A blockbuster last-16 tie was all-but guaranteed the moment Barcelona and Juventus were placed together in Group G following the Champions League group-stage draw back on October 1.
That guarantee was rubber-stamped last week when Juve beat Barca 3-0 at the Nou Camp, ensuring the former finished first while the latter came second in a group where Dynamo Kiev and Ferencvaros simply could not compete.
It meant Barca would face one of Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain or Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16, and fate has pitted them against the French champions PSG.
- Men's Star of the Year countdown: 5-1 - De Bruyne lands on the list
- Women's Star of the Year countdown: 5-1 - Who will take top spot?
- Atletico the 'toughest' draw for Chelsea - Lampard
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE LAST 16 DRAW
- Borussia Monchengladbach vs Manchester City
- Lazio vs Bayern Munich
- Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea
- RB Leipzig vs Liverpool
- Porto vs Juventus
- Barcelona vs Paris Saint-Germain
- Sevilla vs Borussia Dortmund
- Atalanta vs Real Madrid
February’s first leg at the Nou Camp will be their first meeting in four years, when Barca turned around a 4-0 deficit by winning the last-16 second leg 6-1 at home, scoring three of their goals in the dying minutes to complete La Remontada – the biggest comeback in Champions League history.
Neymar - Barcelona-PSG - Champions League 2016/2017 - Getty Images
Image credit: Getty Images
Barca went on to lose their quarter-final to Juventus in 2016-17, but for PSG the defeat had huge ramifications, prompting the French club to sign Neymar from the Catalan club for a world-record 222 million euros in a bid to become a European force and end their long wait for Champions League glory.
That wait still goes on for PSG. They came close in August before losing narrowly to Bayern Munich in the 2019-20 final, and now they must overcome a tricky last-16 encounter just to reach the last eight.
Of course Barca are not the force they once were, but this tie is by no means a gimme for PSG, and it is difficult to look beyond the fact that there will be big consequences for whichever club suffers what will undoubtedly be deemed an early exit by their own standards and expectations.
By February Barca will have a new president, but where they are in the league will depend on whether they have been able to resurrect their form, for they are currently eighth under head coach Ronald Koeman after losing four of their opening 11 La Liga matches.
Koeman will know a run of positive results is essential for him to keep his job, but even a winning streak in the league could come to nothing if they lose to PSG in Europe.
The two-legged affair will also come at a time when Lionel Messi is free to discuss a move with other clubs, unless Barca somehow get the Argentine to sign a new deal beforehand. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner could well wait to discover who comes in as president, and likewise who could be in the frame to replace Koeman – presidential frontrunner Victor Font has sounded out Xavi – but it could be dealings on the pitch which decides Messi’s future.
The last 16 tie will see Neymar (PSG) take on Messi (FC Barcelona)
Image credit: Eurosport
A comprehensive loss to PSG could prompt Messi to seek a new challenge, the first of his senior club career away from Barca, especially as he enters the twilight of his playing days. Win, and he could commit to another season or longer, particularly if those around him – the players, the head coach, the new board – can show him there is light at the end of this dreary tunnel.
For PSG defeat would be costly too. After a run of four quarter-final exits in the Champions League from 2012-13 to 2015-16, a three-season run of last-16 defeats followed before they finally reached the final last season.
The club were finally within touching distance of the trophy, but tears streamed down Neymar’s face as he was unable to help the French champions pick up the piece of silverware they most desire.
Neymar and PSG were within touching distance of the Champions League last season
Image credit: Getty Images
The fallout, therefore, could be huge if they go back to square one again and taste another loss in the first knockout stage. Could it be the end for head coach Thomas Tuchel? Could it have Neymar or even Kylian Mbappe seriously considering their future? These are questions PSG will hope they don't have to answer.
Either way, it is undoubtedly the tie of the round, and it is one Neymar looks as though he’ll be back for, with the ankle injury more “reassuring” than first feared.
The Brazilian will be central to this meeting between two forces who cannot afford to think about defeat, and when facing his former side for the first time since leaving them in 2017, he knows he could inflict a blow which is felt at Barca for years to come.