Wednesday, 2 October 2013

PSG vs Benfica: Champions League clash marks 100 days of Blanc

Today marks Laurent Blanc’s 100th in charge of Paris Saint-Germain.

Given the absolutely shambles that surrounded Carlo Ancelotti leaving and the search for his replacement, Blanc can feel pretty happy with his work to date.

The team is unbeaten in 10 games despite the change of manager and our selection problems at centre-back. And after initial concerns that some of the big name players wouldn’t comply with a coach who lacks Ancelotti’s profile, the likes of Thiago Silva and Zlatan are still around and have signed new deals.

What’s more, we’ve seen signs that the team is starting to play in the style of Blanc’s Bordeaux and France sides: “Laurent Blanc has another method and another system,” said goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu. “Before, we were looking to move forward quickly. Now, we try to have a long ball possession to find spaces with three attackers.”

“For now the lights are all green,” notes today’s Parisien. “But he [Blanc] knows better than anyone the fragility of his position at PSG.”

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether Blanc will be able to retain control of the team when we hit a poor patch of form. And the issue of effectively integrating Edinson Cavani into the team doesn’t look likely to go away any time soon, though as Cavani now has five goals in nine games one might suggest he’s already bedded in pretty well.

Our unbeaten run will come under stern inspection tonight in a Champions League match against an experienced Benfica side, albeit one that is struggling in its domestic competition and currently sits sixth in Portugal’s top flight.

Zlatan the Problembear is expecting a difficult encounter: “It's a very good test, against a good side with lots of experience in European competition,” he said.

“We are playing at home after winning our first game. It won't be easy on Wednesday against a top level opponent with great players. This is the Champions League and we want to get in a good position for the rest of the competition."

Benfica’s Messianic-sounding boss Jorge Jesus is unsurprisingly wary about the threat posed by Zlatan, Cavani et al.

"Both (Cavani or Ibrahimovic) are great," said Jesus. "I am not PSG manager but I think that great players can always play together.

"So if this is what you are questioning that is my answer: They are both great players."

It's lucky he showed a bit more insight when he was founding one of the world's great religions.

The teams last met at the Parc in March 2011, a Europa League match which ended in a 1-1 draw. Benfica progressed 3-2 on aggregate, having won the first leg in Portugal 2-1.

That night away fans made up at least half the crowd, and the city’s sizable Portuguese population will be out in force again tonight. I was going to make a joke about skiving concierges here, but realised it sounded a bit racist, so we’ll move on.

"We know we will be welcomed by the Portuguese community in France, and that is very important,” said Jesus.

"We hope they can create an amazing atmosphere for our players. We will feel as if we were in Portugal.”

PSG could be without Big Bad Blaise Matuidi, who picked up an ankle injury in training yesterday after a heavy tackle from Adrien Rabiot. The cunning Rabiot stands by to start if BBB doesn’t make it.

Barring any late problems, Alex should be back to partner Marquinhos in defence, while Cavani and Lavezzi are likely to return at the expense of Jezza Menez and Lucas.

Kick-off at the Parc des Princes is at 7.45pm GMT.


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