What could have gone wrong for Paris Saint-Germain last Saturday – did! Losing a two-goal lead to a promoted side in the dying embers of the game because of a depleted team due to injuries has left a bitter taste. The club has had time to digest what has happened as the coach Laurent Blanc is left to pick up the pieces. But, from heading into the game with Chelsea tomorrow in buoyant mood, there is now a slight air of desperation.
What I mean by that is that the events that unfolded in those last five minutes in the game against Caen knocked PSG for six. You could literally hear a pin drop when Herve Bazile’s freekick rippled the back of Salvatore Sirigu’s net. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi came out with a rallying cry to the supporters to get behind the team tomorrow as did the captain Thiago Silva. It not only cost us two crucial points, it meant we could not go top of the table for the first time this season. The one saving comfort though is that Lyon failed to capitalise on this and only managed a 1-1 draw on Lorient’s artificial pitch last night. From possibly extending their lead at the top to four points, it is now only two!
Still, we are left with repercussions that are going to have a massive bearing on tomorrow. Four players were injured in the game. Another two apparently picked up knocks during it. Gregory Van der Wiel limped out of training yesterday with a foot complaint. Thiago Motta apparently has a problem with his calf. And Javier Pastore has just returned to training following his injury. We will not know the full prognosis until Laurent Blanc delivers his pre-match presser later today but it would be a miracle if any of the four that were injured during the 90 minutes against Caen make it. The doubts over Motta, Blaise Matuidi, Maxwell and Van der Wiel remain to be seen but it seems as if Pastore who has just returned to training may well be thrown in at the deep end tomorrow. Not because Blanc wants to but because he has to!
Lucas Moura’s absence is a massive blow! His pace and trickery would have been a major concern for Jose Mourinho. Ezequiel Lavezzi though has come into form in the last two games so Blanc will have no qualms in putting him in. He scored the opener in the first-leg of the quarter-final last season in that infamous 3-1 victory.
Marquinhos, Aurier and Van der Wiel’s respective injury concerns is a major worry as we are left with no one to play at right-back. Who could possibly play there if all three are out? You would think at least one will be able to pull through for tomorrow but then again, how fit would they be? Mourinho will see our right-hand side as a major weakness. No Lucas there and no recognised right-back (and if there is one, they will not be fully fit).
The biggest concern though – in my opinion – is over Matuidi. It is absolutely vital he plays as his energy in the middle of the park is pivotal if we are to get a result against a midfield that has power and creative guile. We need his legs in there! Nobody else at the club does the running Matuidi does and this is exactly the kind of game which he revels in.
Then there is Motta. Le Parisien reported yesterday that he may be struggling with a calf complaint (explaining his absence from the squad against Caen) but with Cabaye doubtful as well, it leaves us with no dependable holding midfielder. We need Motta’s experience. He has come back into form in recent weeks so he being out too would be a major loss.
We are suffering with rotten luck and I am sure the Premier League leaders smell blood. We are facing a Chelsea side that is far greater than the one we lined up against last season. This is a team that sits seven points ahead of Manchester City and has already booked a date at Wembley in the League Cup Final. Mourinho has strengthened the two key areas in which they lacked last season and that is in midfield by adding a creator and up front with a recognised goal scorer. Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa have been fundamental to their success thus far – the 17 league goals by Costa echo that. Mourinho has built a team now that is not only capable of winning the Premier League but can go all the way in the Champions League.
They will be a formidable opponent but PSG must make most of the opportunity that the game is at home – just as we did last season. The task has been made all the more greater due to our depleted squad of course. The Blues have also had a free weekend to prepare. But now we are counting on the likes of Edinson Cavani to step up now. No excuses, just perform! The players have to make up for the ones that are missing because everybody needs to be on their game if a positive result is to occur.
This is a season defining game for us. Potentially a defining one in the career of Laurent Blanc. His tenure has been tainted ever since we bowed out of the second-leg against Mourinho’s men last year having had a 3-1 aggregate lead. We were poor in London bar a bright opening half-hour and the press in France seriously questioned Blanc’s methods. The defeat to Barcelona last December where we were in a similar position of having something to hold onto and ultimately succumbing to defeat was like deja vu. We went into that game knowing a result would take us through as group winners but in the end we could not get the job done. It is that big game mentality. Can Blanc do it in these kind of games? Well, he will be judged on these two-legs over the course of the next few weeks. Depending on how we do, Blanc’s position will be analysed – whether we have a depleted squad or not.
The hierarchy at the club craves progress in Europe’s premier competition. The circumstances though mean that the task of getting into the last-eight will have to be done the hard way. It is difficult not to be pessimistic but if we can get a victory of some sort come the end of tomorrow, then who knows.
The club’s motto ‘Dare To Dream’ is as relevant now as it has ever been!