Why PSG could have won the Champions League 2013/2014
PSG surprised in their first Champions League appearance since 1995, reaching the quarter finals before being knocked out without even losing to Barcelona, currently one of the best teams in Europe. Not many people are ready to argue that PSG deserved the win, but in all fairness they succeeded in drawing against a highly experienced and lethal team that advances to the finals or the semi-finals of the Champions League every year. However, we should expect even more from them now: Europe has now witnessed what this team is capable of; the stage is set.
They were ready
PSG are really starting to make a name for themselves, already having players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva before the high-prolific signing of Uruguayan Edinson Cavani. Qatari investment has undoubtedly helped the club of the French capital to win the league for the first time in 18 years and people nowadays do not hesitate to compare PSG to Manchester City, Anzhi Makhachkala, Monaco and Malaga: one of those “spending clubs”. Such clubs are certainly full of quality players, players that know how to change the tide of a game, players that accomplish something incredible out of nothing. But when you think of it, not all these clubs are on the same level. Anzhi Makhachkala and Malaga are already struggling with finances whilst Manchester City is a great team, but it seems incapable of really imposing itself. Monaco has just come back to the top-flight and must therefore be analysed later on.
PSG, however, has succeeded in imposing itself as the top club of the French League, and has featured in the Champions League or the Europa League for over 5 years in a row. If you think that isn’t convincing, look at Dortmund: the club regained part of its former glory a few years ago, and came close to winning the Champion’s League last year. Bearing that in mind, it would not be absurd to imagine PSG progress to the semi-finals, or even to the final of the Champions League in the next few years. They have tasted silverware last season, and will be hungry for more this year.
Out of all the possible outcomes, Paris have it pretty easy in their group with Benfica, Anderlecht and Olympiakos. No opponent is to be neglected: Chelsea didn't even make it out of the group stages last year, much like Manchester United two years ago in a very simple group. Nonetheless, Anderlecht and Olympiakos will be hoping to upset and surprise rather than to storm past their rivals. Benfica remains the "big team" due to its impressive history and current team. But still, I would be very surprised if PSG would not top the group. Benfica are indeed powerful, but cannot compare to the depth of the PSG squad. Cardozo is no Ibrahimovic, and Garay is no Thiago Silva. Benfica have great players, but PSG have some of the best players. Moreover, PSG succeeded in winning the league with relative ease whilst Benfica crunched under the pressure. It won't be easy, but I predict:
Best attacking force in Europe?
Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, together in the same team. Could you imagine a more powerful striking force? Of course, you could argue that there are better strikers, but if you think from an objective point of view, it's pretty tough to imagine a more deadly striker partnership.
Rooney and Van Persie? On paper, it's great but when you look back at last season, you realise that there was pretty much only one place for a top striker. Then Barcelona and Real Madrid come to mind, with Messi and Ronaldo appearing, not to mention Neymar and Bale. But when you really think about it, despite the number of goals that they score, they aren't actual strikers. And their partners are no-where near their level. In Messi's case, Alexis Sanchez or Pedro are terrific players but they aren't strikers. For Ronaldo? There's Benzema, the star of the French team who hasn't scored in 15 games. When you look further across Europe you may think of Bayern and Dortmund. Muller is great, and Mandzukic is good, but they really don't sound as frightening as Zlatan and "El Matador". Dortmund have Lewandowski, but that's it. What about Chelsea you say? Torres, Ba and Eto'o. Enough said.
The likes of Pedro, Alexis Sanchez, Reus are supporting attackers and if we come back to PSG, we realise that they aren't lacking. The likes of Lavezzi, Menez, Lucas Moura and Pastore are frighteningly impressive, with incredible speed, agility and technique. Think what you want, but there's no denying PSG's utter power in the attacking domain.
A strong midfield
There's no Iniesta, Xavi, Ozil, Schweinsteiger or Modric. Fair enough. But when you realise that you have Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta in midfield, you don't complain. Thiago Motta has played in Barcelona and Internazionale, and is an established, world-class midfielder. Last season, he averaged an impressive 90% pass accuracy with an average pass length of 18m (Squawka). Furthermore, Matuidi averaged 88% pass accuracy with 16m average pass length, but makes 5 defensive interventions per match. Compare that to Lampard and Ramires: two players who enjoy to attack but are decisive in defence: they average 3 defensive interventions per match.
Then you have Marco Verratti: without doubt one of the rising stars of Europe. The 20 year old is already imposing himself in PSG, as well as the Italian national team. The kid is a Pirlo in the making, due to his impeccable passing and outstanding technique. Finally, it's worth mentioning the rising academy stars: Rabiot, Ongenda and Coman. Rabiot now appears in one match on two, and Ongenda has already proven to be decisive: it was he who allowed Paris to win the Trophée des Champions after coming into play with 20 minutes left. Coman, although currently not as successful as the other two academy stars, is only 17 and is expected to have an exceptionally bright future.
All this to say that Paris have an exceptional midfield, which helps greatly in the creation of a remarkable team.
... And a solid defence
On top of everything, PSG do not lack in defence. Alex is a world class defender, having played in Chelsea as a star defender. Also, Thiago Silva is simply the best defender in the world. His interventions are flawless, but what shows that he is exceptional is his ability to make a great pass even under pressure. You very rarely see Thiago Silva clearing the ball as he always searches for the best option to launch an attack. His attacking capacities are equally useful, much like Alex. The pair managed to score more than 5 goals each in all competitions last year.
Both are Brazilians, and they are forming a truly great partnership, much like Ferdinand and Vidic. And PSG now has Marquinhos, the 19 year old Brazilian who impressed the whole of Europe during his time at Roma.
Their only weak point may be the right back. Jallet is important to PSG for his role as a leader, but now that the club has been transformed, his technical ability seems under par. There is Van der Viel, of course, but many people believe that we have yet to see the best of him. Confidence seems to be a real problem for the young Dutch player, but he must still prove himself. As for Maxwell, no need for any comments: the left back is as precious from a defensive point of you as an offensive one. Lucas Digne, his future replacement, is also one of France's future stars.
So this is all theoretic: I am by no means encouraging you to bet on Paris winning the Champions League in the near futurer. But I, for one, am convinced that it is possible and I look forward to watching them play.