The Parisians have tightened their grip on the domestic game but Laurent Blanc must now capture the Champions LeagueCOMMENT
By Robin Bairner
And so Paris Saint-Germain are champions again.
Only six years ago, such an achievement would have been unthinkable. On the final day of the 2007-08 season, PSG travelled to Sochaux knowing they needed a victory to secure their place in Ligue 1 and thus maintain the club’s proud record of never having been relegated. Without that 2-1 success, which lifted the Parc des Princes outfit out of the bottom three, the capital club would certainly not be regarded as one of Europe’s elite sides today.
Amara Diane’s double was the beginning of a rally that has seen PSG transformed from rampant underachievers to the undisputed kings of France. Fewer than six years later, under the guidance of Laurent Blanc, the capital side collect their second successive crown with a record tally of points.
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Nevertheless, Edinson Cavani had been plucked from Napoli for the princely sum of €64.5 million, while the arrival of young defensive prospects Marquinhos and Lucas Digne suggested the Champions League quarter-finalists were focusing on quality over quantity.
After an uncertain start to the season, including a home draw against now-relegated Ajaccio, Blanc’s vision of PSG slowly started to come together. It was very different from Ancelotti’s methodical and measured style, with the former France boss drawing inspiration from Barcelona by employing a 4-3-3 formation that would see the team adopt a pressing strategy and operate in a more fluid, exciting manner.
Arguably this was best displayed in the 4-0 victory over Bastia at Parc des Princes in mid-October, which took the Parisians to the top of the table – a position they would never relinquish. Such was the quality of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s scorpion kick to make it 2-0 that day, it would completely overshadow Cavani’s brilliant third.
There can be little doubt that the Swede’s efforts over the course of the campaign have been the driving force behind PSG’s success. He contributed 25 goals in the league before being struck with a hamstring problem that may have prematurely ended his campaign. Yet he will still finish as top scorer and will also be near the top of the assists chart with 11. Even at 32-years-old, he has enjoyed arguably the finest campaign of his career.
European success, however, continues to elude Ibra and PSG. Progress was made in comfortably reaching the Champions League quarter-finals, with Zlatan matching Cristiano Ronaldo almost goal for goal in the top scorer rankings, yet despite a 3-1 first-leg win over Chelsea that showcased the potential of Blanc’s men, a naive display at Stamford Bridge saw them eliminated on the away goals rule owing to a late Demba Ba strike.
Speaking of Ancelotti’s side last season, Leonardo argued that it was “built for Europe” to deflect criticism away from some pretty banal domestic displays, yet there can be little doubt that Blanc’s system has been constructed more to entertain. The current occupant of the Parc des Princes dugout, however, still lacks the nous and experience of his Italian predecessor and will have to learn quickly if he is to remain in the capital for the long term.
It is a measure of PSG’s rabid ambition to be crowned European kings that the single defeat against Chelsea – just their third of the whole campaign – was enough to raise suggestions that alternatives were being looked at for Blanc’s position.
With no extension to his contract signed, the coach’s status remains as yet unresolved, and though the likelihood is that he will retain his role, there will be an expectation that next season is even bigger and brighter than this term has been.
In order to comply with Financial Fair Play, it is likely that alterations will be required in the squad in the summer, and while that won't prevent further big names being added, it will certainly be a challenge for Blanc to surpass this year’s domestic double.