By DAN KARELL
For one of the few times this season, Paris Saint-Germain will have to play without Zlatan Ibrahimovic when they take the pitch at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday against Valencia.
The Parisian side won the first leg 2-1, but lost the big Swede in the 90th minute to a red card for a harsh tackle, meaning their side will be without their leading scorer and playmaker against a hungry Valencia team.
Not much has gone right for the coastal Spanish club this season. They currently sit in fifth-place in La Liga, outside of a Champions League place, and speculation is rife with the club, as they are in financial peril, having defaulted on a loan in January. It’s safe to say that despite it’s quality in the midfield, this isn’t the same club that David Villa and David Silva once played for.
PSG will need to pick up their game after falling to Stade de Reims over the weekend 1-0, an embarrassing loss for the big money club, that leaves them just two points above Lyon as the season goes into it’s final turn. David Beckham, who came on as a second half substitute over the weekend, could be in line for his first Champions League start since 2010, when he featured for AC Milan against Manchester United. Beckham was not a member of the PSG 18 for the match against Valencia, though he was there at the Mestalla sitting with teammates.
The early darlings of the Champions League this season were Celtic, who nearly beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou, before completing the deed two weeks later in spectacular fashion at Celtic Park.
However, the Scottish club crashed back to earth nearly a month ago, when Juventus scored three goals in clinical fashion in Glasgow, meaning that the Italian club holds all the marbles when the two sides face off in Turin.
Neil Lennon hasn’t given up on his Celtic team just yet, but has admitted it will take a minor miracle for them to score at least three goals against Juventus without conceding. However, it’s been Andrea Pirlo, Italy and Juventus’ talismanic midfielder, who has been making sure his side don’t start thinking about the next round before they have qualified. It was Pirlo who was on the losing end of a 3-0 halftime lead against Liverpool in the Champions League Final in 2005. His AC Milan side famously gave up three in the second half, and wound up losing in penalty kicks.
Pirlo, as I’m sure Juventus manager Antonio Conte, would rather avoid that scenario playing out in front of Juventus’ fans on Wednesday night.
Here is a closer look at today’s Round-of-16 Champions League matches:
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN vs. VALENCIA
2:45pm, Fox Soccer Channel
Players to Watch: PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN: Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore, David Beckham; VALENCIA: Jonas, Ever Banega, Roberto Soldado, Sergio Canales;
Quick Kicks: PSG aren’t just missing Ibrahimovic for this match. Midfielder Marco Verratti is also suspended due to accumulation of yellow cards, and defender Thiago Silva is a huge doubt, as the Brazilian is just coming back from injury. Beckham or Clement Chantome are midfield options for manager Carlo Ancelotti, as is central defender Alex, to partner alongside Mamadou Sakho. Valencia meanwhile will be without their goalscorer from the first leg, Adil Rami, after the Frenchman picked up a leg injury in mid-February.
JUVENTUS vs. CELTIC
2:45pm, Fox Soccer Plus/MSG+
Players to Watch: JUVENTUS: Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Mirko Vucinic, Kwadwo Asamoah; CELTIC: Gary Hooper, Georgios Samaras, Victor Wanyama, Kris Commons;
Quick Kicks: Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini made his first start since returning from injury last Friday in his side’s 1-1 draw against Napoli, so there is a a chance he will not feature against Celtic. The Scottish club, on the other hand, welcome back Georgios Samaras to the side, and will almost certainly start him up top alongside Gary Hooper, knowing they need at least three goals. Hoops midfielder Scott Brown, a mainstay in the side all season, will not be available due to a thigh injury.
What do you think of today’s matches? See PSG struggling without Zlatan? Do you believe Celtic have a chance to move on to the next round?
Share your thoughts below.