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FC Barcelona's Pau Cubarsi vies with Las Palmas' Marvin during their La Liga match. The teenager has brought plenty of stability to Barca's defence in recent times. Image Credit: Reuters

Barcelona: The resurrection of Barcelona’s defence gives the Spanish champions hope ahead of their Champions League duel with Paris Saint-Germain and youngster Pau Cubarsi’s emergence has played a major role.

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The 17-year-old has become essential for coach Xavi Hernandez and debuted for the Spanish national team in March, highlighting his meteoric rise.

Cubarsi has shown he can handle the pressure at elite level — just as well, for on Wednesday Cubarsi will face arguably the world’s finest forward in PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, in the quarter-final first leg clash in Paris.

Huge challenge for the teenager

It might turn out to be the start of a regular rivalry if Barcelona’s rivals Real Madrid seal the France captain’s signing in the summer as they expect to.

Facing Mbappe is a huge challenge for the teenager, who has been crucial in reviving a Barcelona rear-guard which has spent much of the season in tatters.

Last season the Catalans conceded just 20 goals in their conquest of La Liga, but they had shipped that amount by January in the current campaign.

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Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe (left) reacts with teammate Lucas Beraldo during a training session in Poissy, west of Paris, on Tuesday. Image Credit: AFP

Scrambling for solutions, Xavi gave Cubarsi his first start against Real Betis later that month and he has rapidly established himself, showing maturity beyond his years.

Cubarsi helped Barcelona reach the Champions League last eight for the first time in four seasons.

Xavi, not yet all-in on the teenager by the time Barcelona faced Napoli in the last 16 first leg in February, opted for Inigo Martinez instead.

Putting in immaculate performance

The veteran defender’s error allowed Napoli to equalise for a 1-1 draw and Cubarsi started in the second leg, putting in an immaculate performance as Barcelona triumphed 3-1.

“It’s been one of the best days of my life,” said Cubarsi after being handed the man-of-the-match award. “The team deserves this trophy.”

A stylish, assured defender even at his young age, Cubarsi’s ability on the ball is crucial for Barcelona to start building attacks from the back.

“Cubarsi is intelligent, he knows when to challenge and when not to,” Xavi said in March.

Against Mbappe, however, it will be all hands to the pump.

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Barcelona players celebrate a goal against Las Palmas. The Catalan giants are arriving on a high in Paris for the Champions League first leg. Image Credit: Reuters

Critical component in improvement

Cubarsi will need his teammate Ronald Araujo alert and at his best level after a mid-season dip. The Uruguayan is quick and if anyone can help contain Mbappe, he has the best chance.

Barcelona have kept five clean sheets in their last six performances, with Cubarsi critical in that improvement.

His newfound starting status has allowed Xavi to deploy Andreas Christensen in defensive midfield, fixing a problem position for Barcelona.

They signed Oriol Romeu after Sergio Busquets retired but the former La Masia midfielder has not impressed in the holding role and Xavi started playing Frenkie de Jong there instead.

Better team balance

It unbalanced Barcelona’s midfield, given the Dutchman is not a natural defensive player, and contributed to the leaky defence.

Jules Kounde has also featured more at right-back, rather than at centre-back where he started the season, and that has also given Barcelona better balance.

Alejandro Balde’s injury led Xavi to deploy Joao Cancelo at left-back and with Kounde on the right, the Spanish champions look significantly more solid than with two attacking full-backs.

Another important factor was goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s return from a back injury, after more than two months without his confidence and quality.

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The emergence of Lamine Yamal has given Barcelona attack the teeth against their rivals. Image Credit: AFP

Lamine Yamal’s emergence in attack has helped Barcelona keep their attacking thrust despite the more defensive set-up, while Raphinha on the other flank works hard defensively.

Conceding five goals in both legs

“I think we’re looking at two players who can define an era at the club, and even in world football,” said Xavi, of teenagers Cubarsi and Yamal.

Barcelona have conceded five goals across both legs on the past two occasions they have faced PSG in the knockout stages.

Most recent was the last 16 defeat in 2021, with the relentless Mbappe netting four times over the two legs.

Barcelona would be terrified of facing the France captain again were it not for the team’s newfound solidarity.

Mbappe may still give PSG the edge in the tie but Xavi’s side now at least believe they have the tools to stop him.