Ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Barcelona, which Mauricio Pochettino is approaching calmly considering the weight of history on his team’s shoulders, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti will be preparing.
For the first time since their collapse in the second leg of the last-16 clash between the two teams in 2017, last season’s finalists will meet Barca at Camp Nou.
From the first leg at the Parc des Princes, PSG led 4-0 but shockingly lost 6-1 in the second as Barca pulled off the biggest comeback in the history of the Champions League.
For both clubs, the cast of characters has changed drastically since then. Neymar scored twice that night but is now with PSG in his fourth season, but with a groin injury, he will miss this meeting.
In the 6-1 loss, Angel Di Maria came off the bench for PSG but is also out with a thigh injury.
Verratti also played for a side then coached by Unai Emery and appears poised to play a role in the first leg, despite a hip problem.
“We are taking it to step by step with Marco Verratti,” Pochettino told a pre-match media conference. Today [Tuesday] he’s going to practice, and it’s not going to be a very hard one, since it is the day before the match.
“We have a strategy and a gameplan that, depending on who is available, will affect our decision.”
History indicates that making Verratti available would improve the prospects for PSG.
Their winning percentage is 60.7 in the 56 Champions League matches he has played since joining Pescara in 2012, compared to 56 in the 25 matches he either missed or was placed on the bench.
Pochettino is adamant that his players will write a new optimistic chapter in the history of PSG and Barca, amid their injury problems and the mystique surrounding the fixture.
“It is an obvious target for PSG to win the Champions League. That is our responsibility,” Pochettino said.
“I still think my team is ready. The situations are the conditions. The situation is the truth, and tomorrow we will strive to perform at our best.
I’m pretty calm. History is in the past and with new teams, we are now in a different reality. Behind us is whatever happened in the past and can be removed.”