The nerves were evident from the start. After all, Paris Saint-Germain famously allowed a similar situation to get away from them once before, when Barcelona overturned a heavy first leg defeat to the French side to make the Champions League quarter-finals back in March 2017.
‘La Remontada,’ as it has been widely dubbed, was surely on the mind of every PSG player as they kicked off against Barca on Wednesday with a 4-1 aggregate lead. Even those who weren’t involved on that night at the Camp Nou will have been wary of the psychological damage that was inflicted on PSG.
For large parts of the match, it appeared Barcelona were capable of repeating the trick. The Catalans dominated possession and played with the sort of energy throughout that suggested they believed the tie was still alive. Even after Kylian Mbappe’s second leg opener from the penalty spot, the belief remained.
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Lionel Messi spurned the opportunity to truly test PSG’s resolve by missing a spot kick of his own at the end of the first half. Had he found the back of the net rather than Keylor Navas’ gloves, the contest might have panned out rather different. PSG’s insecurities may have come to the fore again.
Ultimately, though, this was an exorcism of past demons for the Parc des Princes outfit. They faced their worst fears and stopped history from repeating itself once more as PSG moved past Barcelona and into the quarter-finals of the Champions League having made the final last season.
While PSG folded too easily at the Camp Nou four years ago, their top performers stood up when they were needed on this occasion. Marquinhos was in the team that conceded six times to Barcelona, but the Brazilian was a brick wall at the heart of defence this time, making more clearances (eight) than anyone else on the pitch.
As already referenced, Navas saved a penalty from Messi and also tipped a thunderous strike from Sergino Dest on to the crossbar while Leandro Paredes and Marco Verratti at least gave the French champions something of a foothold in the centre of midfield to relieve pressure on the back four.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team will need to play much better than this to go all the way in this season’s Champions League (they played much better in the 4-1 first leg victory), but this performance couldn’t be measured in the typical way. This was simply about getting over the line and that’s what PSG did.
Pochettino himself may have been a big factor in the resolve shown by the Parisians, with Marquinhos revealing after the match that the Argentine ripped into his players after a timid first half showing. “We're not going to give away all the secrets [of the talk],” said Marquinhos. “It was hot, it reflected the difficult moments we had, we lacked a lot in the defensive phase, they took advantage with their full-backs. He asked for more engagement, with little videos. This is what made the difference.”
Of course, Pochettino already has experience of helping one club overcome their deep-rooted insecurities, with Tottenham Hotspur leaving behind their ‘Spursy’ tendencies to make their first ever Champions League final two years ago. He might now be going through a similar process in his new job in the French capital.
No matter what PSG do going forward, ‘Le Remontada’ will be a part of their history, but this victory over Barcelona means Pochettino is now free to impose a new mentality on his players. Rather than being defined by the indignity of what happened four years ago, PSG are now fuelled by it.
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