Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery insists his team have learned from last year’s Champions League capitulation to Barcelona and are ready to face Real Madrid in the round of 16 on Wednesday.
PSG play the first leg against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday and the Spaniard told a prematch press conference on Tuesday that he wants to see his players show how much they have grown since allowing Barcelona to overturn a 4-0 deficit in the second leg to eliminate Emery’s side.
“We view this match as an opportunity,” said Emery. “We want to develop. We are enthusiastic, we want to progress, and this Real clash gives us the opportunity to do that.
“Perhaps preparation began last year (post-Remontada) and this experience can help us in a positive way. There has been talk of this and the circumstances that have surrounded this match. The team learned a lot and is now ready to play at this level.”
Emery rubbished the idea that Real might not line up with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema from the start on Wednesday and declared that he expects to see all three of Los Blancos‘ star men from the off.
“I am expecting the best Real,” the Basque tactician said. “I imagine that Real will send out their strongest XI with all of their big guns — you cannot picture one of their three top stars not starting.
“They can change things up because of their different types of players. We have worked on all different possible Real scenarios.”
Emery admitted that it is between Lassana Diarra and Giovani Lo Celso to fill the void left by Thiago Motta in defensive midfield, but revealed that none of his players will be told the starting XI until the day of the encounter.
“We will tell the players who will be starting on the day of the match,” said Emery. “That gives them motivation on the pitch.
“The two options in defensive midfield are Giovani and Lassana and they are both ready. Adrien [Rabiot] has played further forward and we want him to continue there.”
Defender Marquinhos also spoke with the press ahead of the match and called the Real match a “dream” scenario.
“This is a great chance.” The Brazil international said. “It is a dream to play in this sort of match. All my life, my whole career, I have wanted to play in this sort of game. We must think positively.”
When asked about recent criticism towards captain, teammate and fellow Brazilian Thiago Silva, Marquinhos was full of praise.
“Thiago has already shown that he has a strong personality,” said the former Roma man. “I admire him a lot. He is exemplary. He will want us to do the best we can, as always.”
Neymar has been linked regularly with Real, despite only signing for PSG last summer, and Marquinhos rejected the idea that the speculation will get to his teammate.
“No, Neymar knows how to keep his emotions in check and not give in to pressure,” Les Parisiens’ No. 5 said. “He always responds on the pitch. He has joined PSG to help us to win titles.”
Speaking with Goal ahead of the Real meeting, Marquinhos claimed that “Remontada no longer exists” for PSG after last season’s painful Barcelona episode.
“We go through good and bad moments in our careers,” the 23-year-old said. “When we win a game, we move on quickly because we usually have another game a few days later. It is the same when we lose.
“I think that we have to learn how to deal with those moments. These experiences are part of our development. But we are no longer thinking about it.”
“Our experience in the Champions League has changed. We went through two very different matches against Barcelona last season, but we learned a lot from it. Those two games helped us to mature and to improve ourselves. Not just myself, but the whole team!”
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.