At the Stadium of Light in Lisbon, it will be Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and his teammates taking on a Leipzig squad with little Champions League experience. Leipzig has almost nothing to lose. For PSG, anything short of the title will feel like a disappointment for a club where a priority aim has been to break through with the European title after years of dominance in France.
“We don’t want to talk about pressure,” PSG midfielder Ander Herrera said through a translator on Monday. “It’s a great opportunity for us to be here in the semifinals of the Champions League. We are living a dream at the moment. We are ready for it, we are well prepared. We are not talking about any pressure.”
PSG became a European contender under its Qatari owners, but Leipzig is just starting to try to make its mark in Europe under energy drink company Red Bull, which in 2009 bought the license rights from fifth-tier club SSV Markranstaedt and financed the new team’s steady promotion through the lower leagues.
Leipzig reached the Bundesliga in 2016 and the Champions League a few years later, but it has become highly unpopular at home because of its fast rise financed by Red Bull, prompting rivals fans to often protest at games.
In its second Champions League appearance, the German club eliminated Tottenham in the round of 16 and Atlético Madrid in the quarterfinals. “PSG is one of the top clubs in Europe, of course, but we think we can hurt them,” Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann said “They can be dangerous, but we need to take some risks. If we try to play our game we we can hurt them. We can't just wait and react to what PSG will offer us.”
PSG, managed by German coach Thomas Tuchel, got past Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 and Atalanta in the quarterfinals. It enters the semifinals with the feeling that this finally could be the time it triumphs in Europe.
“We have a very capable team,” said defender Marquinhos, who scored one of the goals against Atalanta. “Not only the first team players, but at the moment our squad is much stronger compared to previous seasons.”
PSG was eliminated in the round of 16 in the last three seasons, and in the quarterfinals four straight times before that. Its last semifinal appearance was 25 years ago, when it lost to AC Milan. “We don’t talk about history, we live at the moment,” Tuchel said. “We are here because we played a great Champions League season. If it’s a historic moment, it's because we worked very hard for many, many months. We are hungry for success and we are here to win and to make all that hard work pay off. We can’t control the result but we will fight until the end.”
Tuchel coached Nagelsmann at Augsburg's reserve team in 2008. Nagelsmann, the youngest coach in a Champions League semifinal at 33, eventually became a scout for Tuchel after deciding to retire as a player at an early age because of injuries.
“I never expected that I would reach a Champions League semifinal and would be playing against him,” Nagelsmann said. PSG will again be led by the Red Bull-sponsored Neymar, who was signed to try to help the club make the leap and clinch the European title. On Tuesday, he is expected to have the full support from Mbappé and Ángel Di María. Mbappé couldn’t play the entire match against Atalanta because he was returning from injury, while Di María was suspended.
“You can't foresee their actions,” Nagelsmann said of Neymar and Mbappé. “They like to do things that you don't expect. It's difficult to defend them for 90 minutes, but we will try.” PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who had to be replaced against Atalanta because of a right leg muscle injury, was listed as doubtful. Veteran defender Thiago Silva was expected to play after tests showed only a low-grade tear in his right hamstring.
It is unclear if American player Tyler Adams, who scored Leipzig’s late winner over Atlético Madrid, will be on the bench again or will make the starting lineup.
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