Who: FC Barcelona, current leaders of Spain’s Primera Division, four-time European champions, possessors of the best player in the world and creators of the style that’s defined the last seven years of world soccer
When: Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. Eastern against in Paris against French league leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
Why: Because a city of lights can’t help but attract the world’s brightest stars.
Lionel Messi. Drool.
Barcelona has the best player in the world. Not just right not, but ever. And then the club goes and puts Neymar, the best Brazilian in the world, right next to him. And now Luis Suárez, last year’s best playing in England, is up there too? Nobody likes a bandwagon jumper, but there is always room on a bandwagon being driven for the best player there is. And the best team. And the most fun group of players you will find, seemingly put together at the behest of YouTube.
- Quick guide to Wednesday’s Champions League: Paris Saint-Germain
Despite a year of debate about changing styles, some stupid talk about crisis at the club, and discussion of whether Messi remains the world’s best player (spoiler: he does), Barcelona remains that team. And even though Paris Saint-Germain is coming off a validating win over Chelsea in the previous round, the 22-time Spanish champions are on a whole different level.
Why Barcelona matters: When you have the best player in the world, you’re relevant. It also helps when Messi is the best to ever play the sport. Lionel Messi checks that box for Barcelona.
Neymar, Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets just make Barcelona all the more eye-catching, but there’s even more to the club. It’s the most successful team in Europe over the last decade and plays in front of 99,000 fans every week, but over the last six or seven years, after former captain Pep Guardiola ascended to the head coaching position and guided the team to two European titles, Barcelona’s become a type of spiritual home to the modern game.
It’s a home that the club started building three decades ago, when Dutch masters Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff started importing an approach that would redefine the game. Even now, as a new coach moves the team away from its beautiful possession-based approach, Barcelona remains synonymous with beautiful soccer.
The cool in Barça: No team in the world can match Barcelona’s front three of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Messi was already the best player in the world when they signed Neymar. People wondered if the two could play together, being such incredible, ball dominant players. All they did was have amazing years and revitalize the Barça attack. And then they added Suárez last summer. Surely the three wouldn’t be able to work together. Except all they’ve done is make for the most fearsome trio in the world.
Want a 25-yard bullet? Any of those three can do it. Want a mesmerizing dribble through five defenders? Any of those three can do it. Or want to see a beautiful sequence of seven passes so quick that it leaves you dizzy? Those three will combine to do it.
Iniesta is great and midfield legend Xavi Hernández is hoping to win one last Champions League, but you don’t need to look beyond Messi, Neymar and Suarez to fall in love.
Watch this player: You know where we’re going with one. It’s pretty cool to say you watched someone do something better than anyone on Earth has ever done it. So watch Messi and say that.
We’re not just talking about a player who became Barcelona’s all-time leading goalscorer at the age of 24, or the man with 32 hat tricks despite being just 27, or even the four-time World Player of the Year. Messi is a player reinvented.
The reason Messi, Neymar and Suárez work together is because of Messi. The Argentine has changed his game to make the other two fit, and to make Barcelona the best team in the world right now. Originally a winger, then a central forward, Messi was the go-to goalscorer and frontman. But now he is back on the wing, cutting in and serving as the team’s playmaker. He is racking up assists, opening up play and making darting runs that allow the rest of the team to thrive.
He always did that, and he’s still scoring goals in bunches, but it’s remarkable to see the best player on Earth change his game and serve a different role because his team needed it. Oh, and he’s still the best at what he does.
What Barcelona needs to do: Barcelona is going to be a threat going forward. Messi, Neymar and Suárez make that a given. Its midfield will hold its own at worst, too. You don’t line up Busquets and Iniesta then get torn apart in the center.
But Barcelona has issues in defense. Gerard Pique can be great, but he can also look like a turnstile. And if that’s not concerning, consider this: he may be their best defender.
Barcelona’s defensive problems are not new, but the addition of Jeremy Mathieu has only helped them a bit. They team can still be beaten badly. PSG has the weapons to do that and match Barcelona’s attack goal for goal if the Blaugrana can’t keep things together in defense.