Barcelona face their first big test of the Luis Enrique era when they meet Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital in the Champions League today.
The Catalans looked sluggish in the 1-0 win against APOEL that opened their Group F campaign two weeks ago, but they travel to France having won six and drawn one of seven matches altogether this season, and are yet to concede a single goal under their new coach.
Their performance in tearing apart Granada in La Liga on Saturday last week, when Neymar scored a hat-trick and Lionel Messi netted twice in a 6-0 victory, would have made for ominous viewing for anyone with PSG connections.
“At the moment, I don’t see any player who isn’t capable of putting in a good performance in Paris and that for me is an advantage,” said Enrique, who welcomes Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba back into his squad for the match at the Parc des Princes after both were rested against Granada.
That duo are both almost certain to start in a meeting of the two favorites to progress to the last 16 from the section, while there is no question of Messi — the only player to have started all seven games for Barca this season — being rested yet.
“I prefer to see him on the pitch until the last minute to press and participate in our collective play,” the coach said. “The temptation is there, it could happen at any point in the season, but his habitat is on the field.”
The biggest doubt surrounds who will start in goal, with Claudio Bravo having kept a clean sheet in all six domestic games so far while fellow summer recruit Marc-Andre ter Stegen was preferred against APOEL.
Either way, the newly watertight Barcelona defense will expect to endure a tough evening in the first meeting of the clubs since the quarter-final clash in April last year, when Paris came away with a draw in both legs, but were eliminated on away goals.
Since then, Carlo Ancelotti has been replaced in the PSG dugout by Laurent Blanc, who played alongside Luis Enrique at Camp Nou for a season in the 1990s.
PSG, like their opponents, are still unbeaten in the current campaign, but all the pressure will be on Blanc, whose side are yet to convince this season and yet will be expected to take the game to Barca in front of their own fans.
Paris might already be a European superpower in financial terms, but now they crave real success on the continent after being eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage in each of the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, a lack of motivation for the less glamorous challenges in store in Ligue 1 has been suggested by some as the reason for their sluggish recent displays, but a run of four draws in their past five matches includes a 1-1 stalemate at Ajax in their Group F opener.
On Saturday, Blanc rotated his squad and tried out a new formation against Toulouse, but was only rewarded with another 1-1 stalemate.
“We are aware that last season we dominated the league and this year, with the same team and the same coach, we are not winning matches so easily,” Blanc said.
Chen Jifang hits the gym for at least two hours every day and has the physique to prove it. At nearly 70, she is being held up as a shining example as China orders its vast population to get fit and lose the bulge. The grandmother from Shanghai has become a minor celebrity in in the past few months after her newfound and unlikely love for working out made national headlines. After becoming a gym regular in December 2018, Chen lost 14kg in three months, and now sports the kind of flat stomach and toned muscles that people decades younger aspire to. She
ANOTHER SCANDAL: Searches focused on several riders, including Dayer Quintana, a source said, while the two being held were reportedly a doctor and physiotherapist French police on Monday detained two people as part of an investigation into suspected doping in the Arkea-Samsic team at this year’s Tour de France, prosecutors announced. The probe is the first significant one in several years for the repeatedly scandal-hit tour, which on Sunday wrapped up in Paris with a victory for 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who became the youngest winner in more than a century. Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in Marseille said in a statement that an investigation was being carried out into a “small part” of France-based Arkea-Samsic, without specifying who had been placed in custody. Laurens added that the two
Former MLB pitcher Wang Wei-chung has signed the biggest contract with a local team in Taiwan’s professional baseball history, the Wei Chuan Dragons said yesterday. The 28-year-old left-hander signed a five-year US$2.08 million contract with the Dragons, team chairman Hsu Wen-fang told a news conference. It is the biggest contract in the CPBL’s 31-year history, surpassing a three-year, US$1.36 million deal Lin Chih-sheng signed in 2016 with the CTBC Brothers. Although the overall value of Wang’s deal set a new record, his average monthly salary of NT$990,000 (US$33,886) is lower than Lin’s pay of NT$1.2 million per month in 2017
TAIWANESE TO PLAY: Jason Jung faces Frederico Coria in the men’s singles first round today, while in the women’s singles, Hsieh Su-wei is to take on Barbara Haas Novak Djokovic is to renew his love-hate relationship with Roland Garros in the knowledge that it is himself rather than seemingly unsettled 12-time champion Rafael Nadal who could pose the greatest threat to winning a second Paris title and 18th Grand Slam crown. The only man to beat Djokovic this year is Djokovic after the Serb’s hair-trigger temper prompted a sensational disqualification from the US Open. The 33-year-old arrives in the French capital with a 31-1 record this year after his New York brain-fade was followed by a record 36th Masters title in Rome. Djokovic’s 2016 triumph at Roland Garros allowed him to