It was one of the biggest comebacks in Champions League history when Barcelona hosted Paris Saint-Germain for the final time. The same teams will play for the first time since Barcelona defeated PSG 6-1 almost four years ago at Camp Nou on Tuesday.
“That game will go down in history,” said forward Ousmane Dembélé of Barcelona ahead of the first leg of the 16th round this year. Because of the newspapers seeking to spice things up, “There will be revenge in the air due to the media trying to spice things up. However, we don’t talk about it in the squad because we know it’ll be a difficult game. We know Paris, they are the current Champions League runners-up. They are among the favorites to win the trophy.”
Since that match in 2017, things have changed, with PSG getting closer and closer to the championship and Barcelona coming off one of the worst seasons ever in the face of political instability and economic difficulties.
“This is a special game,” new PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino said Monday. “I can feel that the match is important for the team. Winning the UEFA Champions League is the main goal for the club.”
In 2013 and 2015, Barcelona and PSG both played in the Champions League knockout stage, with the Spanish powerhouse coming out on top each time. In the 1995 quarterfinals, PSG last advanced past Barcelona. Since 2013, only Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have challenged each other more times in the Champions League.
During the remarkable 6-1 result in the last 16, Neymar was with Barcelona, scoring twice and guiding the club to victory after a 4-0 defeat in Paris in the first leg. He’s now with PSG, but because of an injury, the Brazilian won’t be playing on Tuesday. PSG won’t have an Ángel Di Maria forward open, either.
“I’m not going to lie, I personally think it’s better not to be played by a player like Neymar,” Barcelona defender Jordi Alba said on Monday. “For them, it’s an important absence, like that of Di María, who is a great player and helps a lot defensively and offensively.”
“I have faith in my team and in my players. It’s clear that we have improved, the results have shown that,” said Koeman, whose team has won seven of its last eight games in all competitions, with its only setback a 2-0 loss at Sevilla in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals last week.
Koeman said all the talk about a possible transfer by Messi to PSG is not affecting his team. The Argentina great wanted to leave the club at the end of last season but had his request denied. His contract ends this season.
“I’m not sure what the intention is, I’m not going to get into that,” Koeman said. “I have to prepare my players and Messi is a Barcelona player. And I have a lot of hope that he will stay with Barcelona.”
A championship in the Champions League may help encourage Messi to stay, but Barcelona must first get past a familiar adversary who wants to prove himself against an old rival.