PSG’s Unai Emery focuses on Real Madrid a year after painful exit

Sid Lowe on 13 February 2018

Paris Saint-Germain’s preparation for their visit to the Bernabéu on Wednesday began at the Camp Nou, Unai Emery claimed. PSG’s manager watched his team collapse in Catalonia last season, a 4-0 first-leg lead overturned when Barcelona scored three times in seven minutes to win 6-1 but he insisted PSG are better prepared to face Real Madrid.

His centre-back Marquinhos, meanwhile, called for “courage and personality” in a match that is likely to be partly played in the mind.

Emery was late to the pre-match press conference and when he got there, he did not say much, his answers short, lacking his normal loquaciousness and rarely conveying the confidence he repeatedly said he felt.

He said PSG found “motivation” in facing the “champions” and “12-times winners,” a status he insisted on more than once. Another word he returned to often was “opportunity” but this is an obligation, too. PSG must overcome what happened last season in the last 16 – first psychologically and then on a pitch on which they chose not to train. “We preferred the privacy; we have been doing that often this season,” Emery said.

If that felt like a means of escape and isolation, there was something of that in the way the PSG manager spoke as he largely evaded answering questions about the mental impact of last season’s defeat.

“I don’t think that will be on their mind,” the Real Madrid full-back Marcelo said but surely something remains, some scar, and Emery did eventually say: “Maybe the preparation for this match started in that game.

“It gave us an experience that we now want to make positive. We have spoken about that. Not much but very clearly. In moments like that, in those circumstances, you can learn a lot. We are better prepared and ready to compete at this level.”

Marquinhos said: “It was two games; one of the best and then the worst of the season. We have to learn from that and the lesson has to be that we impose our identity away from home as well as at home, with courage and personality.”

In the summer PSG spent €400m on two players as they sought to break through that barrier, including Neymar, who led their destruction at the Camp Nou, but much of the noise in the build-up has been about the Brazilian departing for Madrid. Marcelo said: “Madrid fans like players who are good and he is a world star and any fans would want him.”

His presence for PSG increases their chances, of course, but it also increases the pressure on him and his team. “I don’t think he’s nervous,” Emery said.

Madrid, too, are under pressure as is Zinedine Zidane, whose side are 17 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, but Europe has so often proved their elixir. “I’m not thinking about my future, I am only thinking about tomorrow’s game,” Zidane said. “I can’t control those other things; what I can control is what we are going to do on the pitch. Games are important for me; my future isn’t.

“I don’t know who has more pressure. We don’t have any in the sense we’re happy to be able to play these games. We live for these matches. As for them, you’ll have to ask PSG.”

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