Zlatan’s Resurgence Key to Champions League Success

Paris Saint-Germain’s victory over Chelsea F.C. last Wednesday was an important one for the club. It showed the world that last year’s win over the Blues was not a fluke and that the PSG project is indeed progressing. The win was credit to a stellar team performance but one man in particular stood out from the rest.

At 34-years-old, Zlatan Ibrahimovic proved his critics wrong and was the driving force in PSG’s win at Stamford Bridge. We previously said after the first game of the tie that Ibra looked like a man on a mission and the return leg was no different.

The media was was not kind to Ibrahimovic heading into the knockout stage—recalling his past failures in the UEFA Champions League against the elite teams. Now that Paris have advanced, the big Swede has the last laugh as he was involved in three of their four goals (scoring two and assisting one). This new-found resurgence on the European stage has now led many to begin to wonder if PSG finally have the pedigree to go all the way in Europe.

Most of the aforementioned criticism wasn’t unfounded though. Zlatan’s performances in the competition last season, coupled with the early part of the group stages this season, seemed to show his age and many believed the team may be better off without him in the starting lineup. The home game against Real Madrid earlier in the season in particular was a clear example of this.

After the slow start to the season, Zlatan has turned it around and brought his impressive domestic form to the Champions League. This has led to the improvement of the attacking unit as a whole, which we had repeatedly complained about earlier in the season for their failure to produce.

Beating Chelsea on their home turf was the highlight of the season so far and qualifying this time without the help of away goals is a sign of PSG’s improvement. Although, it must be said that Chelsea on their part have regressed quite a bit since the two teams met last season. The win was an important one though as teams with a victory at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League knockout round have gone on to the tournament’s championship game. Definitely a good omen for Parisian supporters.

Heading into the final eight of the Champions League, with their opponent yet to be determined, Paris Saint-Germain must improve certain aspects of their game, especially the defense. During the group stage, PSG were solid, only conceding one goal against Real Madrid thanks to a Kevin Trapp error. Against Chelsea though, the defensive unit allowed many more chances in both games and Paris were lucky to only hold them to two goals in as many games. If PSG are going to win the Champions League, Blanc will need to get the defensive tactics spot on and the midfield in particular will need to do their job to protect the back four.

Anything less than reaching the semifinals this season will be seen as a failure and I still wouldn’t put it past management to sack Blanc if a better manager comes available. At full strength, I believe PSG could go toe-to-toe with any of the clubs remaining in the Champions League. However, with key players potentially out for the quarterfinals due to injury (Marco Verratti) or in-house suspension (Serge Aurier, although he’ll be back by then I don’t expect him to waltz back into the starting lineup just days after returning), and some just one caution away from suspension (Ibrahimovic, Blaise Matuidi, David Luiz, Verratti), I’d prefer a relatively easy draw. I have a hunch we’ll get Benfica but Manchester City or Wolfsburg would be satisfactory as well.

Assuming, Ibrahimovic can continue his new found European form and the defense returns to form, this could be the year Les Parisians finally get the Champions League monkey off their back.

Tags Champions League Chelsea Zlatan Ibrahimovic
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