Big Midweek: Arteta v Tuchel, Haaland v Rudiger, Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain

Will Ford
Arteta Haaland Mbappe
Mikel Arteta faces a huge test, but so too does Erling Haaland.

Mikel Arteta faces a huge test against one of Europe’s great tacticians, while Haaland v Rudiger III and Barcelona v PSG is on the Big Midweek undercard.


Game to watch: Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain
Here’s hoping the second leg follows the same pattern as the second half of the first, because having been really rather dull before half-time, it caught fire in quite extraordinary fashion.

Yamine Lamal impressed in the 3-2 win for Barcelona, but fellow La Masia child Pau Cubarsi was extraoardinary. We’re reasonably well accustomed to teenagers coming in to Champions League teams and thriving like Yamal, particularly for Barcelona, but to play with such composure and skill as a 17-year-old at centre-back is terrifying. Do it again and a new contract with a £1bn release clause will be on the table come Wednesday morning amid reports of a £100m bid in the offing from Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Manchester United.

Other points of intrigue include whether Xavi will continue to play football from the Sam Allardyce playbook or attempt to be rather more Barcelona, whether Pedri will be in from the start after his sublime pass for Raphinha’s second goal, whether Luis Enrique will hand either or both of his big striker signings of the summer any game time of significance after Goncalo Ramos played just five minutes at the Parc des Princes and Randal Kolo Muani remained on the bench, and – perhaps most significantly – whether Kylian Mbappe will turn up.


Manager to watch: Mikel Arteta
“It was going to happen at some stage,” Arteta said after Arsenal’s defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday. “Now how we react to it, that’s going to be the key.” He’s not wrong, and is drawing on the experience of last season, when a blip snowballed into capitulation in the title race, and we also understand why he would claim “it’s the perfect game for a reaction”, as if they can’t get themselves up for Bayern away they may as well pack it all in. But really the timing of this latest test of their mettle could hardly be worse.

Even defeat to Manchester City two weeks ago – title race psychology aside – may have been a better juncture for a slip, with Luton and Brighton offering relatively easy fixtures with which to rebuild their confidence. Instead, on the back of defeat to Villa at fortress Emirates, they’ve got to go to the Allianz Arena, where Bayern – despite all their struggles this season – have won 16 of 19 games by an aggregate score of 58-15, and win.

Arsenal have now played three knockout games in the Champions League under Arteta and have failed to convince in any of them. That’s of course down to the performances of his own players as well as the opposition, but Arteta’s got to take a significant portion of the blame himself, because it’s in these tight two-legged ties between the world’s best players where the world’s best managers need to stand up and be counted.

Thomas Tuchel – despite his issues at Bayern – has proven himself at this level, and has had nothing to think about but this quarter-final with the Bundesliga title race essentially over a month ago. In his previous four seasons in the Champions League, he’s either been the champion, as Chelsea manager in 2021, or lost to the champion, Bayern as PSG boss in 2020, Real Madrid as Chelsea boss in 2022 and Man City as Bayern boss last season.

It’ll hardly be smooth sailing to Old Big Ears if Arteta does triumph over Tuchel, with sterner tests to come, but it should provide the Spaniard with as much confidence as his players having defeated one of Europe’s top tacticians.

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Team to watch: Atletico Madrid
A team previously renowned for battling their way through Champions League knockout rounds has been a bit rubbish at it in recent seasons. Their penalty shootout victory over Inter Milan in the last 16 was only the third time they’ve won a knockout tie in the last seven campaigns, and they’ve not played a semi-final in that period.

They’ve got a good chance now having claimed a 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund at Wanda Metropolitano last week, though Diego Simeone will no doubt be frustrated at the tie still being alive after his side spurned very decent opportunities to put it to bed in the opening half-hour of that first leg.

But it’s with the tie poised as it is where Atletico play their best/most infamous football. We can expect the full repertoire of shenanigans from Simeone and his players on Tuesday, including – but not limited to – diving, play acting, time wasting, player bating and referee hounding. All the things commentators claim “we don’t want to see” but often do actually want to see because they’re objectively amusing and genuinely impressive when they’re not happening to your team and you have no skin in the game.


Player to watch: Erling Haaland
A player cam focused on Erling Haaland would almost certainly be very dull for large periods, with the ball largely not in shot for the majority, and likely fired towards goal whenever it was, but you could be certain of enjoying Antonio Rudiger engaging in a cheeky foot stomp or nipple twist at some stage in proceedings, if indeed Rudiger plays.

Because despite being as dominant over Haaland in the first leg last year as he was last week, Rudiger was benched for the return leg at the Etihad, making way for Eder Militao, who had by then recovered from injury, and scored an own goal in the 4-0 mauling. Carlo Ancelotti surely won’t leave Rudiger out again.

The German centre-back restricted Haaland to 20 touches – three in the box – and one shot at the Bernabeu. As he said he would before the game, Rudiger made it “personal”. Haaland needs to do the same.

Because there would be nothing like a goal or two against the biggest team in world football, while directly up against a defender who’s humbled him in consecutive battles, to put an end to the flat-track bully narrative, which will only gather steam if Haaland continues to draw blanks against the very best teams and the very best centre-backs. He needs to put Rudiger on his backside and the ball in the back of the net.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Haaland v Rudiger – who wins at the Etihad? Join the debate here

EFL game to watch: Bolton v Shrewsbury Town
Third-placed Bolton really need to win this game in hand on Derby in second to stay in the running for automatic promotion. Wanderers are four points behind as things stand with two games to go after their clash with Shrewsbury, and even with a win need Derby to slip up against either Cambridge in 18th or rock bottom Carlisle to make it to the Championship without the dreaded play-offs.

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More: Arsenal | Man City | Erling Haaland