PSG ready for acid test of European ambitions

25 March 2014 01:31

When Qatar Sports Investments bought Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, they gave themselves five years to win the Champions League, but hopes are high in the French capital that they could get there ahead of schedule.

Having matched last season's achievement of reaching the quarter-finals of Europe's leading club competition, PSG are now preparing to face Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in this year's last eight next month.

It will be the first true test of Laurent Blanc's side, who have not been suitably challenged domestically and have cruised through to this stage in Europe without having to play any of the continent's biggest names.

PSG have lost just one league game since March last year and last Friday's 1-0 victory at Lorient allowed them to make it a club record eight wins on the bounce in all competitions.

Under Blanc, they are 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 and are almost certain to retain the title won last year under Carlo Ancelotti. They have scored 70 goals in 30 league matches and Zlatan Ibrahimovic alone has 40 in all competitions, breaking the club record for the most goals in one campaign.

But they are only doing what their enormous budget means they should be doing. In France, no other club can really compete financially -- not even Monaco -- and that gulf has translated onto the field.

Two draws in two games against Monaco and a draw at home to third-placed Lille before Christmas suggest that it has not been a cakewalk, but even Blanc himself says that their domestic league is not enough of a challenge to prepare them for the pressures of Europe.

Even there they have not been presented with a true test of their credentials, having cruised through a group containing the modest trio of Olympiakos, Benfica and Anderlecht before brushing aside a struggling Bayer Leverkusen.

- Ready for the big step up? -

No wonder sports daily L'Equipe's front page headline asked if PSG were 'Ready For The Big Step Up' prior to the draw being made last Friday, and Chelsea will be just that.

Possession is king for PSG, with Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Yohan Cabaye all available to Blanc in midfield, but Mourinho's side will be happy for their opponents to have the ball.

Chelsea will also ask serious questions of a defence that has looked vulnerable at times in Europe this season - goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu was PSG's best player in the second leg against Leverkusen, and a fractured cheekbone suffered by captain Thiago Silva against Lorient is a cause for alarm.

Silva and Ibrahimovic are the biggest influences in this PSG side and, at the age of 32, the latter is personally driven by the desire to win the biggest prize of all in club football having fallen short so many times before.

In France, observers are confident of PSG's credentials, with 60 percent of those responding to a L'Equipe poll saying that Blanc's side would beat Chelsea, while Mourinho himself tried to claim at the weekend that PSG against his side.

The financial incentive is certainly there for PSG, with the club's mega-rich owners offering a bonus of 1 million euros (£833,000, $1.38m) per player if they can win the trophy this year.

But that might prove a step too far. After all, this season's quarter-final line-up is the strongest in recent memory, with all eight clubs advancing having won their groups.

Six of the eight quarter-finalists have won the European Cup 23 times between them. Atletico Madrid have at least been to the final.

"There are teams who have a legitimacy in the Champions League in terms of experience that we don't have, but I think the consideration that our opponents have for us has increased," said Blanc recently, although PSG need only look to Chelsea if they doubt that patience might still be required even when throwing enormous of money chasing the dream.

A decade ago, the London club were themselves new to this level and they reached the last eight or further seven times in 12 seasons before finally winning the trophy in 2012.

Source: AFP