Barcelona vs PSG | Tuesday 16th February 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
Nearly four years on from La Remontada, Barcelona lock horns with PSG again in what has a justifiable case to claim top billing in the UCL round of 16.
Intriguing as much for its many sub plots as its potential to produce a feast of football entertainment, we have Mauricio Pochettino taking charge of his first Champions League game for his new employers, soon to be free agent Lionel Messi lining up against the side who are favourites to be his next employers, and Neymar missing a reunion against his former employers.
Ask me to pick a winner however and I can’t separate the two teams, which is just like the bookies, who make both odds on to progress.
A 12-game undefeated sequence in La Liga (W10, D2), including winning all of their last seven games, has seen the Catalans rise to third – but I still have my doubts about the strength of Ronald Koeman's Barca, highlighted by the fact they still remain a distant eight points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid who also have a game in-hand.
And there are question marks whether they can do the business against Europe's best – illustrated by last week's 2-0 defeat to Sevilla in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final.
The Spanish outfit have something of a hold over their French rivals – dumping them out of this competition on each of the last three occasions they have met at the knockout stages, all of which in the last decade, 2012/13, 2014/15 and that infamous tie in 2016/17 when became the first – and so far, only – side to qualify for the next round following a 4+ goals first-leg margin of defeat (0-4 first leg at Parc des Princes; 6-1 second leg at Camp Nou).
With the Parisians (very publicly) making their interest in Messi clear I can imagine an irritated Barcelona will have added incentive to secure another win – and potentially convince their Argentinian superstar he has no need to leave in order to win the top honours in the game.
I would have been inclined to take a chance on an away win here if the visitors weren’t without the injured duo of Neymar and Angel Di Maria but will swerve the match result market and instead dip in to the depth of available talent Pochettino has at his disposal for an angle in whilst keeping PSG onside.
With Neymar having to sit out his return to Camp Nou after contentiously picking up an injury in the Coupe de France meeting with Caen earlier this month, this represents another chance for Kylian Mbappe to showcase his incredible talents as his team's main focal point.
A busy shift on Saturday resulted in six shots (one on target), four crosses (one accurate), two dribbles, three fouls drawn and a yellow card in the 2-1 win over Nice – the odds of 10/11 with Unibet for over 1.5 fouls suffered in this clash are appealing but I am drawn to another player props market.
The 22-year-old has had another productive Ligue 1 campaign topping the scoring charts with 16 strikes so far added to six assists – he is 13/8 to grab a vital away goal for his side in this first leg clash.
However, in the UCL group games the France international has actually bagged more assists than goals, helping his teammates to find the net three times from five starts while scoring only twice himself.
Another player that caught my eye is one I’m taking a chance on despite concerns over a recent hip injury – Marco Verratti.
The Italian midfielder wasn’t risked in the weekend victory over Nice with Pochettino telling a pre-match media conference. “He is going to train Tuesday and it won't be a particularly demanding one as it is the day before the match. Interestingly going on to add “We have a strategy and a game plan that, depending on who is available, will affect our decision”
Verratti is a key part of the new manager’s plans, stats would suggest PSG perform better with him in the team than when he is not – some reports have suggested Pochettino may even see him as the number 10 and if that is the case in this tie, we have a great price opportunity.
Since the Argentinian boss took over the hot seat in Paris, Verratti has started five games – managing at least one shot in three of them and four shots in total – one of which was on target.
Poker Stars have generously priced Verratti at 5/2 just to have one or more shots whilst if his radar as well as his bruised hip are in good working order the 6/1 on offer for a shot on target is too big in my opinion and therefore, I will be having a unit on each – by comparison Sky Bet go 4/11 for at least one shot and 6/4 for one or more on target.
Barcelona vs PSG – Kylian Mbappe anytime assist (11/2 Betfair)
Barcelona vs PSG – Marco Verratti to have 1 or more shots (13/5 Poker Stars)
Barcelona vs PSG – Marco Verratti to have 1 or more shots on target (6/1 Poker Stars)