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Barcelona-PSG Champions League player rankings: Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe headline world-class tier

Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain meet in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday (on CBS All Access) for the first of their two-legged affair at Camp Nou — a rare tie being played at its actual planned venue due to logistical implications of COVID-19. Despite the absence of $269 million man Neymar and a reunion with former teammate Lionel Messi due to an adductor injury, there is still plenty of European soccer’s best talent that will be on show in Catalonia this midweek. Both squads are absolutely loaded with quality options and the first of these two matches between two continental giants that have gone through tough patches this season promises to be an enthralling watch. We break down the ranking of each player by categories and in terms of their expected impact, with world class, top quality, young guns and also players with points to prove.

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Tier 1: Mbappe out for Messi’s world class crown

1. Lionel Messi, FWD, Barcelona
2. Kylian Mbappe, FWD, PSG
3. Keylor Navas, GK, PSG
4. Antoine Griezmann, FWD, Barcelona

With Neymar already ruled out for at least the first leg and a significant doubt for the return, Messi’s main threat from the PSG ranks is Kylian Mbappe and the French superstar comes into this one without his Brazilian teammate and the influential Angel di Maria. Everything that the Argentine legend has done in his career, then 22-year-old Mbappe aspires to equal as quickly as he can and then potentially better — if even possible — as he seeks to leave a major mark on the sport. One obvious difference between the two is the fact that the latter already has a FIFA World Cup title to his name, but it is the only real tangible accolade that Mbappe can hold over Messi right now as the 11 years senior South American dwarves him for overall individual and collective titles. This is the sort of tie that can begin to change that, particularly when you consider how close PSG came to Champions League success last season and Mbappe’s marginalized role in that journey because of injury — there will be no shying away from the limelight here.

Outside of Messi and Mbappe’s duel, two other world class players will be on display in Barca’s Antoine Griezmann — another World Cup winner with France — and PSG’s serial UCL-winning goalkeeper Keylor Navas. The Costa Rican, in terms of Champions League titles, is Messi’s biggest rival on the pitch and will be a significant obstacle to overcome throughout both legs as he remains a top-level performer on the European stage at 34. Griezmann, 29, has the same world title as Mbappe, was also a UCL runner-up in 2015-16 and won the 2017-18 UEFA Europa League, but does not have time on his side in the way that his younger compatriot does in terms of catching and surpassing Messi’s numerous records.

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Tier 2: Verratti and De Jong in midfield maestro showdown

5. Marco Verratti, MID, PSG
6. Frenkie de Jong, MID, Barcelona
7. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, GK, Barcelona
8. Marquinhos, DEF, PSG
9. Presnel Kimpembe, DEF, PSG
10. Clement Lenglet, DEF, Barcelona
11. Jordi Alba, DEF, Barcelona
12. Moise Kean, FWD, PSG
13. Sergino Dest, DEF, Barcelona

Slightly below the likes of Messi, Mbappe, Navas and Griezmann for this one will be the midfield battle between Marco Verratti and Frenkie de Jong and PSG’s defensive superiority thanks to captain Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe. While Barca boast the likes of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen in their backline, a very good netminder with the ability to emulate the mildly superior Navas, Clement Lenglet is arguably the Catalan giants’ best central defensive option and he is not yet in the same class as PSG’s pair. Jordi Alba and USMNT representative Sergino Dest make up more of backline than Les Parisiens without influential injured left-back Juan Bernat who usually comes up big in Europe and has been missed by the French giants. 

However, the way that Verratti’s creativity comes to the fore and how Mauricio Pochettino gets the best out of the Italy international could be key over both legs with the Argentine pushing him further forward in his early days in order to accommodate the battling qualities of some of his other limited options. Also important in determining the midfield contest will be whether or not Ronald Koeman perseveres with De Jong as a ball-carrying central defender or restores him to the middle where he and Verratti can battle to dictate the pace of the game. A quality wildcard option to influence this encounter is 20-year-old Moise Kean in the PSG attack who has turned out to be a prolific loan signing from Everton and has produced some impressive performances to remind everyone of his talent when he made his breakthrough with Juventus.

Tier 3: Plenty of points to prove

14. Mauro Icardi, FWD, PSG
15. Sergio Busquets, MID, Barcelona
16. Ousmane Dembele, FWD, Barcelona
17. Miralem Pjanic, MID, Barcelona
18. Gerard Pique, DEF, Barcelona
19. Leandro Paredes, MID, PSG
20. Idrissa Gueye, MID, PSG
21. Samuel Umtiti, DEF, Barcelona
22. Pablo Sarabia, MID, PSG
23. Ander Herrera, MID, PSG
24. Danilo Pereira, MID, PSG
25. Julian Draxler, MID, PSG
26. Layvin Kurzawa, DEF, PSG
27. Abdou Diallo, DEF, PSG
28. Alessandro Florenzi, DEF, PSG
29. Junior Firpo, DEF, Barcelona
30. Thilo Kehrer, DEF, PSG
31. Rafinha Alcantara
32. Martin Braithwaite, FWD, Barcelona

There are a lot of players on both sides with points to prove and that is without mentioning the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Sergi Roberto, who miss out through injury. Arguably the biggest points to prove will be on Barca’s side with immobile pair Samuel Umtiti and Sergio Busquets potentially playing key roles in the encounter because of the sheer volume of unavailability in certain areas for Koeman. There are also the likes of Ousmane Dembele and Miralem Pjanic who have experience in French football with their qualities known in Ligue 1 after respective spells with Stade Rennais, Olympique Lyonnais and FC Metz. Gerard Pique and Martin Braithwaite could contribute, but a lot will depend on how fit they are after only returning to training on Monday.

On the PSG side, Mauro Icardi is fighting his way back to full fitness after lengthy injury but has rarely featured in the Champions League latter stages since moving to Paris, and midfielders Leandro Paredes, Idrissa Gueye, Ander Herrera and Danilo Pereira are all yet to truly convince at Parc des Princes. Julian Draxler scored in the 2-1 home win over OGC Nice coming into this one and he has hurt Barca in the past shortly after he joined the French capital outfit while Pablo Sarabia — like Dembele and Pjanic — will be known in his opponent’s country for his time with Sevilla. Layvin Kurzawa, Abdou Diallo and Alessandro Florenzi also have much to prove while Junior Firpo will be targeted as a weak link in this Barca side — as will PSG’s Thilo Kehrer.

Tier 4: Young guns

33. Francisco Trincao, FWD, Barcelona
34. Pedri, MID, Barcelona
35. Riqui Puig, MID, Barcelona
36. Mitchel Bakker, DEF, PSG
37. Timothee Pembele, DEF, PSG
38. Xavi Simons, MID, PSG

Barca boast more young talents overall with Francisco Trincao, Pedri and Riqui Puig trumping former Barca youth talent Xavi Simons, fellow Dutchman Mitchel Bakker and Timothee Pembele, but Ansu Fati and Ronald Araujo will be big misses as squad depth is stretched.




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