When the Champions League draw for the quarter-finals and the semi-finals on March 19, it looked like this Paris St. Germain would have to hit Bayern Munich and Manchester city to reach the finals Kylian Mbappe told his teammates they would. Of course against it Barcelona and then the two best teams in Europe were daunting. It was also the extreme opposite of last season when the Parisians failed the final hurdle after being eliminated Borussia Dortmund, Atalanta and RB Leipzig on the way to Bayern in Lisbon.
This time around if they want to do it again and make one more attempt to win the Holy Grail, they have to do it the hard way. The super hard way, in fact. But PSG believed in their abilities from day one of this season and now they have a chance to show it off.
Sunday was a free team day for PSG, although most of the team saw Man City dominate Tottenham en route to their fourth straight league cup. The game didn’t tell them anything they didn’t know about Pep Guardiola’s team, even though they saw where they could hurt Guardiola’s team. As good as the city is, Paris has the talent – in Marco Verratti and especially Neymar and Mbappe – to give them so many problems.
You need the courage to play from behind against the aggressive City press. Verratti and Neymar (and to a lesser extent Leo Paredes) are perfect for soaking up the pressure of beating that press and holding onto what Spurs couldn’t do at Wembley. Likewise, City’s tendency to dominate time on the ball and on the territory will make Mbappe’s pace a constant threat to the counterattack. His ability to run behind the high defensive line of the Premier League leaders will be one of the keys to this draw.
The French striker is perhaps in the best shape of his life. His future in Paris is still uncertain, but the feeling is growing that he will stay in the club he was unstoppable in the past two months. He has scored 19 goals in his last 14 games with Paris (all competitions) with a hat trick and seven braces, including one against last weekend Metz.
Facing Man City is also a reminder of one of the greatest games in Mbappe’s career. In February 2017, when Mbappe was only 18 and started in the Champions League for the first time, there was an uproar with a goal and an assist for AS Monaco. Despite the 5-3 defeat in the first leg in the round of 16 – Monaco qualified for the quarter-finals after winning the second leg 3-1 at home with another Mbappe goal – this game was the result of the France Forward. He has not forgotten and Guardiola has not forgotten either.
Overall, PSG’s preparations for the game have gone quite smoothly, given the events of the past 10 days. Off the pitch, the PSG owners’ decision to reject the Super League project has made the club even more united. The locker room – including Pochettino, of course, who has a long tradition – greatly appreciated the attitude of the hierarchy. The sympathy for the club has grown massively worldwide. Add to that another epic Champions League draw and the opportunity to reach the final for a second season in a row.
As explained above, there is faith and belief in the square. In his private life, Pochettino recently reminded someone that his PSG team beat Bayern in March at the Allianz Arena with a second choice right-back, a fourth-choice central defender and a third-choice left-back!
On Wednesday, and likely for the first time since taking over, the manager had his entire first-team squad to choose from, with the exception of Juan Bernatwho has been missing all season. The return to the training of Marquinhoswhose last game for the first leg against Bayern three weeks ago was a big boost. The center-back is more than just a captain for PSG. He is also one of the best defenders in Europe and also has the leadership skills to face such a challenge.
Man City could be considered favorites for this draw and that would fit PSG as well as Pochettino’s familiarity with Guardiola: he’s the manager he’s most faced with in his managerial career. (After 18 matches, Pochettino has won three times and Guardiola ten times with five draws.) Nevertheless, Pochettino’s victories were remarkable: His team from Tottenham knocked out Man City in the quarter-finals two seasons ago after an incredible second leg at Etihad (4) -3, 0-1 in the first leg).
These games between PSG and City have the potential to be blockbusters. The clashes between PSG and Bayern in the preliminary round were arguably two of the best games of the season in all competitions. PSG vs. City could be even better.
But back to Mbappe. On the eve of the last 16 in Barcelona, striker Pochettino announced that he would win the game for PSG at Camp Nou. And he did. If it comes to his claim that PSG can finish what they started in the Champions League this season, he could be right there too.