Knockout specialist Emery eyes PSG's greatest European feat

By Richard Martin
Football Soccer - Paris St Germain training session - UEFA Champions League - Camp Nou stadium, Barcelona, Spain - 7/3/17 Paris St Germain's coach Unai Emery attends training session. REUTERS/Sergio Perez -

By Richard Martin

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Unai Emery made a slow start at Paris St Germain but his expertise in European competitions paid dividends with a resounding 4-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 first leg which his side hope to make count on Wednesday.

Emery has not lost a European knockout tie since April, 2012 and his three successive Europa League triumphs with Sevilla encouraged PSG's billionaire chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi to appoint him as coach last year in place of Laurent Blanc.

Blanc is the most decorated coach in PSG's history, winning three consecutive Ligue 1 titles at a canter, but Al-Khelaifi grew tired of the Frenchman's failure to get beyond the Champions League quarter-finals three years in a row.

Emery has struggled domestically, however, with his side second in Ligue 1, trailing leaders Monaco by three points.

The Spaniard suffered four league defeats in his first five months, double the number of games Blanc lost in his entire final season, although the tide has turned his way since the new year, boosted by the signing of forward Julian Draxler.

PSG have won 13 of 15 competitive games in 2017, including hammering arch-rivals Marseille 5-1 away and thrashing Barca, a game midfielder Blaise Matuidi called the best performance since he joined the club in 2011, the same time PSG were taken over by the Qatari Investment Authority.

PSG's only continental trophy is the 1996 European Cup Winners Cup and knocking out Barca, who have won the Champions League four times in the last 11 years, would represent their greatest European triumph under the Qatari owners.

Emery had faced Barca 23 times before the first leg and only won once, but he handed out a tactical masterclass to opposite number Luis Enrique, straying from his usual 4-3-3 formation to deploy a 4-2-3-1 shape which gave his side control in midfield.

Adrien Rabiot ran Sergio Busquets ragged while Marco Verratti outpassed Andres Iniesta, leaving livewire wide forwards Angel di Maria and Draxler to take turns in cutting the five-times European champions apart.

No side in the European Cup's 61-year history has progressed after losing a first leg by four goals, although Barcelona coach Luis Enrique was beaming with optimism in his pre-game news conference.

"We have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and if a team like PSG can score four goals than we can score six," he said.

Emery, however, said his team were unmoved by the remarkable first-leg result.

"I have the same confidence in my team as before the first leg and the same respect for Barca," he said.

"If I've learned anything from football it's that you should always respect your rivals, but we have a lot of confidence in ourselves, and this tie could be another step for us."

(Editing by Ed Osmond)