ALLEZ LES BLEUS! – Dark horses PSG aim for Champions League glory
Friday’s UEFA Champions League quarter final draw in Nyon was one of the most highly anticipated for a number of seasons and delivered four mouth-watering ties as European football’s flagship competition reaches it’s business end.
Manchester United will take on current holders Bayern Munich, while an all-Spanish affair sees Barcelona and Atlético Madrid fight it out for a place in the semi finals. Last years runners up, Borussia Dortmund, were handed the unenviable task of a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of their tie with Real Madrid.
With Bayern heavy favourites to retain the prestigious title, the matter of who can knock the German outfit off of their perch has become a topic of conversation of late. One club that has slipped under the radar amid the progression of the Bundesliga leaders and their rivals is that of Paris Saint Germain.
The Ligue 1 side were drawn against Chelsea; a tie that has been met with a mixed bag of emotions from fans of the London side. The general consensus among supporters of the Premier League club is that the draw could have been a lot worse having avoided the likes of Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid. However, with the Parisians currently walking away with the Ligue 1 title and reaching the final of the Coupe de la Ligue, can Chelsea really afford to take the big-spending French outfit lightly?
Having already been dubbed the battle of the “nouveaux riche”, the sides will play out the first leg at the Parc des Princes in the first week of April, with the return leg taking place at Stamford Bridge a week later. Laurent Blanc has admitted that making the most of home comforts will be imperative in their quest of progression to the semi-finals. Despite his admission, the former Bordeaux and Manchester United defender will be confident ahead of what promises to be a scintillating affair.
The last time the two sides met was in the group stage of the Champions League during the 2004/05 season. Chelsea ran out 3-0 victors in the match at the Parc des Princes and a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge two months later ensured José Mourinho’s men progressed to the last 16 as group winners.
Since then, Chelsea have invested heavily in their playing staff and won both the Champions League and Europa League in successive seasons. The return of the “special one” prompted talk of a repeat of their 2012 exploits in Munich but any hope of reaching the final rests on overcoming the challenge of the newly-rich Paris side. Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s money has been spent wisely and on players that were guaranteed to be successful in the French capital.
Despite narrowly missing out on the title in the first season after the cash injection to Montpellier, PSG were dominant in 2012/13 and have one hand already on the prestigious trophy this campaign, sitting eight points ahead of second placed Monaco. It is also essential to remember just how close PSG ran Barcelona last season in the quarterfinal. Since then, the club have evolved and added a number of impressive signings to its ranks to move onto the next level.
The Parisians have lost just one game this season and have amassed a hugely impressive tally of 69 goals in Ligue 1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is top of the pile when it comes to goalscorers, having netted 25 times. His rich vein of form isn’t limited to just the domestic league, however, the Swede has crushed the opposition in the Champions League (most notably Anderlecht and Bayer Leverkusen) notching 10 goals in just 7 appearances.
Scoring goals is obviously not a problem for PSG, with big-money summer signing Edinson Cavani scoring 21 goals in 33 games so far. The former Napoli hitman has four goals in six Champions League matches and 14 in Ligue 1.
Chelsea’s frontline is less impressive however. Fernando Torres has failed to represent value for money since his £50 million move from Liverpool in 2011. The Spanish international has scored just nine goals in 30 appearances this term, four of which have come in the Champions League. Samuel Eto’o has also found the going tough in the top tier of English football, scoring just 10 times in 30 games.
While Chelsea haven’t been prolific in front of goal, they have only conceded 23 times, the best defensive record in the Premier League. Mourinho’s sides are characteristically solid defensively and much of his success has come as a result of a dominant rearguard. Chelsea, though, come up against a team that has conceded only 19 goals in the league and just five in their six group stage matches.
PSG’s most influential signing besides Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the capture of Brazilian central defender, Thiago Silva. Arguably the best centre half in the world, Silva holds the captains armband and has been a mainstay alongside former Blue, Alex, in the heart of the PSG defence.
A statistic that will make for pleasant viewing for PSG is that of possession. Blanc’s side are currently third in the rankings of possession in Europe. Averaging 64.5%, PSG have shown that they are comfortable on the ball.
Although possession often means little (Swansea City currently lie in fourth place in possession rankings but are 14th place in the Premier League), PSG utlise the ball more effectively, ensuring an end product or shot on goal. Not only are they a side comfortable with the ball at their feet, without the ball they are patient and well drilled.
The hard working midfield trio of Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti dovetail wonderfully and work in tandem with one another, whether that’s going forward or tracking back and attempting to win the ball. The tenacity and vision of Verratti and Motta helps set up blistering attacks with the pace of Matuidi and the abundance of highly skilled wingers.
Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura offer huge amounts of skill and pace and can be interchanged with Javier Pastore or Jeremy Menez. The capital club holds huge amounts of strength in depth and have a number of personnel to help the cause. Yohan Cabaye, Marquinhos and Edinson Cavani find themselves on the bench regularly, alongside the likes of future star Lucas Digne and the aforementioned Pastore and Menez.
Although weaknesses can be found in the full-back positions, Maxwell offers experience on the left hand side, while Gregory van der Wiel is a right sided full back with an undying love of going forward. Up against Eden Hazard and Willian, however, his advancement into the Chelsea have may be limited in the return leg at Stamford Bridge.
The tie promises to entertain and thrill in equal measure, but Chelsea will have to perform better than they did against Turkish side, Galatasaray. Should the Blues put in a lacklustre performance similar to that of the first leg in Turkey, they will be punished and could face a difficult task in London. This tie will undoubtedly have every football fan on the edge of their seats. PSG are a different kind of beast to the one that narrowly missed out on the semi finals last season and will represent the toughest task that Chelsea have faced this season.
Paris Saint Germain have remained out of the Champions League spotlight and taken care of business in an efficient and professional manner. They will look to take advantage of being overshadowed by the household names of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich and mount a serious challenge on Europe’s elite.
This year could just belong to Paris.