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PARIS: The Paris Saint-Germain of Kylian Mbappe and Barcelona clash in the first leg of their blockbuster Champions League quarter-final tie on Wednesday, in the latest instalment of the growing rivalry between the two clubs.
It is the fifth time the sides have been drawn against each other in the knockout stage of Europe’s elite club competition in the last 12 seasons, with those past meetings including an unforgettable encounter in 2017.
PSG won 4-0 at home in the first leg only to lose 6-1 in the return in a stunning implosion against a Barcelona side coached by Luis Enrique.
He is now in charge of PSG, having joined the Qatar-owned club ahead of this season with the responsibility of delivering elusive European success.
“It is a totally different game for me,” Luis Enrique said on Tuesday, referring to the special nature of a fixture against the club with whom he starred as a player before going on to lead to Champions League glory in 2015.
“But I also played against Sporting (Gijon, where he began his career) and scored goals for Barcelona.
“At the end of the day I am a professional. Of course I like Barcelona but I am pleased to be here at PSG, and I must think about my job and my team. I think I’m capable of bringing trophies to this club.”
PSG have never won the Champions League and had gone out in the last 16 in five of the last seven years before beating Real Sociedad to reach the last eight this time.
The consequences of that 2017 meeting between the teams were huge.
A humiliated PSG exacted revenge by signing Neymar from Barcelona a few months later by paying a world-record fee of 222 million euros ($264m at the time) to activate the Brazilian’s release clause.
Barcelona panicked and blew all of that money, and more, in trying to rebuild their team.
Among the players they signed was Ousmane Dembele, who cost an initial 105 million euros from Borussia Dortmund.
Fast forward to last year and Dembele was sold to PSG for just 50 million euros, leaving behind a cash-strapped Barca who have faded somewhat as a continental force in recent seasons.
Their financial problems forced them to let Lionel Messi leave in 2021, with the Argentine teaming up with Neymar in a two-year spell in Paris.
It was only a few weeks after Neymar’s arrival that PSG also signed Mbappe, who has gone on to become the club’s all-time top scorer and will leave at the end of this season when his contract expires, almost certainly for Real Madrid.
Mbappe scored a brilliant hat-trick in the first leg in Barcelona when PSG beat the Catalans 5-2 on aggregate in the last 16 in 2021, in the most recent clash between the clubs.
He has 39 goals this season and appears extra motivated by the desire to win the Champions League with his boyhood club before he leaves.
PSG failed to convince in the group stage, only just scraping through to the last 16.
However, they are unbeaten in 27 games in all competitions going back to early November and are dreaming of winning a Champions League, Ligue 1 and French Cup treble.
Barcelona, meanwhile, have not lost in 11 matches since coach Xavi Hernandez, who played both alongside and under Luis Enrique at the club, revealed his intention to walk away at the end of this season.
The five-time European champions are appearing in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2020, when they were trounced 8-2 by Bayern Munich in a game played behind closed doors in Lisbon, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are in our best form but we are playing against a team built to win the Champions League and we are coming up against one of the best coaches in Luis Enrique,” Xavi told reporters.
Barcelona are hoping midfielders Pedri and Frenkie de Jong, who have both been struggling with injuries, will be able to play in the game, while PSG are without influential right-back Achraf Hakimi due to suspension.
“All those who have traveled will be able to play, as long as there are no surprises,” Xavi said of his squad.
The second leg will be played in Barcelona next Tuesday, April 16, with the winners advancing to a semifinal against either Atletico Madrid or Borussia Dortmund.

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