By Robin Bairner
That Paris Saint-Germain would succumb to Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League was widely predicted prior to the two matches, yet few would have banked on Carlo Ancelotti’s side pushing the Catalan outfit quite so close.
|THE RISE OF PSG
|BEFORE THE TAKEOVER
|PSG draw 1-1 away at Saint-Etienne on the final day of the Ligue 1 season to secure fourth spot - their highest finish in seven years|
|QSI CHANGE THE GAME
||QSI become the majority shareholders of the club, taking a 70 per cent stake from Colony Capital|
|THE FIRST MAJOR SIGNING
||PSG strike a real blow on the transfer market as they beat Chelsea to the €43 million signing of Javier Pastore|
||PSG secure the services of Carlo Ancelotti, who replaces fan-favourite Antoine Kombouare in a move designed to improve club's legitimacy|
|FURTHER INVESTMENT TO COME|
|MAR 7, 2012||QSI step up their investment in the club by buying the remaining 30% of the side and reaffirming their long-term commitment|
|A RARE SETBACK
||Underdogs Montpellier finish strongly in Ligue 1, securing the title on the final day from PSG|
|HUGE TRANSFER COUPS|
|JUL 14||Thiago Silva - widely considered the best defender in the world - signs for €42m. Zlatan Ibrahimovic follows four days later|
|JAN 31, 2013
||Les Parisiens sign David Beckham on a free transfer, greatly increasing their media exposure both domestically and abroad|
PSG’s draw at Parc des Princes had an element of luck to it - Blaise Matuidi’s late equalising goal coming from a cruel deflection that Victor Valdes could not react to in time - but their 1-1 stalemate at Camp Nou lifted the French club into the European elite.
Merely signing names such as Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi is not enough to justify such a position alone. Status is earned on the field and this week les Parisiens genuinely elevated themselves.
The approach of Ancelotti was far bolder than one might have anticipated. Simply containing their hosts was not the attitude that the Italian wanted from his side and for long periods of the match it was PSG who were the more aggressive side in possession. After a somewhat shaky start to the match, they fashioned the better openings in the first half and perhaps should have been ahead at the interval.
It was a vibrant, bullish offensive performance, the type of which the Camp Nou crowd are now wholly unused to seeing from visiting sides. For long periods it was very impressive.
Lucas Moura played with typical strength and verve when in possession, while the willingness of Lavezzi, the intelligence of Ibrahimovic - who grabbed a competition-high seventh assist of the season - and the craft of the maligned Javier Pastore combined to form a fearsome front four that their admittedly depleted hosts struggled to manage. Gaps behind Barcelona’s full-backs were regularly exploited and only some fine goalkeeping from Victor Valdes prevented the visitors from profiting.
With Thiago Motta alongside Marco Verratti in midfield, the young Italian showed greater discipline and, even if he was occasionally caught chasing the ball a little in the early stages causing him to be drawn out of position, he put in a mature performance. Indeed, it was indicative of the standard of this pairing that the suspension-induced absence of Blaise Matuidi, who has been one of the stars of the PSG side this term, was not telling.
It was Verratti who started the move that led to PSG grabbing the initiative early in the second period, as he wrestled possession away from the hosts before setting up Ibrahimovic to combine with Pastore to score.
Only once Barcelona went into overdrive, which coincided with the introduction of Lionel Messi and it appeared that Ancelotti’s side might fade. Nevertheless, Salvatore Sirigu’s goalmouth was kept well protected mostly, even if Pedro did manage to drill a fine equalising goal from the edge of the area. It proved to be the telling moment of the tie, yet up until the very last kick of the ball the French outfit, by now fatigued and driving on fumes, were only the smallest margin away from qualification.
The performance was stirring from Ancelotti’s men but, most importantly, it was validating as PSG can now consider themselves graduated to the level of an elite European club.
If there was any doubt about it previously, the Parc des Princes outfit have proven that they will be genuine Champions League contenders in the years to come - assuming the backing from their Qatari owners remains in place, of course.
Areas of their squad do still need to be strengthened as Barcelona’s qualification was achieved on merit, even if they were given the fright of their lives at their Camp Nou fortress, but the club have the means and ambitions to do just that.
And if there were any doubts in the minds of world-class players that signing for PSG may mean giving up their ambitions of top level success, they would do well to watch a replay of Wednesday’s match to be convinced that the Parc des Princes side may very well be a team for the future.
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