Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Olympiakos
1970 PSG Man Of The Match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Edinson Cavani was the hero of the night after he netted a stoppage time winner to send Paris Saint-Germain into the last-16 of the UEFA Champions League. After controlling the game with ease in the first-half, Marco Verratti’s sending off allowed Olympiakos back into the game with an equaliser. But, the champions persisted to the very end and a stroke of tactical genius by Laurent Blanc played a major part in his team getting the job done.
All the big hitters returned to side after sitting out the victory over Reims last weekend due to various reasons. Cavani was reintroduced to the right-hand side of the front three with Ezequiel Lavezzi opposite. Zlatan Ibrahimovic as always led the line and the usual midfield trio of Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Verratti undertook their duties behind. The full-backs Maxwell and Gregory Van der Wiel made their returns. Both, particularly VDV, offered so much width in the first-half. The Dutchman was the catalyst for the opening goal for Zlatan as he laid the ball on a plate for him within the first 10 minutes. The Dutchman is not giving Christophe Jallet a prayer of getting back into the team on a regular basis because he is playing the best football in his Parisien career thus far. He just keeps on racking up those assists which Ibrahimovic is thriving on.
So, everything in the first-half was near on perfect. We controlled the game with ease, had 71% possession during the half, played a varied game such as playing through the middle whilst using the width of the full-backs and created chances. It could not have gone any better. But Marco Verratti’s petulant side reared its ugly head again. I hate to have a go at him because he has come on leaps and bounds this season but a deliberate handball in the first-half, followed by a tug of an Olympiakos shirt within 20 seconds after the interval, led to his dismissal by referee Craig Thomson. It was a silly thing for him to do and it shows his immaturity. He has done brilliant to eradicate those little errors this season, something he was majorly guilty of under Carlo Ancelotti. Carlo would be incensed at him at times but the little man is still learning. It is hard to forget that this is only his second season in top flight football.
To be honest, even with 10-men we were not overly exerted by the Greeks. Their equaliser had a stroke of fortune as Kostas Manolas tucked in a rebound despite his initial header hitting Alejandro Dominguez who was offside. The goal should not have stood.
Nevertheless, we never faltered. We could easily have fell into a sense of insecurity and sat back. But, Blanc had a little ace up his sleeve just before that goal. He brought Ibrahimovic off who had been relentless all night. He battled, harried the opposition, got under their skin, got stuck in and was a true warrior. He hobbled off and understandably so due to how much effort he put in. In his place was Marquinhos who to everybody’s surprise was placed in central midfield. Something new from Monsieur Blanc and it turned out to be a masterstroke. The Brazilian was the one who threaded the ball through for Cavani to get onto in the 90th minute and toe poke home. It was Marquinhos who unhinged the stubborn Greek defence, Marquinhos! There has been talk that it was Thiago Silva who suggested this ploy to Blanc but whether that is true or not, it is the coach who ultimately makes the call. Blanc is a very intelligent man and to make a change like that puts another feather in his cap. Wonderful stuff!
So we go through to the last-16 – at last! Not only that, we win the group. So we will avoid the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United with a second-leg at the Parc des Princes. It really could not have gone any better for us in this group-stage. One more game to go in Lisbon where Blanc can tinker with his squad and give some of the younger lads a run out.
Now his attention turns to Olympique Lyonnais on Sunday.