The visit of Real Madrid to the French capital today means a glamour tie for Paris Saint-Germain to begin their Champions League campaign but a meeting with the Spanish side also brings back unhappy memories.
When the clubs last met in Europe two seasons ago, a PSG side missing an injured Neymar were dumped out in the last 16. That was one of three consecutive exits in the first knockout round for PSG, who have failed to make their mark on the Champions League despite all the money spent by their Qatari owners.
So the inevitable question at the start of another continental campaign is can Thomas Tuchel’s team this time at least reach a semi-final in Europe’s elite club competition?
Last season it was Manchester United who embarrassed PSG. Since 2012 the only teams PSG have beaten in a Champions League knockout tie are Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea.
For now, PSG will just be eager to make a statement in their opening match. But with Galatasaray and Club Brugge the other teams in Group A, it would be a monumental surprise if PSG failed to progress, even with Neymar suspended for the first two matches.
The world’s most expensive player has overshadowed everything else at the club in recent months, with the saga of his hoped-for move back to Barcelona and then his return to action at the weekend, featuring a brilliant winner against Strasbourg in response to boos from angry supporters. “I am very pleased because now it is finished,” said Tuchel of the transfer saga.
Tuchel always wanted Neymar to stay. Saturday’s goal — his 52nd in 59 games for the club — illustrated why. “My head is 100% focused on PSG. I will give everything, as I have at every club I have played for,” said Neymar.
“Unfortunately in the last two years I have had serious injuries and I have missed a lot of matches. But when I have played I have performed, and I think my statistics have been among the best of my career.”
There is no doubt the presence of Neymar gives PSG a far greater chance of winning the biggest prize in European club football, as long as he stays fit. As well as Neymar’s suspension against Real, Kylian Mbappe is still out with a hamstring injury, but the arrival of Mauro Icardi has added another explosive element to their attack.
Icardi was prolific for Inter before being stripped of the club captaincy last season amid a contract dispute. He signed on loan just before the transfer deadline. It is elsewhere that Paris really needed to strengthen, though.
Tuchel was unable to settle on a first-choice goalkeeper last season between Alphonse Areola and Gianluigi Buffon. Both have since left and Keylor Navas has signed from Real Madrid to take over the gloves. Abdou Diallo has provided an extra option in defence after arriving from Borussia Dortmund. There has been major surgery in the midfield with the signings of Ander Herrera, Idrissa Gueye and Pablo Sarabia.
Whether Marco Verratti can blend with the newcomers to form a midfield as fearsome as it was in the days when he was flanked by Blaise Matuidi and the peerless Thiago Motta, remains to be seen.
Neymar is still there but, brilliant as he is, PSG know from experience that the Brazilian alone will not win them the Champions League. “If we succeed in our group with these players, if we create a positive atmosphere in the squad, with all the potential we have, we can maybe do something big when we get to March,” sporting director Leonardo said. “Honestly I think we can become a very strong team.”
Times in GMT: Club Brugge vs Galatasaray (4:55pm); Olympiakos v Tottenham Hotspur (4:55pm); Atletico Madrid vs Juventus; Bayer Leverkusen vs Lokomotiv Moskva; PSG vs Real Madrid; Bayern Munich vs Crvena Zvezda; Shakhtar Donetsk vs Manchester City; Dinamo Zagreb vs Atalanta (all 7pm)
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