February 12, 2017 / 5:17 PM / 9 months ago

Verratti back to boost PSG against old foes Barca

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris St Germain will be well-equipped to renew battle with Barcelona in their Champions League round of 16 first leg at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday after key midfielder Marco Verratti made a well-timed return to the team.

Football Soccer - Paris St Germain Training - UEFA Champions League Group A - Centre Ooredoo, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, France - 5/12/16. Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti during the training. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Two years ago, Barcelona humbled PSG 3-1 in Paris in the first leg of their quarter-final tie when the French champions were without talismanic forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Verratti, and saw captain Thiago Silva limp off the pitch after 21 minutes.

Barca won the return 2-0 to eliminate PSG for the second time in three years at the same stage of Europe’s premium club competition.

Verratti made his comeback from a calf injury in Friday’s 3-0 rout of Girondins de Bordeaux, showing his best in a 60-minute appearance with a splendid assist for Edinson Cavani.

“He is a very intelligent player. I watch how he plays with and without the ball. He is really very, very strong. Playing with him is an absolute pleasure,” Julian Draxler, himself in impressive form since his January switch from Wolfsburg, said of the Italy international.

Uruguay striker Cavani is in the form of his life, having scored a double against Bordeaux to take his league season tally to 25 goals.

Only the suspended Thiago Motta and long-tem injured Javier Pastore will be missing on Tuesday.

Barca are also in good form after demolishing Alaves 6-0 in La Liga on Saturday but suffered the loss for five months of fullback Aleix Vidal, who sustained a nasty ankle injury.

Gerard Pique, who was rested against Alaves, is back in the squad, along with another defender, Rafinha, who has recovered from a broken nose.

The firepower of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar ensure Luis Enrique’s side enter the tie as obvious favourites but PSG winger Angel Di Maria believes the game will be a good opportunity for his team to make amends for recent failures against the Spanish club.

“Obviously it’s talked about in the dressing room, but each year it’s different,” he said, referring to PSG’s elimination by Barca in 2013 and 2015.

“It’s a new era, with new players and it’s a new opportunity for everyone.”

The return leg will be played at the Camp Nou on March 8.

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Neil Robinson

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