MADRID (AP) — The last time Barcelona hosted Paris Saint-Germain, it was one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history.
The same teams will meet Tuesday at the Camp Nou for the first time since Barcelona routed PSG 6-1 nearly four years ago.
“That game will go down in history,” Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembélé said ahead of the first leg of this year’s round of 16. “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.”
Things have changed since that match in 2017, with PSG getting closer and closer to the title and Barcelona coming off one of its worst seasons ever amid political turmoil and financial struggles. While PSG made it to the final last season, Barcelona lost to Bayern Munich 8-2 in the quarterfinals. The Catalan club hasn’t reached the final since 2015, when it won its last European title.
Barcelona and PSG also met in the knockout round of the Champions League in 2013 and 2015, with the Spanish powerhouse coming out on top each time. PSG last advanced past Barcelona in the 1995 quarterfinals. Only Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have faced each other more times in the Champions League since 2013.
“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.”
Neymar was with Barcelona during that historic 6-1 result in the last 16, scoring twice and leading the club to victory after a 4-0 loss in Paris in the first leg. He’s now with PSG, but the Brazilian won’t be playing on Tuesday because of an injury. PSG also won’t have forward Ángel Di Maria available.
“I’m not going to lie, personally I think it’s better that a player like Neymar won’t be playing,” Barcelona defender Jordi Alba said Monday. “It’s an important absence for them, like is Di María’s, who is a great player and helps a lot defensively and offensively.”
Barcelona also has some players sidelined, though it’s likely that captain Gerard Piqué will return to action after a long period nursing a knee injury. Others absences for Barcelona include Ronald Araújo, Philippe Coutinho and Sergi Roberto, who scored the sixth goal five minutes into stoppage time to seal Barcelona’s comeback in 2017.
“For any team it is important to have all your players available,” Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said. “Di María and Neymar are great players but we also have people missing who make us a stronger side. Both teams have important players missing.”
The meeting against PSG comes at a perfect time for Barcelona. The team has recovered from a poor start to the season and has Messi in top form, having scored nine goals in the last nine matches in all competitions.
“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 Champions League title may help convince Messi to stay, but first Barcelona will have to get past a familiar foe that wants to prove itself against an old rival.
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