It was quiet on Sunday at the Camp des Loges, Paris Saint-Germain’s training ground located in the forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a little city to the west of the French capital. It was sunny, though a bit chilly, and there were smiles all around. Saturday’s 4-1 win at Strasbourg was very positive because not only did it close the gap to Ligue 1 leaders Lille — PSG are three points behind with six games remaining — but it also meant preparing in the best way possible for Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal, second leg, against Bayern Munich.
The first leg was something special in terms of drama, twists, tension, pressure and outcome. PSG won the battle of Munich, 3-2, but the fight is not over. PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino and his players knew that as soon as referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz blew his whistle for the last time under the snow.
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There were no big celebrations in the Allianz Arena’s away dressing room, just happiness, relief and pride to have inflicted a first Champions League defeat on the Bundesliga giants for more than two years. Not many teams go there and win, let alone while scoring three goals, but the Parisians did it, even if they were dominated: Bayern had 31 shots (12 on target) to PSG’s six (five on target), forcing 10 saves and winning 15 corners while enjoying 64 percent of the ball.
“Sometimes, you have to suffer to win big games,” Kylian Mbappé told French TV after the match. He was right, too. The Paris-born prodigy was the star of the night, with his seventh and eighth goals in the competition this season either side of Marquinhos’ clever finish. Presnel Kimpembe was sat next to Mbappe in the dressing room and after his performance, you could see the defender looking at the striker like if he was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
To further ensure PSG’s players would not get too carried away, when the club president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, came into the dressing room to congratulate the squad, he reminded them that “this is only half-time, there is still a second half to be played.”
Neymar, who was sat next to Angel Di Maria, knew that all too well. This is the kind of game in which he has, and has been expected, to deliver, and he did just that. He worked hard for the team despite not getting on the scoresheet, delivering two perfect assists for the first two PSG goals. His job’s not done yet, either; suspended against Strasbourg, the Brazilian forward spent the weekend at the Camp des Loges training and working on his fitness. PSG’s destiny in this Champions League relies a lot on him, and he’ll have a huge role to play again on Tuesday as his team will likely be chasing the ball all night long.
No-one will admit it at the club or within the dressing room, but everybody has been thinking about this second leg since the end of the first one! Before. during and after the win at Strasbourg, Bayern were on everyone’s minds. The club may have gotten a boost when it comes to squad selections: the coaching staff was hoping that Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi, who tested positive for COVID-19 before the first leg, would be available for selection, and their most recent tests were negative — a huge boost for the French champions. That said Marquinhos, who had to come off after 30 minutes in the first leg due to a groin injury, was due to have his fitness tested on Monday, and it looks very unlikely he will be able to play.
This season, like every other one since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in the summer of 2011, the objective is to win the Champions League. They got so close last season, losing to Bayern 1-0 in a final that saw PSG have the better of the scoring chances, and it’s no surprise they want another go. Knocking out the defending champions would be a warning for those teams left standing after the quarterfinals, too, with the winner of PSG-Bayern facing Borussia Dortmund or Manchester City in the final four.
Like Neymar, Mbappe will be one of the keys — perhaps the biggest one — for PSG on Tuesday. He has scored seven goals in his last five PSG games and as he was at Barcelona in the last-16 with his hat-trick, he was unstoppable in Munich. But the squad is trying to stay relaxed; on Sunday, Mbappe conducted some gentle warm-down routines while Moise Kean and Thilo Kehrer had a dance-off in the gym.
Sources have told ESPN that Mbappe is still pondering whether he wants to extend his contract at the club. Talks are ongoing and are productive, according to sources, though it’s merely the latest update in what could be a long saga. After the first leg, Leonardo, PSG’s sporting director, speaking to Sky Italia, was once again quite confident: “I think we will have some news that will make us all happy soon.”
The fact is that successfully reaching the Champions League semifinal, which comes with the feeling that PSG can genuinely compete in that competition every season, would be a huge boost in convincing him to stay. For now, though, both Mbappe and the club are fully focused on finishing the season as strongly as possible. They want to win everything and be brilliant.
The fans want the same. They won’t be allowed in the ground, of course, on Tuesday, but they will make a lot of noise around the Parc des Princes. Inside, they’ll make themselves noticed through a gigantic tifo, as yet to be unveiled. The fans hope it will inspire the players and give them some strength through the whole 90 or 120 minutes.
PSG have scored 101 goals this season already in all competitions, something not many teams have done, and if they can add some more on Tuesday, they should be heading for the final four of the Champions League for a second consecutive season — no easy feat considering they hadn’t gone that far since the 1994-1995 season. After the Champions League final loss against Bayern Munich in August, their revenge is half-complete.
The referee in Paris will be Daniele Orsato, who also oversaw last season’s final. Is that a bad omen? We will know on Tuesday.