Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Olympiacos vs PSG: Parisiens seek to use the force as Champions League returns

Tonight is the start of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League episode two: The Empire Strikes back.

One might argue we never really had an Empire in the first place, so it will be difficult to strike back, but what is true is that the squad assembled by the Emperor (President Nasser) and his evil side-kick Darth Vader (Leonardo) is currently in a galaxy far, far, away (Greece) preparing to taking on Olympiacos.

So far during his reign Laurent Blanc has often resembled one of those startled officers who has to hastily take command of the Death Star after Vader has bumped off his predecessor. But Friday night's match against former club Bordeaux saw PSG put in an impressive display, and the ex-France coach will be hoping for a repeat of that showing in the Karaiskakis Stadium.

"If we can win and play like we did against Bordeaux we will be very happy," said Blanc. "It also depends on our opponents. I know this stadium well after having come here as coach of Bordeaux and as a player with Manchester United. 

"The atmosphere will be electric, but we know it, but we are ready. We will try and control the possession and be more dangerous than our opponents."

I assume he means controlling the possession through our silky midfield skills, and not using any Jedi mind tricks. Perhaps I'm stretching this analogy a little bit too far.

Anyway, the boss continued: "Alex is injured and we have two players that can replace him. I have made my decision, but I will keep it to myself. 

"We will keep the same formation as against Bordeaux, even though I may change certain players. The aim is to play as well as possible to get a positive result and make a good start to this competition. It's a great challenge. 

"To go a long way in the Champions League, you have to take it step by step and the first step is the group stage. There are some great challenges coming up for Paris Saint-Germain."

Indeed, Blanc could opt for youth (Marquinhos) or experience (Zoumana Camara) to replace Alex, who picked up a thigh strain in training on Saturday. I reckon he'll give Marquinhos his debut. Edinson Cavani should return in place of Hervin Ongenda, and I'd expect the experience of Maxwell to give him the edge over Lucas Digne at left-back.

What do we know about Olympiacos? The Greek Super League champions are bossed by Real Madrid legend Michel, and their squad contains a curious mixture of nationalities that probably sums up top-level European football in 2012: Among Costa Ricans, Croatians, and, er, Roy Carroll, there are several familiar faces to Ligue 1 fans, including former Rennes defender Gaitan Bong, ex-Auxerre and Monaco man Delvin N'Dinga, and Sambou Yatabare, latterly of Bastia. Fans of old-school Championship Manager will also be pleased to note the presence of Javier Saviola on their roster - is there still time for him to become the best striker in the world before he retires? Probably not.

Last time Blanc was in Piraeus, he steered his Bordeaux side to a 1-0 win in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash with Olimpiacos in February 2010. If he harnesses the power of our attacking force correctly, there's no reason history can't repeat itself.


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