Sport

Champions League: PSG’s Enrique calls for ambition in Barcelona last eight clash

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Luis Enrique urged his players to forget the pressure of reaching the latter stages of the Champions League and be ambitious during the first leg of their last eight clash against Barcelona on Wednesday night.

The French league leaders go into the game at the Parc des Princes seeking a place in the semi-final of European club football’s most prestigious tournament for the first time since 2021.

They enjoy rude health in the top flight courtesy of a 10-point lead over second-placed Brest and are also through to the final of the Coupe de France.

“I hope that our ambition overcomes the pressure,” Enrique said on the eve of the game against a club he steered to Champions League glory in 2015.

“We aren’t feeling pressure at the moment,” added Enrique. “We are very excited to play at this level and we are trying to qualify for the next round.”

Enrique rested the majority of his first choice players for Saturday’s visit of Clermont in Ligue 1. But after seeing his side fall behind to Habib Keita’s first-half opener, the 53-year-old Spaniard was forced to introduce skipper Marquinhos, midfielder Lee Kang-in and striker Kylian Mbappé mid way through the second-half as his side tried to recover the deficit.

Change
Gonçalo Ramos’s leveller in the 85th minute saved PSG’s blushes. With six games remaining of the 2023/24 campaign, PSG look certain to notch up a 10th domestic title in the 12 years since Qatar Sports Investment took over the club.

Despite the lavish sums spent on star players such as Edinson Cavani, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Mbappé, teams have faltered in the Champions League.

“During the group stages, I could see that the players were taking responsibility,” added Enrique who arrived in the French capital last summer vowing to rejuvenate the squad and hone it into a tight fighting unit exempt of egos.

“And now that attitude has got us here to the quarter-finals,” he insisted.

Having claimed the French Super Cup in January, virtually assured of another Ligue 1 crown and with a chance to win the Coupe de France, PSG’s season will end with a few more pots added to the 30-odd shining brightly in the QSI-era trophy cabinet.

Chance
By contrast, Barcelona, who have not graced the last eight of the Champions League in four years, can only brandish silverware if they claim the crown this season.

A sixth trophy for the club would be a spectacular coup for coach Xavi Hernandez who was part of Enrique’s side that won the Champions League in 2015.

Xavi Hernandez won the Champions League trophy at Barcelona in 2015 when the side was coached by the Paris Saint-Germain boss Luis Enrique.

“It is a key moment,” said Xavi. “The word after being out of the quarter-finals for so long is “excitement”. We can dream again.

“But we will have one of the best teams in Europe in front of us, with one of the best coaches in Luis Enrique. It is a team built to win the Champions League.”

Security will be reinforced for the game after the French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin highlighted a terrorist threat from the Islamic State group that targeted the stadiums in Paris, London and Madrid hosting Champions League ties on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

“I think everyone is worried about terrorist threats,” said Enrique. “I hope it can be controlled. And I hope it’s just a threat.”

rfi

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