In a thoroughly entertaining game of football, Paris Saint-Germain kicked off the Champions League Round of 16 with a narrow 2-1 victory over Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea. The familiar names of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani ended up on the scoresheet for Laurent Blanc’s men but it will still be all to play for when the two sides meet again at Stamford Bridge tonight.
PSG have completely dominated French football for a number of years now but their ultimate goal is to win the Champions League. With a surely unassailable 23-point lead already established in Ligue 1, this season could be their best chance yet to succeed on the European stage.
Which players do they need at the top of their game in order to mount a serious Champions League challenge?
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At this stage of the competition every team is well organised and carries a threat going forward. Therefore every team needs a player who can break up play in the middle of the park as well as produce inch-perfect through balls, and for PSG, Thiago Motta is that man.
The former Barcelona and Inter midfielder is a strong character who boasts the best passing range in the PSG squad and at 33, he has a wealth of experience in Europe’s premier club competition. Not only does the Brazilian-born Italian have a wonderful appreciation of space and excellent technique, but he also isn’t afraid to make a tackle and is very strong in the air.
With energetic French international Blaise Matuidi providing the legs alongside him, Motta can concentrate on dictating the tempo of games and ensure that his team controls possession. He shares a master and apprentice style relationship with talented Italian Marco Verratti and, having already won the Champions League twice, Motta adds some much-needed knowhow to PSG’s ranks.
PSG captain Thiago Silva has been regarded as the best central defender in Europe over the past few seasons and it’s easy to see why based on his performances so far this term.
Nicknamed O Monstro (The Monster), Silva harasses and closes down opposition strikers with intensity, he seems composed in possession and he reads the game exceptionally well. In addition to his footballing ability, the 31-year-old Brazilian rarely gets caught out of position, he organises those around him and he is the undisputed leader of this PSG team.
His central defensive partner David Luiz has plenty of qualities but he certainly isn’t a world-class player from a defensive point of view. The former Chelsea man can be a bit suspect at the back, as Barcelona’s Luis Suarez proved last season, so Silva’s physical presence next to him is particularly important.
With Cavani being in and out of team of late, the goalscoring responsibility for Paris falls onto the shoulders of the maverick that is Ibrahimovic. The Swedish superstar has been a prolific goalscorer during his near 17-year career so far and he scores all types of goals, from tap-ins and headers to spectacular volleys and 35-yard overhead kicks.
Unlike most strikers, Ibrahimovic possesses creativity, imagination and is just as good in the air as he is with his feet. He is a clinical finisher, strong and surprisingly agile for some who is 6 ft 5 inches tall, and the man that PSG’s opponents will pinpoint as their main attacking threat.
The enigmatic centre-forward plays the game at his own pace, sparking into life whenever he wants to, and he possesses the quality to produce some magical passes and deft touches to launch his side into attack. With the likes of Lucas Moura and Angel di Maria willing to run beyond him, it makes Ibrahimovic’s vision, skill and exquisite hold-up play even more of a danger to the opposition.
He is undeniably one of the most gifted players of his generation but at 34 years of age, Ibrahimovic is running out of time to secure what would be the first Champions League trophy of his illustrious career. With only eight of his 46 goals in the competition coming in the knockout stages, the Swede will need to step up and make the difference when it counts the most.
That said, Ibrahimovic scored his first-ever goal against Chelsea in the win in the first leg and Blanc will be looking to his talisman to inspire Les Parisiens to European glory.
Along with German goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, Silva, Motta and Ibrahimovic form the spine of PSG’s team and the latter trio have been first-team regulars at Parc des Princes since 2012. All three players need to be at their very best if Paris Saint-Germain are going to have any chance of challenging the three favourites for this year’s competition – Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and the current holders Barcelona.
Will PSG progress past Chelsea to the last eight of the competition? Have YOUR say in the comment box below!