Mauricio Pochettino not carrying weight of past PSG failures into Champions League tie with Barcelona

French club crave this trophy above all others but have always come up short

Phil Blanche
Tuesday 16 February 2021 09:15
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Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino has insisted he is not carrying the weight of his new club’s past Champions League failures into Tuesday’s last-16 first leg against Barcelona.

Pochettino’s predecessors have all failed to lift the trophy the French club desire most, despite seismic Qatari financial backing that has brought the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar to Paris.

Thomas Tuchel led PSG to their first ever Champions League final last year, but his side were beaten 1-0 by Bayern Munich.

Pochettino, when asked how he felt ahead of his biggest test as PSG boss since joining in January, said: “I am very calm. We are excited because there is so much passion around the club and this is a special game.

READ MORE: Champions League return might give us something we haven’t seen in years

“We would so like to win this coveted trophy, it is a very big passion. History is in the past and we are now in a different reality with different players. Whatever happens, the past is behind us.

“We joined the club 40 days ago and we started to feel that the Champions League is important for the club and the team. It is an obvious target for PSG to win the Champions League, that is our responsibility and the fans are excited about it as well.

“Our intention is always to get the best out of our players and the people within the staff. The fans and the whole club want to build something better, that is our target.”

Pochettino, who steered Tottenham to the 2019 Champions League final, is without the injured Neymar for PSG’s round-of-16 first-leg test at the Nou Camp.

The Brazil forward suffered a thigh injury against Caen in the Coupe de France last week and there will be greater focus on Mbappe as he goes head-to-head with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

“I expect from him what I always expect from top players,” Pochettino said of Mbappe. “Every player has to perform their role and give their best to the team.

“The absences of Neymar and Angel Di Maria are important for the team and we have players who are hungry and excited to play in this game. We are fully motivated to compete against a top side that also wants to win the Champions League, and Barcelona have great players as well as a great coach in Ronald Koeman.”

Dutchman Koeman succeeded Pochettino as Southampton manager in 2014 and has overseen a revival in the Catalans’ fortunes in recent weeks after a difficult start to his reign. Although they did lose to Sevilla in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final last week, Barcelona have registered seven consecutive wins in LaLiga.

Messi has scored nine goals in as many games, but Koeman insists the tie is about more than the two superstars on the pitch.

“It’s not a Messi vs Mbappe game,” hw said. “It’s a game that has the best player in the world and Mbappe is very good for PSG too.

“It will be a great game, it’s one to be enjoyed. PSG are candidates to win the Champions League. They’ll try to score away from home, they’ll want to dominate and we also like to have the ball.

“I don’t see other teams much better than Barcelona. The team is playing good on a high level. We still have fantastic players and that means we can beat anyone.

“It’s important for us to keep a clean sheet. We have to manage the speed of Mbappe. I’m not in favour of man-marking a player. You have to know how to play and have to be well-organised when you lose the ball.”

Gerard Pique has not played since suffering a knee ligament injury against Atletico Madrid on 21 November, but the veteran Spain defender trained on Monday and is expected to be part of Barcelona’s matchday squad.

PA

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