After 462 days of hiatus, Luis Enrique returned, on March 21, to an old habit inherited from the World Cup in Qatar and his mandate at the head of the Spanish selection: a live broadcast on the Twitch streaming platform. The opportunity to announce the creation of a foundation named after his daughter, internet users, for the first time since taking office on the bench of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), in the summer of 2023.

Among the subjects discussed, there was obviously the question of the Champions League. Wednesday April 10, at 9 p.m., PSG welcomes FC Barcelona, ​​​​at the Parc des Princes, for the first act of their double confrontation, with a place in the semi-final of the competition at stake. “It’s going to be difficult”, predicts the Asturian, and “not only because Barça is Barça”, five-time winner of the “big ears cup”.

It’s not the Catalans’ “best season”, Luis Enrique knows that. But, they remain “very dangerous” nonetheless. A look at their squad is enough to be convinced of this. Goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen, defenders Ronald Araujo, Pau Cubarsi, Jules Koundé, midfielders Frenkie de Jong, Ilkay Gundogan, attackers Lamine Yamal and Robert Lewandowski… How many of them could easily claim a starting place in the Parisian group? “At least seven,” according to the technician. “Seven means a team of a very high level. »

To say that Luis Enrique knows his evening opponent well is an understatement. “Culer” – supporter – of Barça “for twenty-five years”, the former midfielder wore the jersey from 1996 to 2004, before becoming its coach ten years later. He is also the last coach to have lifted the Champions League trophy with the Catalans, in 2015. It was he, too, who was in charge on March 8, 2017, for a past Barcelona-PSG to posterity, that of the “remontada”. Even though they seemed to have one foot in the quarters, buoyed by their 4-0 success in the first leg, the Parisians collapsed on the return leg on the Nou Camp pitch. Final score 6-1, synonymous with the elimination of the Parisians.

Five games without conceding a goal in La Liga

Facing him, on Wednesday, the Asturian will meet an old acquaintance: Xavi, who was his teammate between 1998 and 2004, then his captain in 2014-2015. The former midfielder’s final match as a player with the Blaugranas was the victorious final against Juventus Turin on June 6, 2015, at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

Arriving on the bench of his training club in the fall of 2021, in what was the worst period in its recent history, Xavi has already won the title of champion of Spain, in 2023, thus ending four years of drought in Liga. But the first part of the 2023-2024 financial year was more complicated for Barça, eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey, humiliated by Real Madrid in the final of the Super Cup, left behind in La Liga by its great rival… point to fear of a white season.

On January 27, after a home rout against Villarreal (3-5), Xavi announced his departure on June 30. From ? His men have never lost a match in all competitions. Better still, they have not conceded a goal in their last five league matches.

The Catalans were also able to fully plan for the quarter-final against PSG, benefiting from a ten-day break due to the Copa del Rey final. Enough to give them an advantage against their evening opponents, who continued the semi-final of the Coupe de France – victorious 1-0 against Rennes – on April 3, then the 28th day of Ligue 1 against Clermont, three days later – even if Luis Enrique rotated his group – “We are ready for any match, especially for the Champions League”, brushed off the coach on Saturday after the draw (1- 1) against the red lantern of the championship.

“Every year this period is a turning point.”

In the absence of freshness, it is perhaps discipline that could shift the balance of power. Seven Barcelona players, including several executives, could miss the return match – scheduled for April 16, at the Lluis-Companys Olympic Stadium – in the event of another yellow card: Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, Lamine Yamal, Sergi Roberto, Frenkie de Jong, Joao Felix and Ferran Torres. There are three in the ranks of the capital club to risk such a sanction – Lucas Hernandez, Milan Skriniar and Manuel Ugarte (Achraf Hakimi being suspended this Wednesday).

Over the last thirty years, PSG and Barça have played twelve matches in the Champions League, with, on arrival, four successes for the first, four for the second and as many draws. Their last double confrontation, during the round of 16 of the 2020-2021 edition, turned to the advantage of the Ile-de-France residents.

“Every year this time is a turning point. At the end of April, we will have an indication of the type of season we are likely to have. But, given the dynamic we currently have, I am sure that we will give everything. Afterwards, the result is in God’s hands! », argued Kylian Mbappé in the show “Téléfoot”, on TF1, Sunday.

Undefeated since November 27, 2023, Paris is still in the running for a hypothetical treble. If he eliminates FC Barcelona, ​​he will find Borussia Dortmund or Atlético de Madrid in the semi-final, opponents theoretically within his reach. Enough to motivate his number 7, determined to make a little more of the club’s history before leaving this summer. Xavi and the Blaugranas have been warned, they who will undoubtedly be keen to make a mark against Mbappé, who everyone is announcing will be with the Madrid rival next season.