UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Paris Saint-Germain vs APOEL Nicosia
Paris Saint-Germain can put one foot firmly in the last-16 tonight with a consecutive victory over the Cypriots APOEL Nicosia (and maybe even both if Barcelona can defeat Ajax in Amsterdam).
I said before the first encounter that this double header was a golden opportunity to really assert ourselves, not only for qualification, but ahead of Barca for that all-important top spot where we will avoid many of Europe’s big hitters in the second-round.
But first thing’s first, we need to get a victory tonight. Edinson Cavani’s late goal two weeks ago was massive, especially as Barca had beaten Ajax 2-1 at the Camp Nou. So much of the good work against the Catalans at the Parc in that now infamous 2-1 victory last month, would have been undone. It is all well and good beating the biggest rival in the group but you must follow that up and capitalise against the less favourable teams. We should get the job done this evening which will set us up nicely for the visit of Ajax on matchday-five ahead of the decider against Lionel Messi and Co.
It is no secret that the European nights get the juices flowing. The players are more motivated for these occasions but that will be different this time around as we have the small matter of ‘Le Classique’ this weekend. It is the biggest game of the domestic season thus far where we can really put a marker down against Marcelo Bielsa’s Marseille who have been fantastic in this opening quarter to the season.
Laurent Blanc did his usual rotation ahead of tonight at the weekend against Lorient. Despite a vastly poor first-half where we went into the interval 1-0 down, the lads showed tremendous character to come back. On the artificial pitch, Edinson Cavani and Jean-Christophe Bahebeck got the goals to put us within a point – albeit momentarily – of top spot.
Marco Verratti who came on mid-way through the second-half – and was pivotal in assisting the winner – is out. Blanc will need to make a decision as to who will complete the midfield trio alongside Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta. Javier Pastore dropped in there against FCL where for me he was man of the match. That is an option. Yohan Cabaye would be a logical choice but after his poor display, Blanc may think twice. And then there could be a wildcard in starting Adrien Rabiot who is named in the squad. Having just signed a new contract (after all the kafuffle about a possible move to Roma) and back from injury, the coach may very well consider the possibility.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to sit out. The likelihood of his rumoured return for the classique looks bleaker, especially after Thiago Silva’s admission that he doubts the Swede will make it. It has not stopped him getting a call-up to the Swedish national team later this month mind.
Speaking of the skipper, he had his say on tonight’s opponents who are on the back of two consecutive wins; “Tomorrow will be a very difficult match for us because APOEL play very good football, defensively, they are very solid. We all saw in the first match that it was hard to find space. But with our supporters behind us, in an excellent atmosphere at the Parc, we can play better. We are very motivated because if we win, we have the possibility of finishing top of the group”.