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Expert Interview: Can PSG go all the way in the Champions League?

In anticipation of the massive Champions League ties in the Quarter-Final stage, we’ve done something special for our build-up. Eight teams, eight experts, each giving us their insight into their team’s chances, tactical set ups and bold predictions.

Jonathan Johnson is the expert for this piece focusing on Paris Saint-Germain. Jonathan is a French football journalist whose work can be found on ESPN, beIN Sport, Bleacher Reports and the excellent French Football Weekly.


Firstly, what are your thoughts on PSG’s Champions League campaign so far?

It has been a thoroughly satisfying continental campaign for Paris Saint-Germain so far. Laurent Blanc has come in and many things have changed since the Carlo Ancelotti era. For the better as well.

Under the Italian, PSG often played counter-attacking football instead of looking to thoroughly dominate their opponents. This is particularly true in Europe, where the French champions have looked imperious at times this season, while struggling to truly convince under Ancelotti.

There is an argument that the two-time Champions League winner is a better coach to have towards the latter stages of a competition like this, but few realise just how impressive Blanc’s continental record is. Le President has the highest win percentage of any French coach in the history of the trophy. 

Perhaps he lacks the experience of Ancelotti, but as Jose Mourinho pointed out before the first leg, experience can count for very little. Blanc’s control and authority over the stars assembled in this stellar squads speaks volumes louder than a few more years on his CV ever could.

In the Champions League this term, PSG have played with the sort of style and dominance you would expect from such a lavishly assembled side. Admittedly they have had it relatively easy until they drew Chelsea, but they proved in the first leg that they belong in the latter stages of this competition.

A 3-1 lead is a massive result to take into the second leg but PSG definitely need to be cautious about Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Just how do you think Laurent Blanc should set his side up?

PSG are not capable of parking the bus, so an overly defensive approach immediately goes out of the window. Instead, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence (dare I say it?) actually gives Blanc and his players a tactical advantage.

Without the Swede, Edinson Cavani will lead the line through the middle with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura offering searing pace from both sides. PSG will look to dominate the ball in midfield, but likely won’t be able to keep hold of it as easily as they did at home.

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Therefore, Blanc will be concentrating on his side breaking at speed and scoring a crucial away goal. It won’t exactly be counter-attacking football, but it will be as close as you can get to that with this aesthetically pleasing PSG side.

Chelsea were completely out played in midfield at the Parc des princes. Undoubtedly Mourinho will look to change the approach there. What do PSG need to do from their end in the middle of the park?

Exactly what they did in the first leg, just cut out the errors. In order to do that, I would replace Marco Verratti with Yohan Cabaye.

Verratti is a brilliantly talented player and no doubt has a bright future in the game, but he displayed a lack of experience in the last leg and it is not the first time we have seen this from the Italian. In addition to regularly being caught dawdling on the ball in front of his own penalty box (a contributing factor towards Chelsea grabbing a crucial away goal), Verratti can be extremely ill-disciplined at times and has a penchant for silly yellow cards.

There is no margin for error at Stamford Bridge. Because of that, I think Blanc will favour Cabaye’s experience in terms of his age, international appearances and the fact that the atmosphere at Chelsea will not phase him. Together with Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi, I think PSG can then grab the away goal that they need.

PSG have been considered as dark horses for the tournament after impressing in the early rounds. If they do manage to get past Chelsea, what are their chances to go all the way?

As good as anybody else’s. Admittedly, should they qualify, PSG will still want to avoid the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the semi-finals. It is not a foregone conclusion though that Bayern will be in the semis, even if it looks likely on paper. Blanc and his team will not fear anyone though.

The Chelsea first leg was the game that PSG had been waiting for since the inception of the Qatari project, a chance to prove themselves beyond all doubt on the European stage. There can be no doubt now, PSG belong among Europe’s best and they are no longer an unknown quantity.

If teams did not fear them before the first leg, they will fear them now. The Parc des Princes will not be a venue that any potential future opponents will relish visiting based on the evidence of Lavezzi’s opener that sparks scenes of pure ecstasy among the home fans. The moment the goal went in, you could sense the fear in the Chelsea ranks. Even if PSG do not end up progressing this season, Mourinho and his side will not forget that and neither will any future opponents that studied the game.

What would your starting XI for the second leg against Chelsea be?

Sirigu (GK) – Marquinhos (RB), Alex (CB), Thiago Silva (CB), Maxwell (LB) – Motta (DM), Matuidi (LCM), Cabaye (RCM) – Lavezzi (LW), Lucas Moura (RW), Cavani (ST).

I think that although Christophe Jallet was by no means the weak link that many (including myself) predicted before the first leg, Blanc must go with a more defensive option at right-back. Gregory van der Wiel is not fit enough to function at a high enough level after his recent lay-off and without Ibrahimovic, there is less of a need for his marauding runs.

We attempt to track the progress of the best young players as much as time allows under our #TalentRadar and Scout Report features. Which youngster coming through from PSG are you most excited about?

For me it is the 18-year-old midfielder Adrien Rabiot. He is class act in the making. Still only a teenager, he already possesses impressive technique, a great eye for a pass, god shooting skills and an appetite to get involved, despite his waif-like figure. He has the potential to become a top player for club and country and I hope that PSG do not lose him because of the intense competition for places at present. He will outlast every current option available to Blanc and will arguably surpass most of them, if not all, in terms of recognised talent as well.

Finally, if you were to make a prediction for the tie, who do you see going through? Any particular scoreline for the second leg?

I will go for a 1-1 draw. I think it will be tight and I can see Chelsea scoring, but I can also see PSG getting a goal too. If the French champions score, then it is game over for Mourinho as far as I am concerned. I think that is how it will transpire. PSG to progress.

Over to you, do you think PSG have what it takes to win Europe’s elite competition? Let us know by commenting below.

For the rest of our interviews from this series and all our other interviews, head this way.

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