8 March 2017 will forever be etched into both Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain’s history books. Or rather, it will forever be etched into football’s history books we should say, since that is the night the impossible became possible and dreams became reality – the night of the Remontada.
Of course, it’s been almost four years since that fateful night and Barcelona are still waiting for their next Champions League trophy. Following that victory, there was a feeling of inevitability. After all, if the Catalans can overturn a 4-0 deficit, we thoughts, surely there is little anyone can do to stop them.
Unfortunately, whatever deal was made with the devil that Wednesday four years ago, the price is still seemingly being paid. However, tomorrow evening, both teams will return to the scene of the crime. Tomorrow evening, almost everything will be exactly the same and yet, there’s so much that will also different.
Two giants of European football will face off at the Camp Nou in the Champions League’s Round of 16 and both teams will have serious aspirations to not only win the tie but also go all the way. For Barcelona, this has been a distant dream since Luis Enrique’s treble-winning year while the Parisiens managed to claw their way to the very grand final just last campaign, ultimately losing to Bayern Munich.
This time around, however, Neymar is on the other side of the pitch, although the Brazilian will miss at least the first leg due to injury, and there is no deficit to overturn. Of course, the atmosphere will also not be nearly the same tomorrow since the Camp Nou will be empty bar the virtual crowd noise and the addition of simulated colours in the stands.
Tomorrow’s clash is also the first of the two legs, not the second as was the case four years ago, which could still play a big role in the whole tie. But the fact still remains, Paris Saint-Germain are yet to beat Barcelona in the heart of Catalonia and the last time they’ve tried, it was the Remontada night in March 2017.
In hindsight, seeing how Barcelona were unable to accomplish much even on the wings of such a triumph, that shouldn’t mean too much. In reality, however, it could also mean everything, both psychologically and physically once the teams meet on the green pitches of the Camp Nou come Tuesday night.
However, this is not Lucho’s Barcelona but Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona, that much we have to understand. Tomorrow, it will be Lionel Messi leading a different team, one that doesn’t have Neymar nor Luis Suárez and one that will also miss Sergi Roberto, the player to put the finishing touches on the famous 6-1 game.
But none of that matters because, frankly, we cannot live in the past anymore. Yes, this Barcelona may be in their transitional period and yes, this Barcelona is yet to reach their full potential but it’s also a Barcelona full of promising, young and upcoming talent.
Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Rakitić are replaced by Frenkie de Jong and Pedri while Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé will do their best to emulate Neymar’s and Suárez’s presence. The backline might also be completely different than it was in 2017.
Samuel Umtit was arguably at the peak of his powers back then, forming into a defender Barcelona had hoped to field many years to come. Fate, however, had different ideas and while Big Sam might find himself in the squad to face PSG tomorrow, chances are he will be chained to the bench even if that should be the case.
Javier Mascherano is now long retired and that makes Gerard Piqué the only member of the back three to make it to tomorrow’s clash mostly ‘untouched‘. We say mostly because even though Geri has been training with the team for the last couple of days, Koeman is yet to decide whether he’s fit enough to make a big comeback from his most recent injury.
So clearly, a lot has changed in four year’s time. The same can be said for Paris Saint-Germain. Unai Emery is now in La Liga leading Villarreal while Mauricio Pochettino, the former Tottenham Hotspur gaffer, has taken his spot on the sidelines of the French titans.
The personnel is quite different as well. While we may see the likes of Julian Draxler, Marco Verratti, Layvin Kurzawa and Marquinhos feature tomorrow, the rest of the lineup will get a massive overhaul as a whole. Both Neymar and Ángel Di María are injured so we won’t see them tomorrow evening but PSG have another star to lead their lines – Kylian Mbappé.
Widely regarded as one of the best young players on the planet and the future world’s best, Mbappé will surely be at the heart of PSG’s efforts in both legs of the tie. At 22 years of age, the Frenchman is only getting better as time goes on and his long-awaited duel with Messi could make or break the game for either side once the referee blows the whistle.
At the end of the day, however, this is a clash of two giants of the modern game so it’s likely the tie won’t be decided by two players but rather which 11 can play better as a team. There, Barcelona could have a small, albeit very important, advantage.
Pochettino is still very fresh at the helm of his team and while PSG don’t lack an identity as such, it could be that the Argentine is yet to fully integrate his philosophy into the French titans. Of course, a similar thing could be said of Koeman as well. After all, this is his first full season but he has a tad more experience on the bench of his club than his counterpart.
This could prove vital but at the same time, it also represents a drop in an ocean of possibilities and circumstances that engulf tomorrow’s clash. But it’s Paris Saint-Germain who have to face their demons and return to the arena which only a few have survived.
The dreaded memory of the 6-1 at the Camp Nou will probably never fade from their minds, or ours. Nor shouldn’t it, for that matter.
But tomorrow is a new day, a new clash and a blank page waiting to be filled with brand new memories. Hopefully, it’s also a new opportunity for Barcelona to keep asserting their dominance over the opposition and finally make strides in Europe once again.
Remontada or not, the Catalans must push through and prove a point to us, the opposition and themselves.
Let us hope they do exactly that.
A significant week in Barcelona for Lionel Messi’s future
It is a topic that gets the football world giddy. The fantasies of Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League, the formation of another star-studded front three alongside Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe, and for the romantics, a return to Argentina is set in their hearts.
After the infamous events of the summer of 2020, now more than ever, the biggest legend of FC Barcelona looks closer than ever to leaving.
Many Barça fans feel that it could be a good thing that the six-time Ballon D’or winner leaves, bringing up the point that the Catalan side needs a hard restart next season and the idea of building a team around a 33-year-old does not seem logical, as it only benefits the near future.
This is a valid point and most likely comes from those who want not only the best for Barca but Messi as well, as Cúlers are not ignorant to the fact that the club cannot promise their beloved number ten the fifth Champions League trophy he craves in its current situation.
However, in an ideal world, Barça fans would want Messi to stay and win his fifth European Cup wearing Blaugrana and if that is to happen, the week that went by is the only decider on course for the club and player alike.
The Copa Del Rey comeback
In the interview with Jordi Évole on LaSexta last December, Lionel Messi stated that he “wanted to keep competing to win trophies.”
Two weeks ago, that desire for this season looked unlikely. Atletico Madrid had a sizeable lead over the Catalans in La Liga, Paris Saint-Germain built up a 1-4 lead in the Champions League, and Sevilla had a 2-0 advantage in the Copa del Rey.
The first of these tasks was addressed on Wednesday night, in what turned out to be a memorable night in the history of FC Barcelona. A 94th minute Gerard Pique header sent Barça into extra time, where Martin Braithwaite completed the comeback to send the Catalans through to the final 3-2 on aggregate.
The chance to win another trophy would no doubt have pleased Messi but it is the story of the match that will help keep the Argentine at the club next season.
If Messi stopped and looked around the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, he would have seen determination and heart from his teammates to keep going to the final whistle, an abundance of youthful talent performing at a level beyond their years, and world-class players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen ready to step up when certain challenges emerged.
Throughout one night, all these combined into a sort of presentation to the Argentine, exhibiting the future of FC Barcelona and where the team is headed.
There is no denying that the gap between Barcelona and Europe’s elite is still large, but this performance showed the signs Messi has called for and that is something that can be noted down for the future.
The perfect Liga weekend
Looking ahead to the weekend, the second of Barcelona’s comeback missions received an encouraging boost.
The Catalan side were looking to go 16 games unbeaten in La Liga in a match against twelfth place Osasuna and a win would not only see them extend this run but close the gap on Atletico Madrid to just two points, albeit with two games in hand.
The importance of this weekend lied in Atletico’s game as they face city rivals Real Madrid. In an ideal world, Barça fans would hope that the spoils are shared in El Derbi allowing the Blaugrana side to gain points on both Madrid clubs.
Barcelona’s prayers were catered to, and not only did the Catalan giants pick up three ugly, yet important points from their encounter against Osasuna, the capital outfits had to settle for a draw. Playing the angel’s advocate, even if Atleti had come away with the three points, it would essentially narrow the title race to just two teams considering Los Colchoneros gap at the top.
From Lionel Messi’s point of view, winning the La Liga title from the position Barça found themselves in a few weeks back would be a huge encouragement to stay for another season, especially if it is accompanied by the Copa del Rey. The Argentine has been part of teams that let leads slip over the last three seasons and to flip the script on that, would ultimately show progress.
The Presidential election
The final act of the week was the 2021 Presidential Election, where the next president of FC Barcelona was chosen on Sunday night. Joan Laporta, Victor Font, and Toni Freixa were the three candidates fighting for Barça’s top spot, and all have addressed the situation of Lionel Messi throughout their campaigns.
Joan Laporta had emerged as the favourite for a second spell, and like everyone suspected, the Spaniard swayed the elections, coming on top as the winner. Ideally, it would have a significant impact on the future of La Pulga, as Messi showed up to vote for the elections for the first time in his life. In fact, Laporta went on to claim that Leo congratulated him on the night. His renewal will be one of the many hurdles Laporta will have to jump over.
Throughout the presidential campaign, it has been rumoured that Messi will not stay if Joan Laporta does not win. Laporta himself fuelled these rumours on Tuesday during the last of the Presidential debates.
The Spaniard stated, “If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona”.
“If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona. “Messi will weigh up the offer we make him. I’m convinced that if the other candidates win, Messi will not remain at Barcelona. He wasn’t happy during Freixa’s time on the board.”Joan Laporta in the presidential debate
If these feelings are believed to be true, the future of Lionel Messi could take a dramatic twist on Sunday.
Having said all this, Lionel Messi’s future could come down to one simple desire, to win a fifth European Cup. At 33 years old, the Argentine does not have time on his side in this pursuit, and it could be years before Barcelona can compete for Europe’s top prize again.
With ready-made teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain waiting on the side-lines, the final decision in June could come down to this week — if this week does not make it for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, there is little chance anything else will.