PARIS, France, Feb 13 – Paris Saint-Germain host Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday 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 the successor to Laurent Blanc in order 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 the Qatar-owned club to a tougher draw in the first knockout round.
Now they must beat the Spanish champions — the return will be at the Camp Nou next month — just to make it to the last eight again, and they will have to cope without skipper Thiago Silva in the first leg.
Emery, the former Sevilla boss and multiple Europa League winner, has come up against Barcelona 23 times in his coaching career and won just once, in La Liga last season.
Paris, 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.
“For me this is a good opportunity,” Emery told reporters at the Parc des Princes on Monday.
“It is an important moment in the season because it is the Champions League which is a very clear objective for the club and it is against Barcelona.
“We want to be playing against the best teams in Europe and the world. I carry the responsibility, but we need to be positive, have confidence in the team, and confidence in our own ability.”
There is certainly a new-found confidence at the Parc des Princes after a fine start to 2017 which has seen them win 10 and draw one of their last 11 games in all competitions.
They are fresh from a 3-0 victory at Bordeaux in Ligue 1 on Friday, in which Edinson Cavani scored twice to take him to 33 goals in all competitions this season.
“Every time we play Barcelona we go out believing we can win, but things don’t always go the way we want them to go. What is for sure is that we are working hard and we are convinced we will have our part to play,” said Cavani, who turns 30 on Tuesday.
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, albeit that was against Barcelona two years ago.
Skipper Silva will miss the game after sitting out training on Monday, having already been absent for the Bordeaux win. A source close to the club said he had a “persistent left calf problem”.
Emery will also be unable to utilise veteran midfielder Thiago Motta, the ex-Barcelona player, due to suspension.
– PSG ‘never docile’ –
Barcelona travel to France buoyed by a crushing 6-0 win at Alaves in La Liga at the weekend in which Luis Suarez scored twice.
That result means Luis Enrique’s side have now lost just once in 22 games although it was overshadowed by a dreadful ankle injury suffered by right-back Aleix Vidal which rules him out for the rest of the season.
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.
“We have good memories of playing here and playing this team. It has never been easy though, PSG have never been docile opponents,” Luis Enrique told reporters on Monday in the French capital.
Of coming up against Emery, he added: “He studies his opponents and has his own way of playing. I think they are more structured now.
“I expect PSG to be audacious, with their fans behind them, and they will make life difficult for us.”