Paris Saint-Germain came so close to winning the prize they crave more than anything in last season’s Champions League and are hoping to go one better this time.
Bayern Munich’s greater experience told in Lisbon in August, and there were tears at the end for Neymar as the French champions agonisingly lost 1-0 in their first ever Champions League final.
Two months on, Thomas Tuchel’s side begin their latest bid for European success at home to Manchester United today, in a rematch of the last-16 tie in 2019 which PSG lost to a controversial late penalty.
It therefore brings back memories of just one of several painful defeats in the Champions League in recent years, but the reality is that Paris should be considered favourites against the Old Trafford side and to win a group also containing RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir.
Yet whether this will be the season that they do go all the way remains to be seen.
Tuchel has been the first to complain that his squad is weaker than it was last season as PSG — having already seen several key players depart over the summer — have started the new campaign hamstrung by injuries, suspensions and coronavirus cases.
Right-back Thomas Meunier and all-time record goal-scorer Edinson Cavani left when their contracts ended — Cavani is now at United. Skipper Thiago Silva did stay for the ‘Final Eight’ in Lisbon but has since joined Chelsea.
However, Tuchel would have been pleased to see several new signings arrive just before the transfer window closed on October 5.
PSG signed two new midfielders, with Portuguese international Danilo Pereira arriving on loan from Porto and Rafinha joining on a three-year deal from Barcelona.
Italy striker Moise Kean was also captured on loan from Everton to strengthen the attack.
United have already conceded 12 goals in four Premier League games this season, which seems to make them vulnerable to the attacking power of PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria. PSG won 4-0 against Nimes, their fifth in a row in Ligue 1.
PSG, however, are still missing a host of players for the start of their European campaign.
Influential left-back Juan Bernat is out with a knee injury, while midfield duo Marco Verratti and Leandro Paredes are expected to miss today’s game and Mauro Icardi is absent too. Di Maria, at least, can play here while he serves a ban domestically.
Tuchel warned that previous achievements would mean nothing today.
“Last season is over, and we’re a different team now. My challenge is to create a good atmosphere in a tight-knit squad,” Tuchel told a news conference before the Group H clash.
“They have made many changes — to the 2018-19 team — they brought in new players with more confidence and more experience,” the German coach said.
“Paul Pogba is a key player, one of the best midfielders in the world. It’s key to stop him, and also to stop Bruno Fernandes. He plays with three very fast forwards.
“They’re one of the best teams in Europe in terms of attack and transitions. It’s key to stop them before they start their counter attacks.”
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed Cavani as well as captain Harry Maguire, Mason Greenwood, Eric Bailly and Jesse Lingard have missed the trip to the French capital.
Solskjaer confirmed Cavani still needs to work on his fitness levels, while Maguire has sustained a minor knock.
“We hope the players won’t be away for too long,” Solskjaer told a news conference. “Edinson needs a few more days training before we can maybe think about the weekend (against Chelsea). Hopefully Harry, Eric and Mason as well, but not sure about that.”
In Maguire’s absence, United playmaker Bruno Fernandes will captain the side for the first time, which he discovered while sitting alongside his manager for the news conference.
“I was not expecting this,” said Fernandes. “To be captain of Man United is an important achievement. But everyone needs to be a leader. Tomorrow is not about me, it is the team.”
After moving to United from Sporting Lisbon in January, Fernandes helped the club make a late charge to finish third in the Premier League last season.
The Portuguese midfielder has already scored three goals this season, including a crucial strike in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Newcastle United.
“I have played well last few months, I can do much better,” he said. “I know my numbers are good but I am sure I will do better.”
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