The visit of Real Madrid to the French capital on Wednesday means a glamour tie for Paris Saint-Germain to begin their Champions League campaign but a meeting with the Spanish side also brings back unhappy memories.
When the clubs last met in Europe two seasons ago, a PSG side missing an injured Neymar were dumped out in the last 16.
That was one of three consecutive exits in the first knockout round for PSG, who have failed to make their mark on the Champions League despite all the money spent by their Qatari owners.
So the inevitable question at the start of another continental campaign is can Thomas Tuchel’s team this time at least reach a semi-final in Europe’s elite club competition?
Last season it was Manchester United who embarrassed PSG. Since 2012 the only teams PSG have beaten in a Champions League knockout tie are Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea.
The Neymar factor
For now, PSG will just be eager to make a statement in their opening match. But with Galatasaray and Club Brugge the other teams in Group A, it would be a monumental surprise if PSG failed to progress, even with Neymar suspended.
The world’s most expensive player has overshadowed everything else at the club in recent months, with the saga of his hoped-for move back to Barcelona and then his return to action at the weekend, featuring a brilliant winner against Strasbourg in response to boos from angry supporters.
“I am very pleased because now it is finished,” said Tuchel of the transfer saga.
Tuchel always wanted Neymar to stay. Saturday’s goal – his 52nd in 59 games for the club – illustrated why.
“My head is 100 percent focused on PSG. I will give everything, as I have at every club I have played for,” said Neymar.
“Unfortunately in the last two years I have had serious injuries and I have missed a lot of matches. But when I have played I have performed, and I think my statistics have been among the best of my career.”
There is no doubt the presence of Neymar gives PSG a far greater chance of winning the biggest prize in European club football, as long as he stays fit.
The club received a boost on Tuesday as Neymar’s Champions League ban for insulting match officials on social media has been reduced from three games to two following an appeal, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled.
He miss the fixtures against Real Madrid on Wednesday and Galatasaray in two weeks’ time due to the original ban from Uefa. However, he will now be free to face Belgian side Bruges on October 22.
The Brazilian criticised the referee and his assistants after PSG’s last-16 collapse against Manchester United in March which he watched from the stands due to injury. United were awarded a penalty deep into injury time after a protracted VAR decision, which Marcus Rashford scored to knock the French side out in the last 16 last season.
“It’s a disgrace. They get four guys who don’t understand football to watch a slow motion replay in front of the TV,” Neymar posted on his Instagram account after the 3-1 defeat.
Neymar scored an added time winner in his first PSG appearance of the season on Saturday as his overhead kick claimed all three points against Strasbourg.
He had not played for his club since May and had been left on the sidelines in their first four league games of the campaign because of the uncertainty surrounding his future after months of reports linking him with a move back to Barcelona or to Real.
As well as Neymar’s suspension against Real, Kylian Mbappe is still out with a hamstring injury, but the arrival of Mauro Icardi has added another explosive element to their attack.
Icardi was prolific for Inter before being stripped of the club captaincy last season amid a contract dispute. He signed on loan just before the transfer deadline.
It is elsewhere that Paris really needed to strengthen, though.
Tuchel was unable to settle on a first-choice goalkeeper last season between Alphonse Areola and Gianluigi Buffon. Both have since left and Keylor Navas has signed from Real Madrid to take over the gloves.
Abdou Diallo has provided an extra option in defence after arriving from Borussia Dortmund.
There has been major surgery in the midfield with the signings of Ander Herrera, Idrissa Gueye and Pablo Sarabia.
Whether Marco Verratti can blend with the newcomers to form a midfield as fearsome as it was in the days when he was flanked by Blaise Matuidi and the peerless Thiago Motta, remains to be seen.
Neymar is still there but, brilliant as he is, PSG know from experience that the Brazilian alone will not win them the Champions League.
“If we succeed in our group with these players, if we create a positive atmosphere in the squad, with all the potential we have, we can maybe do something big when we get to March,” sporting director Leonardo told RMC Radio.
“Honestly I think we can become a very strong team.”
(With AFP inputs)