The glitz! The glamour! The excitement! It must be that time of year again, as the UEFA Champions League group stage draw rolled back into Monaco to kick off this year’s edition of the world’s premier club competition. The scene was set for FC Barcelona, who were drawn into Group F; who would be the first team drawn into the group with the Blaugrana?
Finally, one of the most glamorous cities in the world has a football club with the stature to match: the influx of petrol-dollars into Paris has seen PSG transform from French laughing stock to European superpower in the matter of a few seasons and following a glut of Ligue Un title wins, the Qatari investors are anxious to progress on the continental front and win the UEFA Champions League.
They’ve been threatening to break into Europe’s elite for a couple of seasons, but have consistently fallen short; could this be their year? Well, they will not be happy to have been paired with the Blaugrana – more on that later – and with UEFA imposed sanctions affecting their squad size for this year’s competition thanks to their ignorance on the Financial Fair Play front, well, let’s just say it’s not looking great for Laurent Blanc’s side...
The Brazilian captain was tipped for World Cup glory in his home country this year, but we all know that didn’t quite work out. As such, time is running out for Thiago Silva to live up to his talent and actually succeed on the highest level, as let’s face it, Ligue Un titles are hardly worth mentioning. Regretting turning down FC Barcelona yet Thiago?
Other players might grab the glory, but without Blaise Matuidi, it’s certain that PSG would be far less functional than they currently are. As one of the few Frenchmen in the starting line-up, Matuidi is the side’s all-action midfielder – getting up and down the pitch to great effect. A tough tackler, apt passer and surprisingly calm finisher, Matuidi represents the greatest threat to Barça establishing their usual midfield dominance.
What else can we say about Zlatan? A failure at FC Barcelona, but a monstrous success everywhere else, Zlatan can be incredible, and he can be incredibly bad – it depends which version of him turns up on the night. Most of the time, he’s incredible – but in the biggest matches, on the biggest stages, he often falls short. Remember that semi-final against Internazionale for example? Let’s hope that Zlatan turns up at the Camp Nou.
Laurent Blanc won it all as a player on the international stage. The European Championships, the World Cup; Blanc lifted them all and has the medals to prove it but success on the continental stage at club level has eluded him and continues to haunt him as a manager. PSG had Chelsea at their mercy in last year’s quarter-finals, only to throw it all away. Blanc is capable, but is he good enough to be considered one of Europe’s best managers? We’ll find out in this group stage.
Similar to Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid last season, PSG operate in an all-action 4-3-3, when logically, a 4-2-3-1 would probably represent the most "stable" option given the players at Blanc’s disposal. In that sense, PSG can be susceptible at the back, especially with the signing of David Luiz, and they often struggle to link their midfield and their attack. Barcelona should expect to establish midfield dominance and could well pick off the Parisians, although they must take care to avoid the pace of Lavezzi and Lucas on the counter attack.
History with FC Barcelona
Best friends, right? Oh, right, the other thing. Following FC Barcelona’s long-standing pursuit of their club captain, it’s safe to say that PSG don’t really like us – they even threatened to sign Lionel Messi in retaliation – but let’s face it, the real reason for their disdain is that they wish they were us. They wish they could actually attract players with anything other than money, and they wish they could actually perform on the European stage. Blanc used to play for the club which might cool things down a touch, but I think after a couple of high-intensity matches and hopefully, a couple Barça wins, PSG will be right back wishing they were us.
All in all, I think it could have been worse...what do you think Culés?