The last time a French club won the European Cup ÔÇô Michael Jordan had just retired from the NBA for the first time, the World Wide Web was born at CERN, Jurassic Park was breaking box office records and Kurt Cobain released his last studio album.
Yes, one has to go back twenty years to the day when Didier Deschamps lifting the┬áChampions League┬áfor Olympique De Marseille. No side from France has lifted old ÔÇÿbig-earsÔÇÖ since and only one, AS Monaco FC, has managed to reach the finals (in 2003-04, where they were outclassed by Jose MourinhoÔÇÖs Porto). Therefore, it would take a very brave and rich man to bet on Paris Saint-Germain emerging victorious when the Champions League trophy is handed out in Lisbon in May.
Not only are PSG battling history in their quest to win their first European Cup, but they also have managerial issues as Laurent Blanc takes over from the hugely respected Carlo Ancelotti. Add to this the fact that their influential sporting director ÔÇô the World Cup winning Leonardo ÔÇô has also resigned and will leave his post at the end of the transfer window. There are a few more harsh truths staring in the face of PSG as well, as they are not the only big fish in Ligue 1 anymore, as AS Monaco have outspent them in the transfer market using their newly-acquired Russian rubles.PSG┬áhave also started slowly in the league this season with two draws in their opening three games. Blanc will know that he cannot afford to drop many more points as that will only pile on the pressure to advance further in the Champions League.
It is also unlikely that the French Champions will receive another favorable draw this time around. Last season, their first time back at EuropeÔÇÖs top table for eight years, PSG were fortunate enough to be drawn alongside FC Porto, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb. Though they finished top of their group, Porto ran them really close. Looking at all these facts, one would say that┬áLes Parisiens┬áwill do well simply to replicate their quarter-final showing of last season. However, if this discussion was to take place based solely on the players taking the pitch for the club, then PSG have a chance to go for EuropeÔÇÖs biggest prize.
The All-Star Line-Up
The Red & Blue Brigade have possibly the most talented and enigmatic striker in European football in┬áZlatan Ibrahimovic┬áand if they can stopThiago Silva┬áfrom leaving for Barcelona then they have a player who is among the top defenders in the world. In addition to last seasonÔÇÖs already stellar roster, PSG have added┬áEdinson Cavani┬á(Ôé¼64 million) from Napoli,┬áMarquinhos(Ôé¼35 million) from Roma and┬áLucas Digne┬á(Ôé¼15 million) from Lille. Cavani in particular will have a huge role to play as he will allow Ibrahimovic to dictate the tempo of the game and face the opposition defence rather than play off the last man. If┬áEl Matador┬ácan hit the ground running (and signs are there that he will, following his equalizer against Ajaccio over the weekend) then it will not only ease the goal scoring burden on Ibra but will also allow Blanc the luxury of resting the big Swede (he turns 32 in October) for the big matches ahead in the season.
Another interesting side story will be the formation that Blanc deploys this season in the Champions League. He was hugely successful using the 4-2-3-1 with Bordeaux where he used the full-backs as auxiliary wingers and the two central midfielders as screens for the defence. That Bordeaux team was good on the eye and their full-backs created a lot of chances. However, it remains to be seen whether Blanc will change the 4-2-2-2 formation that PSG used so effectively last season.
A tactical synthesis could also be in order with many in France suggesting that Blanc could use the 4-3-2-1 with Ibrahimovic and┬áLucas Moura┬ásupporting Cavani. Behind them will sit Verratti, Matuidi and Pastore. This system will allow Moura to bring into play his immense ability in a more central area of the pitch rather than out wide. It will also allow PSG to use Pastore as a deep-lying midfielder and Verratti as a box-to-box runner.
Blanc will know that he will have to decide on his Plan A as his players will then know what is expected of them. But despite their slow start to the season and confusions regarding the system that Blanc will deploy, confidence is high in the Parc Des Princes. Both Blanc and Ibrahimovic have made bullish comments about how this could be PSGÔÇÖs year. They know they have the ability, but whether this newly-assembled side has the temperament and tactical nous to mix it with the best in Europe will decide their fate.
PSG are the dark horses of the tournament. As was seen with Manchester City last season, a lot of money does not bring immediate success in Europe. Another run to the last 8 should be considered; a decent return for PSG this season and they will also gain more experience for future battles in this competition. But will the Qatari Royal family have the patience to wait that long? Whatever happens, it promises to be a very eventful season for PSG and their fans.