x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

PSG believe they belong among Europe’s elite

'We’ll try and impose our philosophy as often as we can and it would be wonderful to progress playing this way,' PSG manager Laurent Blanc said ahead of their Uefa Champions League quarter-final, second-leg match at Chelsea, writes Jonathan Wilson.

PSG manager Laurent Blanc looks on during a training session at Stamford Bridge on Monday, April 7, 2014 in London, England. His team meets Chelsea in a Uefa Champions League quarterfinal, second-leg match on Tuesday. Julian Finney/Getty Images
PSG manager Laurent Blanc looks on during a training session at Stamford Bridge on Monday, April 7, 2014 in London, England. His team meets Chelsea in a Uefa Champions League quarterfinal, second-leg match on Tuesday. Julian Finney/Getty Images

LONDON // For Paris Saint-Germain, tonight’s Uefa Champions League quarter-final second leg is not just about the result and potentially reaching the last four of the competition, it is also about asserting themselves as a European force.

Again and again the manager, Laurent Blanc, and the midfielder Blaise Matuidi have repeated that they would play according to the team’s philosophy, that they would not sit back and look to absorb pressure in looking to protect a 3-1 lead from the first leg, but would try to assert themselves. So often was the line reiterated that it felt, if not conscious policy, then at least something that had been discussed.

“We have a philosophy of play and the level of Ligue 1 is one, and the level of the CL is completely different,” Blanc said.

“But we believe in certain things: taking the game to the opposition is the best way to win trophies. Our philosophy is an attacking one. If we want to be a top-level European side, we have to put this philosophy into practice, both at the Parc des Princes but also away from home.

“I think we’ll have some issues in the first 20 minutes tomorrow, when they’ll be very aggressive and try and score, so we’ll have to be calm and counteract Chelsea’s play, as we did in the second half of the first leg. We’ll try and impose our philosophy as often as we can and it would be wonderful to progress playing this way.”

Even before the first leg, the narrative coming out of PSG has been that they had psychological as well as footballing hurdles to overcome. They have no great European history and so, for all the experience of many of their players, there is a mental leap that must be taken to persuade themselves and the world that this is a team capable of European success.

There is also, of course, the mental pressure of living up to the demands of the Qatari owners.

“On a national level they want to win everything, which is only right given the amount of investment they’ve made,” said Blanc. “In Europe, the objective is to win the Champions League. That’s clear. But they recognise it’s a trophy that is very difficult to win, but one they hope to claim one day.

“Last season we reached the quarter-finals. We have the chance to go a bit further and I think the real ambition of the club is to win the Champions League as soon as we can. But this can take time. Chelsea is an example of that, who took a long time before they won it despite investing a lot of money.”

Chelsea came from 3-1 down to beat Napoli in the last 16 on their way to winning the trophy two seasons ago and the away goal scored in Paris last week does offer them a glimmer of hope.

Jose Mourinho’s home record is formidable and it does seem as though he will have Samuel Eto’o back from a hamstring injury, somebody who at least seems closer to Mourinho’s idea of a “real striker” than Fernando Torres does. Eto’o did not take full part in training yesterday but he was out on the training pitch at Cobham going through a personalised stretching routine.

The other major issues of personnel are the absences of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to injury and Ramires to suspension. Ramires will likely be replaced by John Obi Mikel for Chelsea, with Lucas Moura likely to come in for Ibrahimovic resulting in Edinson Cavani being moved into the middle for the visitors.

“He [Ibrahimovic] is our top goalscorer and our top assist maker, but we have a lot of good players to replace him, not least Edinson Cavani,” said Matuidi.

“We’ve shown in the past we can cope without him, but now we must do everything in our power to make sure he has a semi-final to look forward to.”

If they do, PSG will feel they are just a little more established.

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