Paris Saint-Germain are clinging onto a Champions League place by their fingernails after their 2-2 draw with Barcelona.
They now face the unenviable task of going to the Camp Nou, almost certainly needing a victory to progress. Barcelona will probably knock them out next week, but there are many positives that PSG can take from this Champions League campaign. If recent performances are anything to go by, things are starting to come together for the Parisians.
The club has had its trials and tribulations this season. That comes part and parcel when going through a major ownership change. But having reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League and established a seven-point lead atop of Ligue 1, PSG are starting to edge their way into the elite crowd.
They have been much maligned since the Qatar Investment Authority bought the club back in the summer of 2011. Some of the criticism has been justified, but the majority born purely from jealousy. We’ve all heard it; “they are just a collection of talented individuals who are in it for the money, not a team.”
The performance against Barcelona will go a long way towards changing the opinions of those who still harbor those views. PSG knuckled down and scrapped for the draw. They showed fighting qualities all over the pitch to peg Barcelona back twice. It was the type of performance that exuded real character.
Matuidi probably puts it best, referring to the “soul” the team have:
“We showed we could compete with the best. We proved that PSG have a soul and a real team.” - Via uefa.com
A real team indeed. Thiago Silva marshaled the defense as a captain should, leading by example with an awesome performance. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was relentless in pursuit of a goal against his old club, which he eventually secured. Whilst Blaise Matuidi ran his socks off to shut down Xavi and Iniesta in midfield.
It was in many ways fitting that Matuidi, after putting in such a selfless and workman-like performance, was the man who grabbed the equaliser.
The PSG players put their heart and soul into the match. They worked themselves into the ground for their manager, for the fans and, perhaps most importantly, for their teammates.
The game epitomized the progress the side have made in their two seasons under new ownership. Not just in terms of the talent that went toe-to-toe with Barcelona for long spells, but the cohesion and spirit that has developed between the players.
Carlo Ancelotti, despite the uncertainty surrounding his future, has got the team playing a vibrant brand of football. But most significantly, he has his players organised.
This is what it's all about for PSG. Getting their supremely talented individual players to operate as part of a well-oiled and mentally strong team. They are beginning to showcase these traits in abundance, having already topped their Champions League group and knocked out competition regulars Valencia en-route to the quarterfinals
The players and manager are learning fast and growing in confidence. Against Barcelona, Ancelotti was brave in his tactical decisions—setting the team up in an attacking system, clearly content for his side to trade attacking blows with Barca. But they also showed their defensive acumen, utilizing clever pressing and sharp tackling to help shut Barcelona down.
If the likes of Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi were more composed in front of goal, Barcelona would have lost this one. Perhaps the red-hot Parc Des Princes atmosphere can account for this.
The strides being taken towards the club’s major ambitions are gathering pace. For a side that has not reached a Champions League quarterfinal since 1995, the current crop should be proud, but not content with their efforts.
“People will be able to count on us in the Champions League for the next few years,” Matuidi boldly claimed in the aftermath.
To be one day considered amongst the great sides, this is exactly what they are going to have to do.
The Champions League will be the yardstick for PSG. Their performances in the competition are what will ultimately make or break the players and managers who represent the club.
Granted, winning Ligue 1 for the first time in 19 years will be considered a major hurdle for the club to overcome. But as they continue to progress, the owners will no doubt have headier targets.
But these lofty ambitions should be tackled head-on with a keen sense of anticipation and excitement. Whatever happens at the Nou Camp next week merely represents another chance for PSG to learn. And learn fast.
Like it or not, this club is going places.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter:@MattJFootball