PARIS (AP) — Having thrown away winning positions in the recent past, Paris Saint-Germain will not sit on another comfortable lead when it hosts Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Although PSG won the first leg 4-1 at Camp Nou, an early goal is the priority for the second leg of their round of 16 match.
“It’s clear, we want to win and we must attack,” PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas said Tuesday at a news conference.
PSG would risk losing initiative if it’s too conservative.
“We obviously want to qualify but we want to do so with a win,” PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino said. “We know how we must start, the key will be concentration.”
Lack of concentration and complacency have cost the club dearly before.
PSG beat Barcelona 4-0 at home in 2017, at the same stage of the competition, then lost 6-1 away on a night of painful humiliation.
Two years ago, PSG won 2-0 at Manchester United but slipped to a crushing 3-1 home loss as United reached the quarterfinals.
Those matches saw PSG concede a goal inside three minutes and again during injury time.
“The past is the past. I started here in 2020, there’s no history for me,” said Pochettino, who replaced Thomas Tuchel after he was fired. “I have no emotion linked to past experiences.”
Still, Pochettino made a telling decision by keeping all the players together on the eve of the game, something teams usually do at hotels for away games.
After losing to United, Tuchel spoke of his surprise and concern at how some players arrived late to the stadium for the pre-match get-together, with an air of casual behavior unbefitting the occasion.
Having discussed it with his players, Pochettino is taking no chances.
“The important thing is to understand what the team needs, to be together this (Tuesday) night and to prepare this match all together,” Pochettino said. “Everyone agreed this was the best thing to do.”
Although Barca has it all to do, coach Ronald Koeman’s side is much improved from three weeks ago.
Koeman has tightened the defense, switching from a 4-3-3 formation to a 3-5-2, thus protecting over-worked goalie Marc-Andre ter Stegen with another central defender.
Barca is 16 games unbeaten in the league and showed fighting spirit and belief in beating Sevilla 3-0 last week to reach the Copa del Rey final.
“I think they will cause us problems. Of course they will try to impose their game,” said Navas, who joined PSG from Real Madrid. “We have to stop them doing things that hurt us. We still have the same respect for Barcelona. We never thought we were superior.”
Koeman is without center half Gerard Pique. Shortly after scoring a last-gasp equalizer against Sevilla, he sprained a ligament in his right knee.
For PSG, a lot rests on central defenders Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti, with the team almost at full strength as it welcomes back winger Angel Di Maria.
But Neymar — who scored two late goals for Barca in that 2017 game — has not recovered fully from an adductor injury.
“We feel quite sad, because we were very enthusiastic about him playing,” Pochettino said. “It’s a difficult moment for him. He thought he had recovered enough to play but he’s still a few days away.”
Barca is a vastly changed side since that glory night in 2017, with Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic also gone.
Koeman has to rebuild with young players. The 18-year-old midfielder Pedro “Pedri” Gonzalez is growing in assurance playing alongside Lionel Messi, while midfielder Frenkie de Jong has gained in maturity playing in a turbulent period in Barca’s storied history.
As much as De Jong likes to push forward, he has to shut down the influential Marco Verratti, who dominated midfield in the first leg and combined superbly with hat-trick scorer Kylian Mbappe.
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