After playing to a disappointing 2-2 draw in the UEFA Champions League last Wednesday, Paris Saint-Germain’s season comes down to getting a result against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
Both PSG and City played at the weekend in their respective leagues to relatively easy opponents. Paris defeated EA Guingamp 2-0 on the road, starting their youngest lineup in 25 years. Lucas Moura scored a brace, which should be enough to see the Brazilian in the starting XI on Tuesday after being snubbed for Edinson Cavani in the first leg. There was plenty for Laurent Blanc to be happy about at Guingamp. Not only Lucas’ brace but also for the rest he was able to give the majority of his first team players.
There was one lone negative though. Kevin Trapp and Layvin Kurzawa were involved in a nasty collision that left the Frenchman with a broken nose and Trapp was subbed off at halftime for Salvatore Sirigu. There’s been no official news regarding the German’s availability other than he took a “big knock.” Paris are fortunate to have an experience keeper on their bench but Sirigu’s style of play can lead to panic at the back due to his affinity for punching corners.
Blanc says Trapp took a big knock vs. Guingamp. Will know tomorrow if he will be fit enough to face City. #EAGPSG
— Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip) April 9, 2016
Both teams now focus their attention to qualifying for the semifinals of the Champions League, a stage both clubs are eager to reach. Paris received a bit of a boost as reports claim Marco Verratti will be available. Whether he can play the full 90 or come on as a substitute, his involvement will be critical in securing a favorable result. Even if the Italian isn’t fully fit, Blanc may roll the dice. Not only is Verratti crucial to PSG’s possession-style game, his place in the midfield means Angel Di Maria can play on his preferred right-hand side of the attack instead of dropping into the midfield (to fill in for a suspended Blaise Matuidi).
Along with Matuidi, David Luiz is also suspended due to yellow card accumulation. On the surface, the loss of two regular starters appears to weaken Paris but given their poor form of late, it could be a blessing in disguise and how Blanc replaces them does favor the way PSG must play. From kickoff, the French champions must attack and score goals. Provided Verratti cannot make a recovery to start, Di Maria will drop into Matuidi’s place in the midfield with Lucas filling in for the Argentine in the attack along with Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Playing Di Maria in the midfield packs more punch to the attacking core and PSG should be able to take advantage of a relatively weak City center-back pairing of Nicolás Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala. Di Maria is a liability defensively but he does have experience in this role when he was at Real Madrid.
Speaking of the defense, Paris should get a boost via Luiz’s replacement, Marquinhos. Many supporters have been calling for the younger Brazilian to start over his fellow compatriot and in the biggest game of the season, Marquinhos will have an opportunity to stake a claim to the CB position. Serge Aurier is also expected to remain at right-back. While his return from suspension is seen as controversial by some, he is miles ahead of Gregory van der Wiel in terms of quality and Blanc has no choice but to start the Ivorian.
The importance of this game cannot be understated for Ibrahimovic. PSG’s all-time leading scorer is expected to depart the club this summer and this is potentially his last (and best) chance to win the Champions League. If Paris do fail to advance to the semifinals, the blame will largely go to Ibrahimovic, who missed a penalty kick and multiple other scoring chances he should have finished. Having said that, the Sweden international is one of the best players in football at handling pressure and I expect to see him make up for previous errors.
Paris Saint-Germain were guilty of poor finishing and boneheaded plays last Wednesday and yet, they head into the pivotal second leg of their tie with Manchester City tied 2-2. I can’t see PSG, will all of their quality—despite injuries and suspension—performing like that again. In the first leg, Paris had 64 percent of possession, 358 more completed passes, and more attempts on goal than City. If Marquinhos can solidify the back four and Ibrahimovic finish his chances, this should be a comfortable win for PSG. The key though is to not play from behind or get complacent if Paris do score first. City will rely on their two away goals and likely play defensively and wait to launch counter attacks with dangerous playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and the lethal striker Sergio Agüero. It’s up to the midfield to fuel the Parisian attack and keep the ball in City’s end of the pitch.
In 2011, Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports Investments laid out their plan to win the Champions League in five years. All of the hard work in transforming Paris Saint-Germain from an afterthought to European super club comes down to Tuesday and standing in their way is another rags-to-riches team with the same goals. Needless to say, this is the biggest game of the QSI-era.
Predicted PSG starters
Sirigu; Aurier, Marquinhos, Silva, Maxwell; Verratti, Motta, Rabiot; Lucas, Ibrahimovic, Di Maria
Manchester City: 1