Tomorrow night is a defining one in the modern era of Paris Saint-Germain. Coach Laurent Blanc’s remit at the start of the season was to retain the league title and improve on last season’s quarter-final finish in the UEFA Champions League. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi has made it plain as day that progress in Europe’s premiere competition is a must for the football club after two successive quarter-finals but with us being on course for a domestic treble, is it right that Blanc’s future may very well be decided on this game with Chelsea?
Well, reports in Le Parisien yesterday claimed that the coach may very well walk out of the Parc des Princes at the end of the season himself. All this of course is not very helpful with the team about to play their biggest game of the season. However, ever since the draw was made with The Blues last December it was clear that this tie with the Premier League side could have a massive bearing on the future of Blanc.
It does not seem right though does it? He is on course for a significant piece of history as the club seeks a domestic treble. Already in the Coupe de la Ligue Final, a semi-final booked in the Coupe de France against Saint-Etienne and a point off leaders Lyon in Ligue 1. If you offered that to any PSG supporter at the beginning of the season, the vast majority would have taken it. Of course, progress in Europe has been made hard for ourselves by finishing as runners-up in the group stage when we should have finished top. We missed a golden opportunity there and the capitulation in the Camp Nou was just more ammunition for the press in France to use against Blanc.
In the last few weeks though, the tide has turned. Ever since that 4-2 victory over Evian back in January, the form has been good, the football has been better, progress has been made in the cups and the performance against Chelsea in the first-leg made a statement of intent to the rest of Europe. Les Parisiens proved that in the face of adversity they were capable of competing with the big European boys and were desperately unlucky not to take an aggregate lead to London. As I said at the time, as good as the performance was, Jose Mourinho was the happiest with the result.
Unlike last year when we had a 3-1 lead to take to Stamford Bridge, we know we have to score this time around! Despite a comfortable opening half hour last season we were caught in that trap of sitting back, inviting pressure and trying to keep the aggregate lead intact. It eventually came back to haunt us as Demba Ba scored a late goal to make it 2-0 on the night – thus sending Chelsea through. So, maybe in that sense, knowing we have to attack Chelsea, it will work more in our favour this time around. Nevertheless, it is going to be incredibly difficult to break down a Chelsea side that are so good at home. If we are too expansive they will punish us on the break and you can definitely see a role reversal from the game at the Parc des Princes three weeks ago.
We headed into that first-leg depleted and deflated. The 2-2 draw with Caen a few days prior ruled a host of players out via injury. The concession of two late goals brought a sombre mood. And there just seemed to be little hope of getting a result. This time around, the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Thiago Motta are back in the squad. We are heading into the game on the back of a 4-1 win over Lens where we played some exceptional football at times. Tomorrow is a completely different entity from Lens of course but it is nice to be heading into the game in buoyant fashion.
Mourinho’s men had the weekend off – just as they did before we played them three weeks ago. They are in superb form. Their League Cup triumph at Wembley over Tottenham Hotspur was fully deserved and looks to be the start of something special for the West Londoners. Mourinho is building something quite special there.
Whereas the Special One plans for the long term with his club, Les Parisiens will no doubt ponder their options if the club bows out of Europe. Even though this is going to a huge test, if the lads can play anywhere near like they did in the first-leg they will push Chelsea all the way. Hopefully, lessons were learnt from the elimination last season. Blanc especially! If ever there was an opportunity for him to throw egg in the face of those who have lambasted him then it is tomorrow. He could put so many doubters in their place but he must be bold and take risks. PSG cannot go out of this competition on a whimper. We want to see the fight from three weeks ago. When the lads play with that hunger and desire they are a match for anyone in Europe.
As the club’s motto says, Blanc and his players need to ‘Dream Bigger’ in what will be a defining night for the entire football club.