Must transfer domestic dominance to Europe
2 April ~ The two legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea are the most anticipated fixtures of Paris Saint-Germain's season. Last Friday, there were around 800,000 visitors to the club's official website for the online sale of the less than 3,000 remaining home tickets available for tonight's match, and the quota allocated to away supporters at Stamford Bridge for the return leg is already sold out. In the French media, José Mourinho has succeeded once again in grabbing nearly all the attention.
Among the many TV shows and newspaper articles that have tried to decode his approach to management and ability to make players follow his tactics, the channel Canal+ even compared him to lead character in the US TV series, The Mentalist. Wisely, PSG manager Laurent Blanc, who knew Mourinho as Bobby Robson's assistant coach at Barcelona, has not responded in a hostile way to any of his rival's press statements. To Mourinho's comment about Ligue 1 being not very competitive and too easy for PSG, Blanc replied that the situation in France with two dominant clubs is quite similar to the one in Spain when "José" was coaching there.
A commonly shared opinion in France is that the current PSG side may be more talented than Chelsea but crucially lack the experience of winning a European trophy, with the exceptions of Thiago Motta and Maxwell. The confrontation is seen as a clash of styles, with PSG's possession football up against a team who excel in counter-attacking, as highlighted by the recent impressive hammering of Arsenal.
Eden Hazard was considered to be Ligue 1's best player when he was at Lille and is seen as the main danger. The PSG midfielders are being warned by pundits not to lose possession in their area all the more since the presence of Ramires and/or David Luiz in place of the unavailable Nemanja Matic and maybe Oscar will add an extra aggressive edge to the visitors' pressing style.
In view of that, it will be interesting to see whether Italian midfielder Marco Verratti will adapt his usual passing and dribbling game, which can be erratic but also effective as a way of breaking through a compact defensive block. Since the start of the season, PSG have also performed well on set-pieces, often a solution in tight matches.
On French TV, interviews with Chelsea fans directly after their Premier League defeat to Crystal Palace showed them to be extremely confident, hailing PSG as a good draw, especially in comparison with Bayern Munich, Barça or Real Madrid. Having almost secured their second successive domestic title – they are 13 points ahead of second-place Monaco, with seven rounds of fixtures to go – PSG must now demonstrate that they are no longer underdogs in Europe.
Their previous Parc des Princes meeting with Chelsea, in 2004, ended in a 3-0 defeat. After scoring the first of his two goals, former Marseille striker Didier Drogba yelled "Allez l'OM!" (Come on OM!) in front of the crowd, making the thrashing even more humiliating. No one believes César Azpilicueta will do the same tonight. Matthieu Richard