5 Reasons Why PSG Are Genuine Champions League Contenders

Jerrad Peters@@jerradpetersWorld Football Staff WriterMarch 6, 2013

5 Reasons Why PSG Are Genuine Champions League Contenders

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    It was hardly compelling, especially after an action-packed Tuesday of Champions League football, but on Wednesday, Paris Saint-Germain booked a place in the quarterfinal round of Europe’s most prestigious club competition for the first time in 18 years.

    The come-from-behind 1-1 draw with Valencia at Parc des Princes was enough for the Ligue 1 leaders to progress at the Spanish side’s expense. An impressive away performance in the first leg had spotted them a 2-1 aggregate lead coming into the return match, and even after Jonas opened the scoring in the 55th minute, PSG never really looked like they were heading out of the tournament.

    And so they’ll go into the pot for the quarterfinal and semifinal draws on Mar. 15, but no matter which club they’re tied to, they’ll be anything but an underdog from here.

    PSG are legitimate Champions League contenders.

    It may sound funny to say, but Valencia certainly aren’t laughing, and their quarterfinal opponents will hardly be taking a place in the final four for granted, either. PSG are very much for real. They have all the pieces necessary for an extended run in Europe, and over the next few slides, we’ll look into why they just might be presented the trophy at Wembley in May.

They Can Win Many Different Ways

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    They can beat you on the field; they can beat you in the alley.

    Only Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich scored more than PSG’s 14 goals during the Champions League group stage, and no team in France has more than their 49 tallies from 27 Ligue 1 matches.

    PSG can be tremendous fun to watch, what with Lucas Moura blazing down the wing, Ezequiel Lavezzi hitting the target with power and Zlatan Ibrahimovic working his artistry in front of goal. But they can win other ways as well, which is what we saw against Valencia.

    At no time at Parc des Princes did PSG look particularly uncomfortable—and that speaks volumes, given the absence of Ibrahimovic due to suspension. The capital side dug in their heels—they bent but didn’t break—and did just enough to get the result they needed.

    They won ugly. And champion teams win ugly from time to time.

They Have a Big Squad with Plenty of Options

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    David Beckham put the foreign press in a tizzy each time he did his warm-ups at Parc des Princes, but in the end, his presence wasn’t required and PSG shut up shop with the score deadlocked at a goal apiece.

    Kevin Gameiro, however, did come on as a second-half substitution and made a vital impact on the match. It was his run downfield—after he, himself, won possession of the ball—that produced Lavezzi’s equalizer in the 66th minute.

    Gregory Van der Wiel played an important part in Wednesday’s draw as well. Christophe Jallet lasted just 25 minutes before picking up a knock, and while many managers would have seen the exit of their starting right-back as a conundrum, Carlo Ancelotti had the luxury of replacing him with a Netherlands international.

    Mamadou Sakho also started on the bench and Jéremy Ménéz wasn’t even included in the matchday squad. Nor was Marco Verratti, who was suspended.

    Ancelotti has plenty of options—quality options—and the size and strength of his squad will only enhance his chances of lifting a third European Cup a few months from now.

They Have a Strong Core

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    Notice how Valencia got very little joy trying to move the ball through middle on Wednesday? They weren’t the first side to come up against a nearly unbreakable central core that has been a major factor in PSG’s success this season. And they won’t be the last.

    It all starts in goal, where Italy international Salvatore Sirigu is quickly establishing himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. In front of him are Alex and one of the game’s top central defenders in Thiago Silva, and shielding everything in midfield are two of Thiago Silva, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti (again, notice the options).

    Matuidi was perhaps the best player on the park on Wednesday, a colossus Valencia simply couldn’t overcome. PSG are very, very difficult to break down in the middle of the park, and when you dominate things centrally, you own a lot of real estate.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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    Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won titles at Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona and AC Milan. He has led Serie A in scoring twice and is on 39 goals for Sweden. He has even written a book.

    But one thing the towering Swede has never done is win the Champions League—something he`ll be looking to rectify over the coming months.

    Often criticized for being a troublesome personality at his former clubs, Ibrahimovic seemed to mature at AC Milan between 2010 and 2012 and also developed into an exceptionally well-rounded footballer at the San Siro. His move to PSG last summer set the Rossoneri back severely, and his absence was also felt on Wednesday against Valencia.

    Without Ibrahimovic, PSG`s attack isn`t nearly the animal it otherwise is. Lavezzi and Javier Pastore aren`t the threats they turn into when Ibrahimovic is operating up top, and the wing play of Lucas Moura is less effective as well. They also miss the 28 goals (and counting) he has managed so far this season.

    You can probably count the number of forwards in world football who are better than Ibrahimovic on one hand, and when you`re talking about a player that's at that high of a level, you`re team will generally have a chance to win trophies.

Carlo Ancelotti

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    He is the assured, stabilizing presence in a situation that would likely be rather more tumultuous without him.

    Few managers could have done what Carlo Ancelotti has managed at PSG so far this season. The 53-year-old was given a team assembled from scratch when he was appointed in December 2011 but has nevertheless instilled an identity among a group of players who have still spent very little time together on a football pitch.

    He is also a master of European competition.

    Ancelotti`s AC Milan sides that won the Champions League in 2003 and 2007 weren`t necessarily the best teams in the competition, but they were incredibly difficult to break down and adhered to their tactical assignments with admirable discipline as soon as the first ball was kicked following the Champions League anthem.

    We`re already seeing something similar happening at Paris Saint-Germain, which is why they could well be standing at the top of the mountain come May.