Third time lucky for Parisians?

PSG, knocked out by Barca twice before in Europe, and Emery eye Spanish scalp

Edinson Cavani hit a brace in PSG's 3-0 win over Bordeaux last weekend, and will be counted on to lead the line against Barcelona.
Edinson Cavani hit a brace in PSG's 3-0 win over Bordeaux last weekend, and will be counted on to lead the line against Barcelona.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) host Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie today with their Spanish coach Unai Emery desperate to improve his awful personal record against the Catalans.

Emery was brought to the French capital last year as Laurent Blanc's successor to help take PSG to the next level in Europe after four consecutive quarter-final exits in the Champions League.

But finishing second in their group behind Arsenal exposed PSG to a tougher draw in the first knockout round and they must now beat the Spanish champions - the second leg will be at the Nou Camp next month - just to reach the last eight again.

Emery, the former Sevilla coach, has come up against Barcelona 23 times in his coaching career and won just once, in La Liga last season.

PSG, meanwhile, have been knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona twice in recent campaigns, losing in the quarter-finals in 2013 and again in 2015 to Lionel Messi, Neymar and Co.

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  • Unai Emery's win record against Barcelona, with the solitary victory (with Sevilla) achieved last season.

But there is a new-found confidence in Paris after a fine start to 2017 which has seen them win 10 and draw one of their last 11 games in all competitions.

"We believe in ourselves and this game comes at a good time for us. If it had come at the start of the season I would have been more worried, but everything has changed," PSG's Italian midfielder Marco Verratti said.

The French champions have beaten Barcelona in the recent past, claiming a 3-2 win in the group stage in September 2014.

They are also a formidable proposition at the Parc des Princes, having lost just once there in Europe in the last decade.

However, Emery will be unable to utilise veteran midfielder Thiago Motta, formerly of Barcelona, due to suspension.

Barcelona travel to France buoyed by a crushing 6-0 win at Alaves in La Liga at the weekend.

That result means Luis Enrique's side have now lost just once in 22 games although it was overshadowed by an awful ankle injury suffered by right-back Aleix Vidal which rules him out for the rest of the season.

"The approximate downtime will be about five months," Enrique said. "I am upset by Aleix's injury, the way it came about and what it means for him."

Javier Mascherano and Arda Turan are sidelined too, although one man who could feature is Rafinha, who was named in the squad but will need a mask to protect a broken nose.

Barcelona are still fighting on three fronts, keeping alive the prospect of another La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble to match those achieved in 2009 and 2015.

"It's not really something we talk about among ourselves but all the players have it in mind," the club's former PSG defender Lucas Digne said.

"As long as we are still in every competition, it is very important. This club is born to win trophies."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline 'Third time lucky for Parisians?'. Print Edition | Subscribe