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No room for patience in PSG blueprint
Paris Saint-Germain resumes their moneyed march to the summit of the European game when they take on Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie (live, Tuesday, FOX Sports 2, 2 p.m. ET).
Last season, they advanced to the quarterfinals before coming upon Barcelona, a greater power -- or at least a more seasoned one -- that nevertheless needed away goals to beat the Parisians 3-3 on aggregate. Prior to that, the last time they even made it into the elite tournament was in 2004-05. And only in 1994-95 did they reach further, getting into the semifinals.
So this is fairly uncharted territory for PSG. But whereas just a few years ago, they were a fairly big club in France’s Ligue 1 that had won just two national titles, they are now a powerhouse buoyed by towering piles of Qatari money. When you have the cash to buy your way out of your personnel problems, you don’t get to fail anymore. Especially not when you just spent $32 million to bring in midfielder Yohan Cabaye from Newcastle, addressing the last thin position on your roster. And certainly not when you spent some $150 million last summer on the world’s best striker -- Edinson Cavani -- and two best young defenders, Marquinhos and Lucas Digne.
Whereas last season was an arduous slog to their third league title when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge, they are fairly well gliding to it under Laurent Blanc this year. After 25 games, they have lost just once. Their outrageous goal difference (+42) is 20 points better than any other team’s. They’ve had just as easy a go of it in the Champions League. Drawn in a soft group of Olympiakos, Anderlecht and Benfica, they won four of six, losing only the final game once they had already qualified for the knockout stage.
Now Leverkusen awaits them. A sturdy side, they placed third in the Bundesliga last season, behind the imperious Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. This time around, they reside in second place. Dortmund has dropped off this year, marred by injury and complacency. Leverkusen has pounced. But Bayern has opened a 16-point gap, thanks in large part to four losses in six that Leverkusen has suffered in the league since Dec. 15.
Spearheaded by Stefan Kiessling, an opportunistic striker who is typically good for two dozen goals per season, Bayer sports a potent offense. They aren’t quite as fluid as they were last year, having sold Andre Schurrle to Chelsea over the summer, but they remain capable of upsetting PSG nonetheless, because in players like Sydney Sam, Son Heung-Min, Lars Bender and Simon Rolfes, they have the requisite talent.
"We've got to play to our limit and give 100 percent," Bayer Leverkusen manager Sami Hyypia told reporters on Monday. "Our strength lies in our teamwork. If we play like we did on Saturday, then we're capable of making life very difficult for Paris."
If PSG gets through this tie, they will have matched their European performance of last season -- assuming they retain the league. But that won’t quite do. Since the Qatar Investment Authority bought a majority stake in 2011, PSG has spent some $500 million, probably the most of any club -- it’s hard to say for sure in soccer’s opaque financial landscape. And with steep expenses come commensurate expectations.
'When you're in a big club, it's normal that the owners are demanding with the coach. That's the rule in any big club.''
The depth PSG have built in so short a timespan is quite astounding. Take the forward line alone: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cavani in the middle; Lucas Moura, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez for the flanks; Javier Pastore, Marco Verratti, Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi or Thiago Motta behind them. And that’s to say nothing of one of the best back lines around. This is not a team that ought to derive any satisfaction from so pedestrian an achievement of reaching the last eight in Europe.
No, this is a team built to win; win in Europe; and win now. It’s the publically stated objective. But the trouble is, it typically takes a team a good four or five years to gel and coalesce into a continental force. These aren’t games you can win on your superior talent alone. These are tactical showdowns that require cohesion and savvy. Chelsea is the lone exception to this rule, reaching deep into European competition just a few years after being bought together for kings’ ransoms in the mid-2000s. PSG, by reaching the quarterfinals last year, is far ahead of the usual growth curve.
Still, the way this club is spending suggests that ownership isn’t mucking around. Patience doesn’t seem to take up much real estate in the blueprint. Therefore growth will not be achieved organically.
''When a club has been champion with 83 points and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League, the goal for the following season is to do better,'' Blanc said earlier in the season. '''When you're in a big club, it's normal that the owners are demanding with the coach. That's the rule in any big club.''
PSG, then, will want to knock in a few away goals -- the currency of the home-and-home knockout tie -- when it has the chance on Tuesday. If they fail to, they could very conceivably be eliminated two weeks later. ''We'll have to be daring in our game,'' added Blanc earlier in the year. "'But we'll have to keep a balance between playing attractive football and winning matches, because if we're bold on the pitch but lose matches, I know who will pay the bill.''
And this entire brash enterprise will have been for naught for another year.
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