Amid off-the-pitch tensions regarding the future of Lionel Messi, the Argentine's current club Barcelona face off against his admirers Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last-16 first leg on Tuesday night at Camp Nou.
The visitors have made no secret of their desire to bring Messi to the Parc des Princes, but the 33-year-old did not let the speculation affect him on Saturday as his two goals helped propel Barcelona to a 5-1 La Liga victory over Alaves.
PSG also warmed up for this game in optimal fashion with a 2-1 triumph over Nice in Ligue 1, although Mauricio Pochettino's side were under the cosh for portions of the tie and will have to deal with several absentees for the trip to Catalonia.
The most recent meeting between Barcelona and PSG at Camp Nou will continue to be talked about for years to come, as the Catalan giants overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit to win 6-1 and progress in the 2016-17 Champions League campaign, but this tie will unfortunately be devoid of a similar atmosphere with the pandemic still raging.
With several world-class superstars on show and others missing for the first leg, Sports Mole picks a combined XI from both squads, using only players expected to be available for the match.
Starting off with potentially the most difficult selection of the lineup, having to choose between Keylor Navas or Marc-Andre ter Stegen as our number one was not straightforward at all. PSG's shot-stopper has not had the best luck with injuries this term, but 11 clean sheets from 16 Ligue 1 appearances - with only seven goals conceded - is a testament to the 34-year-old's long-lasting quality. Ter Stegen has also spent time on the sidelines this season and has recorded just seven shut-outs in all competitions compared to Navas's 13, but the German has saved Barcelona on countless occasions since his 2014 arrival and just edges out his fellow guardian.
Sergi Roberto cemented his place in footballing folklore when he scored Barca's sixth goal in La Remontada against PSG, but the versatile Spaniard may not get the chance to repeat his heroics as he is doubtful with a muscular problem. Roberto's teammate Sergino Dest has struggled to keep fit as well, and while Alessandro Florenzi's attacking output for PSG (two goals and one assist) could be improved, he gets the nod in defence. Fellow PSG defender Layvin Kurzawa is enjoying an unexpected revival in the team, but Jordi Alba - who has already set up 10 goals this season - was a routine selection at left-back.
PSG captain Marquinhos was at fault for Nice's leveller on Saturday, but as the leader of the rearguard that has conceded just 15 league goals all season - as well as a mere six in the Champions League - he marshals the defence in our combined XI. He is joined by teammate Presnel Kimpembe, who made one of the tackles of the season in December's draw with Lille and has been integral to PSG's resilient defence this term. Barcelona's Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo would have been considered were they not injured, while Clement Lenglet, Samuel Umtiti and Abdou Diallo miss out.
Sergio Busquets, who has been dubbed "unpressable", continues to ooze class at the age of 32 and remains a regular fixture in Ronald Koeman's XI. A player who has often been overshadowed by the irresistible greatness of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, Busquets's composure and leadership has not gone unnoticed by those at the club. The veteran midfielder has already made 30 appearances this season and continues to provide a solid dimension to the Barcelona engine room, so Busquets starts as our number six.
The silky Marco Verratti would have waltzed his way into this lineup, but the PSG man sustained a nasty hip injury after taking a kick from Marseille's Dimitri Payet in Le Classique earlier this month, and his involvement here is uncertain. There was no leaving Frenkie de Jong out of the team, though, with the 23-year-old already registering 10 goal contributions this term (six goals and four assists), and Koeman has admitted that something is missing from his Barcelona side when De Jong is forced to deputise in defence. The final spot in the midfield three goes to Leandro Paredes, who beats Idrissa Gueye, Danilo Pereira, Julian Draxler, Miralem Pjanic and Riqui Puig to line up alongside Busquets and De Jong.
PSG's injury list continues to grow and Pochettino will be forced to make do without Angel Di Maria for this tie owing to a hamstring problem, but the Argentine was no competition for Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi. The wantaway attacker marked his club-record equalling 505th La Liga appearance with two spectacular strikes against Alaves and will hope to take his tally to 20 for the season against PSG, so he keeps teammates Trincao and Ousmane Dembele out of the side. With Neymar and Philippe Coutinho also out due to injuries, the only candidate to fill the void on the left-hand side is Kylian Mbappe, who will aim to make the net ripple for the 19th time this term on Tuesday.
The visitors can almost afford to lose Neymar and Di Maria due to their wealth of attacking talent, with Moise Kean taking his tally for the season to 10 against Nice and Mauro Icardi always proving a threat in the box - his intelligent header against Marseille is evidence of that. Barcelona's emergency signing Martin Braithwaite is injured but was never a candidate for this team, but his teammate Antoine Griezmann does feature. The Frenchman seems to finally be finding his groove in Catalonia and has already hit double figures for both goals and assists in the 2020-21 campaign, so Griezmann spearheads a three-man attack that even the most staunch of defences would struggle to keep at bay.