PSG hosts Barcelona, Ajax goes to APOEL
Sep. 29, 2014
PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain has two problems ahead of Tuesday's Champions League match against Barcelona: figuring out how to find its own form again and how to unlock an opposing defense that has yet to concede a goal this season.
Despite a glut of stars at its disposal, PSG has drawn six of the nine games it has played this season, including a 1-1 draw at Ajax. The frustration is starting to get to the players, and coach Laurent Blanc has even switched his formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 in a bid to find the fluidity so lacking in the team's play.
Barcelona has no such worries and, led by its lethal attacking duo of Lionel Messi and Neymar, will be confident of picking up a second straight win to take control of Group F.
In the other match, Ajax faces a tough to trip to face Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia, which has a good home record.
Here are some things to know about Tuesday's matches:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to recover from a left heel injury that kept him out of the past two games and won't face his former team.
Given how PSG has struggled so far this season, and that it has won only 40 percent of matches when he hasn't played, Ibrahimovic's absence is a major setback for the French champions.
PSG's attack without him looks somewhat muted. Edinson Cavani still looks short of his best, even when playing in his preferred center forward's role, as he did in the past two games, and PSG misses the pace and power of Argentina winger Ezequiel Lavezzi, who is out with a thigh injury.
PSG's acquisition of the versatile David Luiz from Chelsea in the offseason strengthened the defense and midfield, yet money may well have been better spent on another forward.
PSG's bid for Angel di Maria failed to materialize, the Argentina winger instead joining Manchester United, and PSG's attacking options look somewhat threadbare.
Aside from Edinson Cavani, who has scored 29 goals in 51 games since joining from Napoli last season, goals are hard to come by despite a large financial outlay.
Winger Jean-Christophe Bahebeck's goal in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Toulouse was his first in the league.
Brazil winger Lucas has been very disappointing since joining from Sao Paulo, managing only five goals in 68 games, while playmaker Javier Pastore continues to flitter in and out of the side and has failed to score this season.
In midfield, Marco Verratti has yet to score in 61 games, Blaise Matuidi has 11 in 102 and Thiago Motta a mediocre six in 58 games.
The Lionel Messi-Neymar strike partnership is turning into a demolition gang.
Neymar has scored six goals in all competitions this season and Messi has five, with the Argentina star providing his teammate with four assists. Neymar got his first hat trick in Barcelona's 6-0 rout of Granada and Messi reached his 400th career goal for club and country.
Last season, the duo shared only 14 starts. But now under coach Luis Enrique's guidance, Neymar is feasting on Messi's superb first-time passes.
"Messi looks for any player up ahead," Neymar said. "We are making a good pairing and we're getting to know each other better all the time."
Messi may be short in stature and relatively undemonstrative on the field, but his hunger for goals is enormous.
The Argentina forward has scored 67 Champions League goals, within sight of former Real Madrid star Raul Gonzalez's all-time record of 71.
He is also locked in a scoring battle with Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi and Ronaldo started this season with 67, but Ronaldo scored in Real Madrid's 5-1 trouncing of FC Basel to move one ahead of Messi, who failed to score in a gritty 1-0 win over APOEL Nicosia.
TOUGHER THAN BARCELONA?
APOEL Nicosia coach Giorgos Donis believes facing Ajax will be tougher than the trip to Barcelona, because APOEL will change strategy from all-out defense to attack.
The game will be the fifth in two weeks for APOEL, which is making only its third appearance in Europe's top competition, and Donis thinks that will also be a factor.
"It will be an exhausting match for us in the sense that we'll have to be excellent in all facets of the game," Donis said. "I believe it will be the toughest game so far."
APOEL has a strong home record with 15 wins in 18 matches at Nicosia's GSP stadium in last year's championship.
Associated Press writers Harold Heckle in Madrid and Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed to this report.