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Beyond The Hype, Unai Emery is Stoking a 'French Revolution' in Europe

PSG manager Unai Emery (Getty Images)

PSG manager Unai Emery (Getty Images)

Two majestic goals from Angel Di Maria, one from a free-kick, and poacher's finish from Edinson Cavani meant both the birthday boys had delivered a present not just to themselves but to their manager as well. Another one from Draxler, meant PSG and Emery had completed 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona and completed their comeback.

Arnab Sen
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When someone is asked to take over from a manager who has won the league for three consecutive seasons, the task is already cut out for the new man. So, when Unai Emery took over the reins at Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) from Laurent Blanc at the beginning of this season, he knew he had to maintain the level of supremacy in Ligue 1 that PSG had enjoyed under the Frenchman.

Ever since being taken over by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, PSG has won the Ligue 1 for four consecutive seasons. The first came under Carlo Ancelotti, but after the Italian was wooed away to Spain by Real Madrid, former French international and World Cup winner Laurent Blanc led the team to a hat-trick of domestic titles.

Such has been PSG's domination of French football that they won the quadruple of Ligue 1, the Coupe de France, the Coupe de la Ligue and the Trophée des Champions for successive seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

But the club's middle-eastern owners, who had pumped in millions of dollars to make PSG one of the richest football clubs in the world, were not just happy with domestic success. They wanted the holy grail of European club football, the UEFA Champions League.

PSG played entertaining football, but were found wanting against the big names of Europe in the UEFA Champions League, losing at the quarter-final stage for the last four seasons. Twice being edged out on the 'away-goal' rule.

With the club failing to make it big in Europe, the owners decided to bring in Emery, who had guided Spanish club Sevilla to a hat-trick of Europa League titles. Emery, a former Spain international, was used to the pressure that comes with managing a top club, having already managed the likes of Valencia and Sevilla, but what Emery didn't experience before was the pressure of handling expectations.

Emery's life in the French capital began with his team's biggest goal poacher, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, leave on a free transfer to Manchester United. This coupled with high profile moves of David Luiz, to Chelsea, and Lucas Digne, to Barcelona, and the arrival of the talented Jese Rodriguez, from Real Madrid, meant PSG were a team in transition.

The absence of Ibrahimovic, meant Edinson Cavani had more responsibility on his shoulders but the Uruguayan found it difficult to score at the rate the Swede used to. An unsettled first team line-up led to defeats away at Monaco, Toulouse, Montpellier and Guingamp and PSG were down to seventh in the points table.

The likes of Jese were not firing and PSG failing to develop a distinct playing style, it looked like Emery would get the boot and his French sojourn would end on a bitter note as talks of his departure gained momentum in December. But the Spaniard wasn't ready to throw in the towel yet, as he brought in German winger Julian Draxler, from Wolfsburg, in the January transfer window to replace Jese and that worked like magic. The German's work rate and delivery gave PSG's attacking prowess an edge.

The result, a rejuvenated Edinson Cavani has been on a goal-scoring spree and with Angel Di Maria and Draxler also chipping in, PSG have won 5 out of their 6 matches in Ligue 1 this year, having drawn with league leaders Monaco after letting in an injury time goal. This run has seen PSG cut Monaco's lead at the top down to three points.

But the job wasn't done for Emery, remember the primary reason for his arrival was European success. So, the Round of 16 match against FC Barcelona was the litmus test for Emery, which he couldn't afford to fail.

Playing the first leg at home meant Emery's team had to be at their best against one of the top sides of the world. And on Tuesday they did just that. Knowing Barcelona's style of play well from his time in Spain, Emery deployed a high pressing style; not allowing the Catalans to settle down.

The pace of his attacking trio of Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler ensured counter-attacks were also an important ploy to target the suspect Blaugrana defence and the Parisians did just that at the Parc des Princes.

Two majestic goals from Angel Di Maria, one from a free-kick, and a poacher's finish from Edinson Cavani meant both the birthday boys had delivered a present not just to themselves but to their manager as well. Another one from Draxler gave PSG a 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona and completed their comeback.

Emery though is aware of Barcelona's ability to rise from the dead and he sounded cautious in the post match press conference.

"The only feeling I have is that the team had huge effort, and it paid off if we consider the great work of Barcelona."

"The message to the dressing room and to the squad is clear, we still have 90 minutes to go. We know we will suffer in Barcelona, we know it will be a long 90 minutes," Emery said.

With a passage to the quarters of the Champions League looking all but clear and the team gaining momentum in the domestic league, Emery is quietly bringing about a 'French Revolution'.

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