PSG vs. Barça: Can Mbappé decide epic European rivalry again?

Three years on from their last encounter in the round of 16, a new chapter in the rivalry between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona will be written on Wednesday when they face each other in the Champions League quarterfinals. This time, there is no Lionel Messi, Neymar or Luis Suárez in either camp, but PSG manager Luis Enrique, a Barça legend, is now going up against his former captain, Xavi Hernández, who is looking to deliver a trophy for the Blaugrana before he steps down at the end of the season.

Superstar Kylian Mbappé will take on Robert Lewandowski in the battle of the forwards, while teenage prodigies Warren Zaïre-Emery and Lamine Yamal will look to steal the show. This tie has drama, glamour, tension and history written all over it, so let’s break down some of those storylines and talking points.

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Can Mbappé punish Real Madrid’s archrivals?

Between now and the end of the season, every game in a PSG shirt will be critical for Mbappé as he nears a move away from the club, with sources telling ESPN that Real Madrid is his destination. When he scored twice in San Sebastián against Real Sociedad in the last round, all of Spain was watching him and taking note. Mbappé certainly played like he wanted to impress before crossing the Pyrenees in the summer to join Los Blancos.

It will be even bigger against Barça. As a future Merengue, successfully eliminating their archrivals from the competition would please his future fans so much. Even if Luis Enrique has been ruthless with him, taking him off early in some recent games (against Monaco and Marseille) and even starting him on the bench (against Reims and Nantes,) Mbappé wants to finish his PSG career on the highest note possible. He has scored 39 goals in 40 games for his club this season, he will win the league and perhaps also the Coupe de France against Lyon on May 25.

But the Champions League is his dream. It is the reason he stayed two more years at PSG, and there are three rounds between him and the fulfillment of his ambition. The Catalans are the first obstacle, however, and Mbappé is relishing it.

Luis Enrique and his Barça legacy

The two quarterfinals, home and away, will be special evenings for Luis Enrique. A former Barcelona player (1996-2004) and manager (2014-17), he is a club legend. He led the team to their last Champions League triumph as part of a famous treble in 2015, he won a Cup Winners’ Cup as a player against PSG in the final in 1997 and he lifted four LaLiga titles in total with the Catalan side. Although he is from Gijón, in the northwestern region of in Asturias, he feels strongly about Barcelona; the club, the city, the people and the mentality.

As usual, it will be The Luis Enrique Show before, during and after both games because he seemingly loves to be the centre of attention, but he also wants to do the job. He has another year on his contract and is happy in Paris. His name has been mentioned as a potential option when Xavi leaves Barcelona in June, but he confirmed on his Twitch channel three weeks ago that he was staying in the French capital next season. Regardless, facing “his” Barça will mean much more to him than any other game has for a long time, perhaps ever.

A European classic

There was 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2021 and now 2024: PSG vs. Barcelona has become a European classic in the last 10 years or so. The only group-stage encounters were in 2014 (with a win each), while all the other games were in the knockout phase. In 2013, Carlo Ancelotti’s PSG lost on away goals (2-2 in Paris, 1-1 in Spain). In 2015, en route to their 2015 treble, Barça’s “MSN” (Messi-Suárez-Neymar) trio was too strong, winning 5-1 on aggregate. In 2021, Mbappé scored a hat trick at Camp Nou and another goal in Paris in the second leg to knock out Messi.

But obviously, the most iconic and legendary game was the famous “Remontada” comeback in 2017. After losing 4-0 in Paris in the round-of-16 first leg, Barcelona and Luis Enrique produced one of the greatest comebacks of all-time, winning 6-1 at home with a 95th-minute goal and plenty of controversy. More memorable than how the Catalans did it, the way the Parisians collapsed and crumbled was incredible and still scars the club to this day.

An ideal pathway to the final?

This draw has also given the tie a lot more appeal because the winner will face Atlético Madrid or Borussia Dortmund in the semifinals. Surely PSG or Barcelona would be favourites against either the Colchoneros or BVB, especially with the second leg at home. So beating their European rivals would open the door nicely toward another Champions League final, which would be incredible for Mbappé for his last game for PSG. He would have the chance to avenge 2020 and the defeat at the last hurdle against Bayern Munich (1-0).

It would also have been unthinkable for Xavi and his team a few weeks ago when he announced he was leaving at the end of the season to be 90 minutes away from a Champions League triumph. There is still some way to go, but the dream is very much alive.