Unai Emery, PSG look to overcome history against Real Madrid
Unaï Emery was 21 years old on March 18, 1993. On that unforgettable night at the Parc des Princes, PSG created one of the biggest moments in their history by knocking out the great Real Madrid 5-4 on aggregate 4-1 in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals, needing a 4-1 win in the second leg after losing 3-1 in Spain.
Twenty-five years later, the Parisians face the Merengues once again on Wednesday. This time it is Emery's turn, like Artur Jorge back in 1993, to come up with a tactical masterplan to win.
Paris likes playing Madrid in knockout stages. Their record against them is good, with two qualifications in two encounters (1993 and 1994). But never before have they faced such a strong Real side. However, on paper and on form, the current Ligue 1 leaders have what it takes to beat Zinedine Zidane's team. They will need the right guidance from Emery though.
The problem is that the Basque has always struggled against Madrid. He has faced them 20 times as a manager, resulting in only five victories, one draw and 14 defeats with Almeria, Valencia and Sevilla. More often than not, his team was battered by the Spanish giants. Emery's teams have conceded 51 goals against Real in those 20 matches (2.5 per game).
His teams were always inferior to Madrid on every level, though, so the task was always hard. Nevertheless, the record is still poor. His tactics were the same every time: play deep and counter.
Emery has never done well in Europe or against other big clubs. He has never beaten Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United, has a 1-1 record against both Bayern Munich and Juventus, has only won twice in 25 games against Barcelona and three times in 23 matches against Atletico Madrid.
This time is different. Emery has the personnel and firepower to beat anyone in Europe, even the best. He isn't coaching the weaker team or the underdog anymore; a lot of people see Paris as the favourites.
They will have to play like it: control the game, attack quickly, put pressure on the Madrid defence, be bold but rigorous defensively and have the MCN of Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar firing. If PSG let Madrid play their game, they will struggle.
Emery also never had a Neymar on his teams before either. The Brazilian superstar has to be PSG's X factor, the special ingredient that will make this team reach the next level and be able to beat opponents like Real Madrid. While at Barcelona, Neymar played eight times against Real Madrid: Barca got four wins -- including a 4-0 victory at the Bernabeu back in November 2015 -- one draw and three defeats, while he scored three goals and provided five assists.
On top of all of that, this is the first knockout game for Emery and PSG since "that" night in Barcelona last May (the 6-1 defeat to lose 6-5 in aggregate). The nightmare of the Camp Nou last season is still very present, although the players and Emery himself swear that they have moved on and learned from it. They have gained that experience and will never crumble again like on that humiliating evening.
They played with fear, on the back foot and far too deep against Barca. They were not themselves and will never do it again. However, there are still signs, especially away from home, that PSG are not always serene. We saw it in the 3-1 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich and in the 2-2 draw at Marseille, when Cavani rescued a point in the 93rd minute.
In an interview with Marca this week, Cavani spoke about the anxiety that the players feel about playing in Europe because of the pressure they are under to win the competition. It is not the right message before facing the back-to-back European champions.
Whatever happens on Wednesday -- and then on March 6 in the second leg -- this tie will have terrible repercussions on the losers. If PSG are out, Emery knows that even if he wins a domestic Treble, he will be out of a job in the summer. Indeed, he has a clause in his contract which triggers the option of a third season in charge of PSG, but only if the team reaches at least the semifinals of the Champions League.
If PSG are through, Emery would have written another glorious page of the club's history, like Artur Jorge and the 1993 team. And the dream of a first Champions League triumph would still be alive.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.