PSG capitalize on Ajax's mistakes, take control of Champions League group
Paris Saint-Germain's stated objective is plain: To win the UEFA Champions League. But on Tuesday, we got another hint why the moneyed Frenchmen haven't yet, even as they beat a gamely Ajax 3-1 at the Parc Des Princes.
In 2011, a mountain of Qatari money bought up the club and every star player that was available. The team was built and all that talent assembled, the club admitted, to win in Europe. It's still early days, but their backers can hardly be convinced by how things are going. Because the Frenchmen can be maddeningly inconsistent. And they have a hard time finishing games off, perhaps as important a skill as any in continental campaigns.
On Tuesday, it took a moment of Zlatan Ibrahimovic brilliance and two desperately poor Ajax turnovers for PSG to take a flattered win. A team they should have beaten handily put themselves back into the game with a 67th minute Davy Klaassen equalizer. For a time, it looked like Ajax might steal a win, even though PSG should have locked up the victory much earlier.
There's something of a trend there. Two seasons ago, PSG were 20 minutes from knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League in the quarterfinals, when they let Pedro score and put the Catalans through in their stead. Last year, they blew a 3-1 aggregate lead going into the second leg against Chelsea at the same stage. And when PSG traveled to Amsterdam earlier this season, they gave away the win as well.
Early on, PSG had taken control. Ibrahimovic sent a swerving shot just over and Edinson Cavani took a delightful little touch in the box, which no teammate was able to read and latch onto for the free shot. With three players who made their name at Ajax in their lineup -- Ibrahimovic, Maxwell and Gregory van der Wiel -- PSG looked far superior, befitting their current stature and bank statement.
But they allowed Ajax into the game, letting a young and inexperienced team grow emboldened and pin the supposed contenders for the European crown back. In the 24th minute, PSG forged the first real chance though. Ezequiel Lavezzi started the counter-attack. He was lucky to win the ball back in midfield after a poor Ajax turnover and fed Ibrahimovic. The big Swede returned the service to Lavezzi and sprung him into space. But when he came face to face with Jasper Cillessen, the Ajax goalkeeper got big and denied him from point-blank range.
It looked to be a skillful game of artisans and craftsmen. Sloppiness made the difference though. Ajax gave the ball away and bungled their man-marking in the 33rd minute, when Ibrahimovic picked up a loose ball and hit it over the top towards the off-side Edinson Cavani. He wisely let the ball run for Lavezzi, who darted through and laid it off for the now-onside Cavani. The Uruguayan only had to sweep the ball into the empty net.
Ajax looked disheveled and defeated for a good half hour, but the Parisians refused to plunge in the dagger, to finish off the game. They let Ajax have most of the ball, and eventually, they found a use for it. The outstanding Ricardo Kishna, one of Ajax's promising young attackers, spotted the streaking Klaassen and deposited the ball onto his head for him to dive home.
Ajax began to press higher and hard and ramped up the pressure. Eventually though, Zlatan did what he so often has: Make the difference in a flash. Javier Pastore lifted a ball into him in Ajax's box. There, Zlatan chested it down, turned and volleyed it past Cillessen from an improbable angle.
A short while later, Niki Zimling carelessly played a ball back to Cillissen, without much regard for his surroundings, and actually put it right in Cavani's path. He picked up the ball, circled Cillessen and registered the final score.
In the end, PSG produced and took more of their chances. In truth, however, they are far from the finished article. They are expected, by themselves at least, to reach further then they have in the past two years. They have gotten an impressive result, beating Barca 3-2 at home. In their pair of games with APOEL, however, they won by mere 1-0 scores.
Nevertheless, they control the group going into the final match day, sitting a point above Barca, whom they will visit in two weeks. That will prove a sterner test of their mettle. Because as of yet, the jury is still out on them.