Everyone who has anything to do with football knows the story. If this was a 100 years ago then alongside the myths and legends, songs would have been sung about that night. Neymar’s name would be vibrating through history for centuries after that night. And for PSG, little would change.
Because in that one night, PSG saw all their hopes and dreams dashed to the ground and stamped on by Europe’s giants. That was their sixth visit to the Camp Nou and the Parisians were hoping that it would mean the end of a five-game winless run. Barcelona had been brushing them aside for the better part of 20 years and yet with a 4-0 lead after the first-leg, PSG were hoping for something better.
And yet, everybody who has anything to do with football knows what happened that night. Songs were sung inside and outside the Camp Nou that night, the night was as long as a century for those in Barcelona and the interweb was stunned beyond a reasonable limit. Myths, legends and stories have been created since that night and it's been one that very few games of football could rival. That Barcelona team would become legendary until they went and lost to Juventus in the very next round.
But for PSG, nothing has changed.
They would still be the club owned by Qatar with all the bells and whistles they could have. The same club who have, over the last decade, won seven out of the nine league titles available. The same club whose never-ending goal to prove that they’re amongst Europe’s best and biggest side have tossed aside youth products for the glory of silverware. But on that night, Barcelona produced the greatest comeback in footballing history and it sent PSG’s project back decades.
It’s been the better part of five years since that fateful night and yet, it has shackled the Parisians to the ground with their arms, legs and hopes all stuck. Their results since Remontada have been two consecutive Round of 16 exits, first to Real Madrid and then to Manchester United. That was until last season, where a lockdown combined with the Project Restart allowed them to shine.
And it meant that for the first time in their history, PSG strode all the way to the Champions League final where they were bested by the “favourites” in Bayern Munich. Now that is where everything begins because Les Parisiens overcame quite a few demons to get to that final and would have, had better finishing and luck been on their side, been the team lifting the trophy. That is a question and an answer for another night but the point remains - PSG weren't pushed or brushed aside.
Instead, ask anyone who watched the game and they’ll tell you. It was a gritty battle between two footballing superpowers at the height of their powers. Two teams packed to the hilt with superstars, wonderful players and their fair share of cult heroes with two German managers who knew exactly what they were doing leading the charge. And yet with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in their side, PSG shouldn’t have, technically, been the underdogs.
And Bayern Munich are never underdogs which means this was a game played on a level playing field between two “equal” sides. But the story is never written that way and nothing has changed, even some eight months later despite PSG strolling through a group containing 2019/20 semi-finals RB Leipzig and the resurgent Manchester United. It’s shocking especially after people watched them display grit and resilience that a team from Paris hadn’t shown for many a year.
The fact of the matter is that, at this moment, PSG are preparing to take on Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of this season’s edition of the Champions League. So, you would think that after all that has happened, PSG should be atleast considered equals but that is not the case. Instead, the Bavarians are the overwhelming favourites to beat the Parisians and the outright favourites, behind only Manchester City, to win the Champions League.
That is despite the fact that Robert Lewandowski is very likely to miss not one leg but both legs of the game against the Ligue 1 giants. Now somebody that good and that clinical in front of goal would be a massive miss to any team on the planet, but just how big a miss is the Pole? Well, without him, Bayern Munich would have scored 50 goals fewer. FIFTY and no that is not a joke. 42 of those have been goals with eight assists and nobody has even come close to that margin in Europe.
Forget about Bayern. This is Europe we’re talking about with Cristiano Ronaldo the closest and even he’s eleven goals behind the Polish forward. Back to Bayern now, and it would take the goals that Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane, Leon Goretzka and Kingsley Coman have scored before you outscore Robert Lewandowski by three goals. Once again, this is not a joke and this man deserves the Ballon d’Or but that’s a point for another article altogether. And yet Bayern Munich are favourites.
What makes it even more shocking is that this is a PSG side that contains Neymar and Kylian Mbappe plus the additional bonus of Marco Verratti, Marquinhos, Keylor Navas and a few others. Just let that sink in for a moment before you realise just how good they are. Navas’ experience alone has changed this team with the other four considered to be amongst the best in their positions. Hell, Mbappe is arguably the heir to many a throne across football while Neymar…well, is Neymar.
Arguably the most effective and lethal attacking player in the world on his day, capable of doing everything Lionel Messi can but at times disdained as the man wasting his talent in France. If anything, some would say that Neymar was the heir to the throne before he shunned all that for a chance in the spotlight and the chance to be his own king in France. Not the worst choice in the world but something tells me, the world would have hated him less had he moved to China.
Yet, that’s beside the point and something that a gazillion people have written about. Because we haven’t even touched upon Mauricio Pochettino, one of Europe’s best in his own right. Now this is a manager that took Tottenham all the way to the Champions League final. Let that sink in as well and give it a moment before you realise just how immense a feat it actually is. Because this was a Harry Kane less Spurs that managed to reach the final and they had a tough run to Madrid.
Manchester City weren’t an easy task and neither were an Ajax side that seemed hell-bent on going all the way before Tottenham broke their hearts. But what really puts it in perspective is just how far Lucas Moura, Dele Alli, Christen Eriksen, Davinson Sanchez, Juan Foyth and a few others have fallen off since that season. And yet, there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind about just how good PSG’s newly appointed manager is but the doubt about his side is boundless.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they’re a billionaire-funded team owned completely by Qatar and have the capability to spend outrageous sums of money. Or maybe it has something to do with the way they effortlessly shattered the transfer market for Neymar and that ballsy “loan” move for Kylian Mbappe in the same window. Or maybe because they play in a league where they get only the occasional challenge for the title in a league that the world doesn’t know too much about.
But make no mistake. This is a proper footballing team built to not just support but help their superstars thrive from the manager all the way to the different pieces brought in. But take into consideration that Bayern have five players out injured including Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry while PSG have six out injured or suspended including Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi out through Covid, plus Mauro Icardi, and things should change.
The odds should change but a quick look at most betting sites, and PSG are not even close to being equals to their Bavarian counterparts. But the real kicker? Chelsea and Real Madrid have the better outright odds to go on and win the Champions League. And once again, we’re back to the start because La Remontada was half a decade ago and having humbled Barcelona over two legs this season, PSG might have just put those ghosts to rest after half a decade.
And yet, you get that iffy feeling the moment you even try to consider them as favourites. Say that to your friends and you’ll probably get laughed out of the room and maybe, in the wrong company, be put in a straitjacket and led to an insane asylum. It leaves you questioning why you even considered PSG as favourites more than your friend-circle. Which begs the real question: why does absolutely nobody take Paris Saint-Germain seriously?