Soccer

PSG prepares for Valencia, Juventus hosts Celtic

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Associated Press
3/5/2013 12:31:31 PM
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PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain's inconsistency in the French league has yet to impact its Champions League campaign as the big spenders hold a 2-1 lead ahead of Wednesday's return leg in the last 16 against Valencia.

PSG has not reached the Champions League quarterfinals since 1995 and will be favoured to progress, despite coping without top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is suspended.

Ibrahimovic, who has scored 26 goals, has been masking PSG's weaknesses. When he's out of form, like in Saturday's 1-0 loss at Reims, the team seems short on options.

PSG's win in Valencia three weeks ago contrasted sharply with Saturday's poor display, which was PSG's second straight away loss to a team fighting against relegation -- a worrying statistic for a club aspiring to join Europe's elite.

PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti refused to criticize his players for their poor showing against Reims and said the loss does not change his plans for Valencia.

"I don't think so," the Italian said. "Wednesday's match is important, that's true, but we've already prepared for it."

Ancelotti has Brazil centre half Thiago Silva available again after nearly two months out with a hamstring injury, but winger Jeremy Menez has failed to shake off a sore hip and will miss the match.

Following Saturday's loss, sporting director Leonardo made the bizarre claim that "maybe we have a team made for Europe, not for this kind of match."

Leonardo's comments were met with wide-ranging criticism in the French media and put Ancelotti in a fragile position. After failing to win the title last season, Ancelotti is under big pressure to do so this time, and he hardly needs a member of the club's hierarchy saying that the team is essentially too good for its own league and destined for European success.

PSG has not won the league since 1994, and aside from winning the now defunct European Cup Winners' Cup in 1996, it has not won anything in Europe -- although it did reach the Champions League semifinals in 1995.

Valencia's cause, meanwhile, may be helped by Ibrahimovic's absence -- especially considering its problems in defence.

Jeremy Mathieu may have to fill in at centre half alongside Victor Ruiz in a makeshift partnership because Adil Rami is injured and Ricardo Costa is struggling for fitness. Aly Cissokho is expected to start at left back.

"We will try and play more intelligently than we did in the first game," Mathieu said. "Paris is very strong at the back and they have some really quick players up front. We will have to be careful."

Even though Valencia has to win -- and must also score at least two goals -- Mathieu cautions against all-out attack.

"PSG lets the rival have possession and looks to counterattack," Mathieu said. "We can come back but we have to be more intelligent than in Mestalla, where we went forward a lot and in the end PSG took advantage."

Valencia slipped to a 2-2 draw at home against city rival Levante on Saturday after conceding a late equalizer, letting escape a chance to move up into fourth place in the Spanish league and enter into the Champions League spots.

Even so, Valencia continues to show improvement under new coach Ernesto Valverde with only one loss in its past 10 league games.

"We have to score away, there is no doubt about that and we must avoid conceding a goal," Cissokho said. "They have got important players missing, but they also have big players that can come on, like (David) Beckham."

Ancelotti may need a cool head in midfield if Valencia starts to get back into it, and the 37-year-old former England captain is raring to go -- six years after his last appearance in the competition with Real Madrid. Beckham is even confident enough of playing in his old position on the right flank.

"I think I can still play on the right. I played in that position for many years," Beckham said. "My strengths have always been passing and crossing."

With Marco Verratti suspended, Ancelotti has to decide whether to play Beckham or Thiago Motta alongside Blaise Matuidi, while Ezequiel Lavezzi could start up front with Kevin Gameiro.

Juventus vs. Celtic

Holding a 3-0 lead from the away leg, it seems only a total collapse by Juventus against Celtic can prevent the Italian team from booking a place in the Champions League quarterfinals.

Juventus is expected to finish off the job at home in the return leg of its last-16 matchup on Wednesday, and the players have been urging against complacency.

"There's still a lot to do, we mustn't fool ourselves that qualification is already in our pockets," defender Giorgio Chiellini said. "I think the 3-0 win in the away leg was a great performance from the squad, but there's still a whole game to play.

"So I am convinced that on Wednesday we will give our all in this game and then only think about where Juventus can get to much later on."

Chiellini could miss the game after sitting out training with a recurrence of an ankle injury he picked up last month. He could be replaced by Federico Peluso who made his Champions League debut in the first leg.

Peluso, who joined on loan from Atalanta in January, arrived at a difficult time for Juventus, which saw it win just one of four matches in Serie A and crash out of the Italian Cup.

However, it has now lost just one of its past five league matches and has a lead of six points after drawing at second-place Napoli on Friday.

"The Champions League game gave us self-confidence," Peluso said. "But I don't think the other games have taken the wind out of our sails. We've always had the right mentality. A difficult moment in the season is something that can happen and we've come through it."

Three players with yellow cards will likely sit out: midfielders Stephan Lichtsteiner, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio. The replacements will likely be Mauricio Isla, Paul Pogba and Emanuele Giaccherini.

In attack, Alessandro Matri could start, and even Nicolas Anelka could see some action if he recovers after sitting out the Napoli match with a bad back.

Celtic is without teenage striker Tony Watt, who injured his foot in training. Midfielder Scott Brown and defender Mikael Lustig are also out injured but Charlie Mulgrew could feature after recovering from a muscle problem.

Assistant coach Johan Mjallby knows Celtic has a mammoth task ahead of it but believes his players can bow out with their heads held high if they maintain their positive attitude from the first leg, which saw them have 10 shots on target.

"What we can take heart from is that when it came to the first leg we created a lot of chances and we need to be brave tomorrow night and make sure we play good attacking football," Mjallby said. "Obviously Juventus have a healthy lead and we have a mountain to climb, but we have to believe that we can do it.

"First and foremost our approach is to win the game and try to show everybody that the 3-0 win for Juventus at Parkhead was a wee bit too much. I think we can take a lot of pride if we can win away from home. If this is going to be the last game during this European adventure, we want to finish it on a high. We think we have a good enough team to win the game, but obviously to turn around 3-0 might be too much to ask."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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