Ian Hawkey looks at four talking points ahead of the Uefa Champions League last-16, Leg 2 fixtures this week
Real Madrid must be wary of PSG in Paris: Champions League talking points
PSG’s capital power
Paris Saint-Germain manager Unai Emery spoke on Saturday night of “the magic of Paris”. It is a phrase that has been used for centuries by artists, poets, and is rather overused by travel agents.
But the meticulous Emery knows in the context of his club’s task on Tuesday night, it actually does stand for something.
Modern PSG might look like they derive all their might from powers a long way from their locale – the funds of Qatari investors, the excellence of players from South America – but their Parc des Princes home is a factor. It does bring out the best in them.
PSG are 3-1 down to Real Madrid from the first leg of their Uefa Champions League last-16 tie. They are without the injured Neymar, but they can feel fortified by the knowledge that almost nobody has been to the Parc this season and got the sort of result Madrid need to ensure progress, or at least ensure it within 90 minutes.
PSG’s home scorelines in Ligue 1 in 2018 so far read: 8-0, 4-0, 5-2, and 3-0. That last was against Marseille, in a fixture that carries more competitive edge than some of the domestic waltzes PSG do experience in France.
PSG also defeated Marseille by the same scoreline at home in the Coupe de France six nights ago.
As for the Champions League, PSG at home are sitting on a magnificent run of form: Their last four visitors in that competition were Barcelona (beaten 4-0), Bayern Munich (defeated 3-0), Anderlecht (5-0) and Celtic (7-1). The magic of Paris means maulings in Paris.
The reigning European champions, Madrid, know this tie is not over yet.
Juve’s Azzurri shaken by Astori loss
On the field, matters could hardly have gone better for Juventus’s morale on Saturday: A last gasp win at Lazio, a goal for the evidently fit-again Paulo Dybala, and three points of crucial catch-up on Serie A leaders Napoli, who lost to Roma and now top the table by just a point, above a Juve who have a match in hand.
But by lunchtime on Sunday, the mood at Juve and across Italian football had turned sombre with the awful news of the sudden death, overnight and probably in his sleep, of Fiorentina captain Davide Astori.
Astori, 31, was a former Italy national team colleague of Juve’s Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Claudio Marchisio, Mattia de Sciglio, and Daniele Rugani. Federico Bernardeschi matured at Fiorentina under Astori’s guidance and is said to be devastated by the news.
Juve are discussing how they might remember the respected Astori ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley.
Basel’s twilight zone
Ever since Basel suffered their 4-0 rout by Manchester City in the first leg of the knockout tie with Manchester City a little less than three weeks ago, they might have quietly hoped to put the experience behind them and concentrate on other matters.
But they will go into the second leg at the Etihad Stadium even more demoralised than they were when the final whistle sounded in Switzerland. The time between fixtures has not been kind.
Basel, well off the pace in the Swiss title race, lost their next home game to St Gallen. They were then knocked out the Swiss Cup by league leaders Young Boys.
If they hoped to recover some buoyancy at the weekend, they were foiled by a power cut. The loss of electricity plunged the St Jakob Arena into darkness ahead of Saturday’s fixture with FC Zurich and it was postponed.
Big George’s Legacy
Besides the magic of Paris, and home form, there is another good omen perhaps for PSG ahead of Real Madrid’s arrival: PSG have reversed a 3-1 deficit in a European tie against Madrid before.
It was back in 1992/93, and on the scoresheet in PSG’s 2-0 win in the second leg in France was one George Weah. The great striker, Ballon d’Or winner in 1995 and, as of January, president of his native Liberia, had good news this weekend. His son made his Ligue 1 debut - for PSG.
Timothy Weah is only just 18, too young to be in his club’s Champions League plans yet. But remember the name.
Everybody who ever watched football in the 1990s will.