When Paris Saint-Germain take on Barcelona at the Camp Nou tonight, they will be missing Blaise Matuidi, arguably their best player in the first leg draw of this Champions League quarter-final encounter. The Frenchman’s stoppage-time strike salvaged a 2-2 draw for his side back in Paris after picking up a booking that ruled him out of the return leg. However, while Carlo Ancelotti will rue the midfielder’s suspension, he welcomes back Thiago Motta who could play an equally influential role in tonight’s game if not more.
Motta’s spell with PSG has been ravaged by injury so far, much like most of his career, but if he starts tonight, he’ll bring a wealth of experience to the French league leaders’ set-up. The Italian international has two Champions League winners medals to his name and one of those were won in Barcelona’s colours.
He won the Champions League with Barcelona
Even though he began his youth career with Juventus, he was playing for Barcelona ‘B’ by the time he was 17. He won the Don Balon Award in 2003 which is handed out to the breakthrough player in La Liga. After six successful seasons with the Catalans which included two successive league titles and as mentioned earlier, a Champions League trophy, Motta signed for Inter Milan in 2009 following short spells with Atletico Madrid and Genoa.
It was at the Milanese club that he won the treble under Jose Mourinho and his performances against Barcelona in that season’s Champions League is relevant here. While his displays against them in the group matches were decent enough, he really came into his own when they beat the Spanish side 3-1 at the San Siro in the semi-finals.
In that particular game, he effortlessly linked defense with attack while displaying his tactical discipline as he closed down Lionel Messi every time he drifted infield and was largely responsible for stifling the diminutive Argentine. PSG will hope for a similar performance from the midfielder tonight especially if Messi is given the green light following the injury he picked up in the first leg.
Motta kept Messi in check
His role in the second leg however was cut short after being dished out a straight red owing to the combined effect of his stray hand and Sergio Busquets’ play-acting that hardly covered the Spaniard in glory. Inter lost 1-0 but went through to the final 3-2 on aggregate. A confrontation between Motta and Busquets tonight could serve as a juicy sub-plot.
Motta was also part of a 1-1 result against Spain with Italy in the 2012 European Championships during the group stages. On that night as well he was crucial in stopping the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Busquets. The fact that he knows these players well and understands the system they play having thrived under it in the past makes him a priceless commodity for PSG tonight and he should be picked to start the game on his credentials alone.
He tussled with the same players in the Euros
Motta is tactically sound, a strong but tidy tackler and reads the game well, attributes that are normally associated with the typical Italian midfielder. However, his vision, passing range and technical skill are why he fit in so well at Barcelona. In other words, not only does he have what it takes to stifle the Spaniards but he also possesses the necessary skills to hurt them. If you had three Thiago Mottas, you’d probably have a midfield as suited as any to perhaps not ‘match’ but ‘counter’ that of Barcelona’s.
Barcelona put teams under immense pressure at the Camp Nou right from the kick-off and that’s why Motta may well be partnered by the more mobile Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore in midfield as opposed to the technically gifted but aging David Beckham. Ancelotti has already played the Beckham card once and may opt to use him only from the bench this time around with the priority being to prevent Barcelona from scoring early on and putting the tie beyond them.
Key to PSG's chances
Motta’s style of play is not similar to Matuidi’s but in his own way, the 30 year old may even be more effective if he manages to overcome the rustiness.
It will take a Herculean effort from PSG to knockout the Spanish giants on their own turf but in Motta they have a player well-versed in Barcelona’s system along with their players and knows what it takes to counter their efforts. Whichever way this result goes, the former Barcelona man promises to be in the thick of the action.
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