Tuesday, 18 September 2012

PSG in the Champions League: How far can we go?

It often seems that Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sense of reason has, like Kate Middleton’s bikini top, gone badly astray.

But the big Swede, who has made a habit of bigging himself up throughout his long and glittering career, was in surprisingly reflective mood ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash between Paris Saint-Germain and Dynamo Kiev.

"Don't get me wrong, I want to win the Champions League. But let's take things match by match, step by step. When Manchester City were knocked out in the group stage last season, it didn't necessarily mean they were a bad team, just that they lacked experience in the competition," said Ibra.

"In my opinion, you mustn't just focus on the Champions League. The most important thing, absolutely vital in fact, is to win the league. When you've established your dominance in your own country, then you can think about transferring that to the European stage."

His view was one reflected by boss Carlo Ancelotti, who told the assembled press yesterday: “I don't think we can say today that PSG is the favourite. I think we can say that PSG has a lot of ambition and wants to do well in the biggest competition in Europe.

"We have players with experience and we have a coach who has a lot of experience."

Crikey, an outbreak of realism at the Parc-des-Princes, whatever next?

It does raise an interesting point, though, as to what the criteria for success is as we prepare for the first Champions League campaign of the QSI era.

Ibra mentioned Manchester City, and they are probably the only similar club we can use as a comparison point. Their debut Champions League campaign last year saw them fail to make it out of their group, and football people often say the strain of playing two high-level matches a week takes a while to get used to.

Having said that, PSG now have a spine of players – the Thiagos, Silva and Motta, along with Ibrahimovic – who are accustomed to this, and they have what is, on paper, a much easier group than City, who were pitted against Bayern Munich, Napoli, and Villareal.

On balance I would say making it out of the group should be our minimum target, and the home games, starting with tonight’s match, will be crucial to that. PSG were pretty woeful on the road in the Europa League last year, and if we can get nine points on the board from the three games at the Parc-des-Princes, we should be well on our way to the last 16.

After that I would look at anything we can do as a bonus. There’s no reason why, with a favourable draw, we can’t make the quarter-finals, but I suspect any further progress might be a bit beyond us at this stage of the “project”.

Making predictions at this time of year is a bit of a minefield because a lot can – and probably will - happen between now and the end of the group stage in December. But it’s good to hear Carlo and Ibra speaking in such measured tones, and hopefully the players will go out and enjoy the experience, rather than carrying the burden of massive expectations. Allez Paris!


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