Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery is confident his side can get the better of Real Madrid as he looked ahead to next month’s heavyweight Champions League showdown in an interview with AFP.
And Emery dismissed suggestions that defeat to the reigning champions would constitute a failure for a club that invested huge sums in Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Dani Alves in the hope of winning the Champions League.
“It is a chance for us to show that we are at the same level as them, that we can beat the best teams,” the Spaniard said as his team prepares to return to action following the French winter break.
PSG play their first game of 2018 on Sunday away to Rennes when they begin their defence of the French Cup.
Their January schedule will be taken up by domestic action, but a nine-point lead over Monaco and Lyon at the top of Ligue 1 means they will perhaps already be starting to think about the first leg of their last-16 tie in Madrid on February 14.
“I always think positive,” said Emery. “We will prepare well to come into the tie strong and compete with Real. I think we can win.”
PSG are driven by the memory of what happened at the same stage of the competition last season, when they lost 6-1 away to Barcelona to go out having won 4-0 at home in the first leg in the French capital.
“We can learn a lot of things from that tie,” Emery said. “I think after that tie, and after the extra step PSG have taken, we will see teams, UEFA, referees have more respect for us, and I think we are now better prepared.”
– Good for France –
The extent of PSG’s spending under their Qatari owners has not made themselves popular with Europe’s traditional elite.
A combined outlay of around 400 million euros ($483 million) on Neymar and Mbappe alone — the two most expensive transfer deals in history — have led to questions as to how PSG can comply with UEFA’s financial fair play rules.
But Emery, the former Sevilla coach, said: “When I was in Spain, there were two clubs with huge financial power, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Real bought the best players in the world, (Luis) Figo, (Zinedine) Zidane, Ronaldo.
“In Spain, nobody ever talked about where the money they spent was coming from. And for Spanish football it was very good.
“I am at PSG, in Paris which is one of the most visited cities in the world, with great culture.
“When the possibility arose for a financial power like that of Qatar to come in, and to have some of the best players in the world… I think the whole of France, French clubs are happy.
“It is normal that other teams are saying ‘wow’ because there is now greater competition.
“Outside the club there is a lot of talk about the financial fair play. Here, the club is on the right road, within the rules of financial fair play.”
Nevertheless, it seems certain that PSG will trim their wage bill during this month’s transfer window in order to balance the books. The likes of Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore and former Newcastle striker Hatem Ben Arfa look likely to move on.
However Emery insisted that Argentina midfielder Pastore had not asked for a move amid talk that he could return to Italy.
He added: “Certain players who play less can maybe be protagonists in another team because they are good players and they don’t have the chance to play here, like Lucas Moura or Hatem Ben Arfa.”