PSG kick off the “Final 8”, the first-ever Champions League finals, on Wednesday by taking on Atalanta Bergamo. After having managed to pass the cursed stage of the round of 16, Neymar’s team hope this time to finally advance in the competition.
For its 50 years, Paris Saint-Germain has the opportunity to treat yourself to the best of gifts. Officially created on August 12, 1970, the capital club plays Wednesday in Lisbon a quarter-final of the Champions League against the Italians at Atalanta Bergamo.
After having managed to finally pass the stage of the eighth by winning against Dortmund last March, Thomas Tuchel’s men are determined to continue their journey and reach the last four.
“It is a very important title, not only for the players but for the club. For the supporters, it would represent something incredible! I came to Paris for this adventure, for this objective”, summed up to the ‘AFP the emblematic captain Thiago Silva, who should leave the club after this final competition.
But once again, the stars seem to be beating themselves down. After weeks of confinement and an abortive end of the season, injuries continue to follow. The German manager, himself the victim of a sprained ankle, will have to do without suspended Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti with a calf injury, and possibly Kylian Mbappé, injured in the ankle, but still has the hope of making it to the substitutes’ bench and making his debut during the game. “If he has a good training Tuesday night and if nothing happens on Wednesday, he is in the team,” assured Thomas Tuchel on the eve of the meeting.
Neymar finally at his best?
In this chopper match, due to the reduced format of the competition due to Covid-19, the star of the team Neymar will finally have the chance to shine and hoist the PSG, which recruited him for the record sum of 222 million euros in 2017, on the roof of Europe.
Deprived of the final phase for the last two seasons due to injuries, the most expensive player in history is finally entering the final phase of the Champions League in full possession of his means. “These three years have enriched me a lot, he explained on his website on August 4. I lived moments of joy and complicated moments, especially when I was unable to play because of injuries. with the help of my teammates, I was able to overcome them. “
As proof, at 28, he was one of the great architects of the first quarterfinal qualification for PSG since 2016, with the hope goal scored in the first leg against Dortmund (2-1 loss) and the opening of the score on the return (2-0 victory). And the months of confinement he has spent in his luxurious villa in Rio de Janeiro since the interruption of competitions in March have not broken this momentum. In the two national cup finals at the end of July, where he notably scored the winning goal against Saint-Étienne (1-0), he once again showed himself at his best.
“I have the feeling that he can become number 1 in the world, that he can win this Ballon d’Or when he wants”, believes his compatriot Thiago Silva, while the prestigious individual prize will not be awarded in 2020 due to Covid-19. “We give him all the balls because he’s the one who will score, who will create situations. We try to do things for him on the pitch because we know that every second, he can make us win the match.”
For Thomas Tuchel, Neymar will also be the determining element of this quarter-final: “He likes the pressure. He likes the big decisive matches. He is super reliable and I am convinced that he will be the key guy for us. He has the qualities and the mentality for it. “
Bergamo, surprise of the season
But to get there, an attack will not be enough. We will also have to contain the intense pressing of the Italians from Bergamo, city martyred by the pandemic of Covid-19 in Europe and surprise of the season in Serie A. Because Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta has established itself as one of the most feared “goal machines” on the continent, with in particular 98 goals scored in the Italian Championship, that he finished in third place.
Like Paris, Bergamo will also have to do without two executives: goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and especially striker Josip Ilicic, author of 20 goals this season, including a memorable quadruple in the round of 16 return to Valencia.
Without the most talented player in the squad, however, the Italian club have other key pieces to surprise against one of the tournament favorites. From creative captain “Papu” Gomez to powerful center-forward Duvan Zapata, not to mention Ruslan Malinovskyi, Mario Pasalic and Luis Muriel, all dream of shining in the eyes of the whole world to pay tribute to the 17,000 victims of Covid-19 in Lombardy.
“We know the expectation that there is around this match, and all the passion, the love that the province of Bergamo has for Atalanta. This year, there is an additional motivation, dictated by everything which happened, unfortunately. It is something that we keep in us. But today, everything is reduced to a football match “, thus summarized the Italian coach Gian Piero Gasperini at a press conference.
In addition to the support of an entire region, Bergamo also has another major asset. “Atalanta has a big advantage over us, it’s the pace. We don’t have enough pace, we only played two Cup finals” because of the early termination of Ligue 1 , admitted the Parisian coach, Thomas Tuchel.
But a double-edged advantage, since the Italian club arrives in Lisbon after a very dense and trying end of the season, facing fresher Parisians: “We have prepared in the best conditions. We are ready with serenity, to enthusiasm and courage. We are going to put all the necessary commitment “, also explained with great confidence at a press conference defender Marquinhos. “We’re going to do 90 minutes like warriors to go halfway.”
Due to the special character of this season, the dreams of quarterback participants have never been so vivid, especially among the “little ones”. Rarely, six of the eight quarter-finalists have never been crowned in the competition.
The condensed formula of Final 8 offers a very short path to the cup: three victories to win it, it is a unique opportunity to seize, even if there will remain the debate around the value of this trophy, at a discount for some. Without spectators, and framed by a strict health protocol, the last C1 meetings, until the final of August 23, will not have the usual flavor of the European Cup.