The dark clouds have lifted. Since the humiliating 4-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain last month, confidence is back at Barcelona and Saturday’s 5-0 win at home to Celta Vigo has even raised hopes of a historic comeback on Wednesday.
So is it really possible? According to UEFA, no: 58 times in the European Cup has a team trailed 4-0 going into a second leg and not once has the deficit been overturned.
Records, however, are there to be broken and banners at Camp Nou on Sunday read “Remuntarem” (We will turn it around). Hope, it is often said in Spanish, is the last thing you lose. Yet there were genuine reasons for optimism in a performance many described as Barça’s best of the entire season.
After the 6-1 win over Sporting Gijón last Wednesday, Luis Enrique announced that he will no longer be Barça boss beyond the summer and that had seemed to release plenty of tension. Against Celta, the players appeared much more liberated and there is the sense now that they have nothing to lose. Especially against PSG.
Two extraordinary efforts from Lionel Messi, an exquisite lob by Neymar and goals from Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti gave Barcelona a 5-0 win over Celta and interestingly, both of the Catalans’ last two results would be good enough to overturn the tie against PSG on Wednesday.
Of course, PSG are not Sporting or Celta. Unai Emery’s side struggled to beat Nancy in Ligue 1 on Saturday and will be on their guard for the second leg at Camp Nou, but the French champions have huge quality in their team and remain big favourites to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals.
With Messi in such form, however, Emery will take absolutely nothing for granted. The Argentine’s two goals against Celta came from seemingly impossible positions from where he had no right to score. If he can produce something similar on Wednesday, nerves could creep in for the visitors.
Barça have improved significantly since the match at the Parc des Princes, while Luis Enrique’s change from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3 (or 3-3-1-3 with Messi in a free role) has made the team more effective in both defence and attack.
It also means Sergi Roberto, who was targeted by Emery in the first leg, is taken out of the firing line. And even though PSG will still be expected to progress on Wednesday, there is belief now among the Barça players, the coach and also many of the fans.
“If PSG scored four,” Luis Enrique said on Tuesday, “then we can score six!”
The pressure is off and in football, never say never – especially with Messi around.