There were many questions surrounding Paris St. Germain ahead of the first week of the Round of 16 Champions League matches. PSG received one of the hardest draws possible, facing defending champions Real Madrid. But it is also an opportunity to show that they have stepped up their game in the wake of their giant trades over the summer. Did the trades make PSG one of the big European superpowers? One that can look at Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Bayern Munich straight in the eye? The answer following the first leg is, not yet.
The team from the French capital has learned once again that life at these heights in the Champions League is different from the easy ride they are enjoying in the French league. They should be worried especially by what happens to them away from home, and not only in the continental competition.
Every time PSG visited a big team this season, with a fanatic fan base and an aggressive approach, they came back home without a win. They lost in Madrid this week, they lost in Munich in the group stage, and even in the domestic league they lost in Lyon and narrowly escaped defeat with a last minute goal in Marseille. You cannot really compare clubs like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich to Lyon or Marseille, but there is one thing all four have in common: tradition. Marseille are the only French team who won the Champions League title while Lyon was the dominant team in French football during the previous decade. They cannot compete with the giant money invested in PSG by Qatar, but they will give them a very hard time when they come to visit, because that is their tradition.
PSG doesn’t have it yet. A club with a proud tradition would not allow itself to have a mental breakdown in the final ten minutes of their most important game of the season. Those ten minutes are the difference between coming home with a one-all-draw and losing 3:1. They could mark the difference between a great achievement and another disappointing Champions League season.
Having said all that, things are far from lost for the Parisians. They are coming home for the second leg at the Parc des Princes, a stadium where they won all of their matches so far this season. PSG at home is a completely different team than the one we’ve seen on the road, Barcelona and Bayern Munich can tell you all about that. With Real Madrid’s defense being rather shaky this season, Neymar, Cavani, M’bappe and the rest of the gang are surely capable of scoring the two goals needed to make it through.
The problem, though, is they are still facing Real Madrid. The Merengues may have a slow season at home, there are constant rumors of trouble, possible trades and managers who may be sacked at any minute, but when it’s time for the knockout stages of the Champions League, they are not the team to bet against. Under Zinedine Zidane, they have won 11 of the 14 knockout stage matches in the past two seasons, it’s not by chance that they have won the trophy twice in a row.
The other big story of this week was the success of the Premier League teams. While Manchester City and Liverpool practically booked their spot in the quarterfinals with big wins on the road, the most impressive performance was the one by the team that “only” managed a draw.
Under Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham transformed itself from a second class English team to one that is aiming to compete with the best teams in European soccer. Juventus came into the match against the Spurs on the back of 11 straight victories, and everything indicated this would be number 12 as they led 2:0 within less than 10 minutes of play. But win number 12 never came. With a great manager on the sidelines and a great striker, Harry Kane, on the pitch, everything seems possible. Tottenham came back for a two-all-draw giving them a great boost ahead of the second leg at Wembley.
Just like in the Real Madrid-PSG clash, the story here is by no means over. Juve have all the necessary elements needed to jump back, it is never wise to bet against the “old lady” in these stages. In case anyone forgot, they made it to the final in the two previous seasons.
It will be a great and possibly dramatic night of soccer in Paris and London. The only negative part of it all is that we have to wait another three weeks for it. As far as I am concerned, bring it on right now.