PSG must cope without key defender Silva against Barcelona
ABS-CBN Sports on Feb 14, 2017 10:19 AM
PSG's head coach Unai Emery, left, and Edinson Cavani attend a press conference at the eve of the Champions League soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Barcelona at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Monday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain will face Barcelona's mighty strike force without its best defender and talismanic captain, after Thiago Silva was ruled out of the first leg of their Champions League knockout match on Tuesday.
The center half sat out training and was not included when the squad was announced on Monday. No further details were given, but Silva missed Friday's French league match away to Bordeaux because of muscle problems.
His absence is another blow for PSG coach Unai Emery, who is without his most experienced midfielder Thiago Motta through suspension.
"He's one of the pillars of their defense," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said of Silva. "I would like all of PSG's best players to be on the pitch."
PSG could line up with an inexperienced center half pairing of Frenchman Presnel Kimpembe, who has never played in the Champions League, and Brazilian Marquinhos. If not, Emery needs to risk putting a full back in central defense.
Should they start, Kimpembe and Marquinhos have the enormous task of containing Lionel Messi — the competition's top scorer with 10 — as well as Neymar and Luis Suarez, who is the Spanish league's top scorer and has seven goals in his last six games.
Despite this, Luis Enrique expects to face a significantly better PSG side than from two years ago.
When it won the Champions League in 2015, Barcelona swatted PSG aside in the quarterfinals, winning home and away for a resounding 5-1 win that would have been even heavier had the Catalan side not eased up in the second half of the return leg in Spain.
"If you compare PSG to before, they are better organized in terms of their attack and more aggressive," Luis Enrique said at pre-game news conference on Monday. "Form goes up and down over a season, but PSG have raised their game to a very high level recently."
Luis Enrique thinks PSG is "more structured" and credits Emery for that improvement. The Spaniard replaced Laurent Blanc over the summer after guiding Sevilla to three straight Europa League titles, and Luis Enrique rates him as "one of the best coaches" he has faced.
"Emery knows us perfectly well, he knows very well the threat that we pose as a team," Barca's soft-spoken coach said through a translator. "I know Emery and he will try to make life complicated for us. Of course, PSG will be audacious."
Emery is confident of imposing his own methods rather than cowering with fear at the prospect of facing Barcelona's redoubtable attack, which has the catchy nickname of MSN (Messi-Suarez-Neymar).
"My players are good enough, they want to grow. It's an opportunity to show we can go far," Emery said. "We will play to our strengths and not try to imitate Atletico (Madrid), for example. My players don't feel that they are inferior to the MSN."
After a difficult start to the season, punctuated by four league defeats away from home, PSG's players are thriving under Emery and the side is undefeated in the last 11 games — the same as Barcelona.
Emery has also rekindled the spark in striker Edinson Cavani, who has thrived since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left to join Manchester United.
Cavani has 33 goals, and is closing in on his career best of 38 with Napoli.
Luis Enrique points to the unselfish Cavani's excellent work ethic as a rare quality for such a prolific forward.
"Cavani has an enormous ability to sacrifice himself in defense," Luis Enrique saud. "Very few players achieve his level."