2 Juventus

Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic have the goals for The Old Lady.

Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo got on the scoresheet, though the hosts have been by far the more dangerous side. USMNT teenager Christian Pulisic is on the bench for BVB.

Thomas Tuchel’s side threatened to score through a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rocketed a shot just over the frame, and the Gabonese man made it 1-1 soon after when Keylor Navas punched Raphael Guerriero’s free kick off Raphael Varane. Aubameyang touched it over the line for an academic marker.

Here’s Ronaldo’s goal:

Elsewhere

Sevilla 0-0 Lyon
Monaco 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Copenhagen 0-0 Club Brugge
Sporting CP 2-0 Legia Warsaw

Sounders, USMNT star Clint Dempsey ruled out for remainder of 2016

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 30:  Clint Dempsey #2 of the Seattle Sounders FC celebrates after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the Western Conference Final at CenturyLink Field on November 30, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
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The Seattle Sounders may yet make a playoff appearance, but it will be without Clint Dempsey.

The USMNT star recently returned to training with the team after dealing with an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Big Sam canned ]

Sounders general manager Garth Lagerway made the announcement on Tuesday.

From SoundersFC.com:

“If we prioritize this now, hopefully we can get Dempsey back in 2017.”

That does not seem to bode well for his participation with the United States men’s national team, which has October friendlies with Cuba and New Zealand before the first two matches of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in November.

Fortunately for the Sounders, both Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro have their upped their games in his absence, and Andreas Ivanschitz has been decent as well.

Seattle is five points back of fifth place Sporting KC, and three back of sixth place Portland. The Sounders have played two less matches than both sides.