Soccer

Blanc wants players to focus better on defending

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PARIS (AP)

Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc has challenged his players to show they can become just as mean in defense as they are prolific in attack.

PSG needs only to draw against Olympiakos on Wednesday to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League, but would already have done so if it had not conceded an unexpected 1-1 home draw against Anderlecht three weeks ago.

The easy way Anderlecht pierced his midfield and back four on a fast counterattack irritated Blanc and, even though his side is unbeaten in 34 games stretching back to March, he wants an improved defensive performance against Olympiakos.

''We've scored goals since the start of the season. The mentality you must have is to not concede any,'' Blanc said Tuesday at his pre-match news conference. ''Everyone needs this mentality, whether it's the strikers or the defenders. Considering how many goals we score, if we don't concede then we'll have a great chance of winning many games.''

Olympiakos boasts the lively Kostas Mitroglou in attack. He is the Greek league's top scorer with 14 goals, and scored three times in recent World Cup playoff matches against Romania to qualify Greece.

''He's very strong physically. He scores a lot of goals, he's good with his head and his feet and has a lot of quality,'' Maxwell said. ''We can't leave him any room and give him chances.''

Although Olympiakos lost 4-1 at home against PSG in their opening Group C game, the Greek side started strongly and had PSG under pressure in the first half by closing them down high up the field.

''Will they come here with the same intentions? I don't know. If that's the case then we'll have to be better technically than we were in the first 35 minutes over there,'' Blanc said. ''But by trying to pressure us high up the pitch, this means that if they don't get the ball then it will be to our advantage as they will be exposed at the back.''

Center back Thiago Motta's return following several weeks out with a torn hamstring has improved a defense that looked shaky against a surprisingly enterprising Anderlecht side. Now Blanc will look to settle things down in the back four by choosing between the veteran Alex and the promising Marquinhos as Silva's long-term partner.

''Alex is always there, he doesn't draw attention to himself. He's strong in the tackle and wins a lot in the air,'' Blanc said. ''Marquinhos has done well, but he's very young, only 19. My choice will be difficult.''

PSG labored under former coach Carlo Ancelotti before pulling away toward the end of last season. Blanc has switched to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation and this is paying dividends, with 45 goals scored in 19 games.

''The system is important, of course, but so is the understanding between the players,'' Blanc said. ''There's probably much more solidarity in this team than there was last season or the season before.''

Meanwhile, forward Edinson Cavani is likely to make his return to the side after missing Saturday's trip to Reims to recover from a long journey back from Uruguay, where he played in the second leg of the World Cup playoff against Jordan on Wednesday.

''He came back very late on Friday night and we didn't want to take any risks against Reims because he was very tired,'' Blanc said. ''He's made the most of his rest and recovery.''

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