Bettering last season’s Champions League quarterfinal showing against Barcelona will be difficult for Paris Saint-Germain this coming season.
For a start, Carlo Ancelotti is gone and Laurent Blanc has replaced him as coach. The Italian was widely regarded as the main reason that PSG reached the last-eight, despite the stellar talent currently on show at the Parc des Princes.
Secondly, it is unlikely that the French champions will receive such a favourable draw the second time around.
Last season, their first time back at Europe’s top table for eight years, PSG were fortunate enough to be drawn alongside Porto, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb.
Although the Portuguese side are not to be underestimated and very nearly topped the group at Les Parisiens’ expense, Ancelotti’s side came through unscathed. They also saved the two-time Champions League winner his job in the process (h/t ESPN FC).
Blanc has been appointed as coach and few are giving him a hope of bettering the Italian’s continental efforts last season.
On the pitch though, PSG are arguably in a better position to make a challenge for Europe’s greatest prize.
The capital club have also finally signed French by landing Lucas Digne from Lille for €15 million (h/t ESPN FC).
Cavani appears to solve the troublesome second striker position alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while Marquinhos and Digne turn an already healthy squad into one with a seemingly perfect amount of depth.
Given the few departures so far this summer, none where the starting XI are concerned, you’d expect PSG to pick up where they left off last year.
Assuming that they make no more signings that is.
If rumours are to be believed, Blanc will sign at least one new midfielder before the end of the transfer window according to reports in France (h/t ESPN FC).
Should PSG approach this season’s competition with their current squad, and Cavani hits the ground running in Parisien colours, Blanc’s side are dark horses for the title if not among the initial favourites.
Crucial to any potential success on the continent will be the continuity provided by managing to keep hold of Thiago Silva, despite intense interest from Barcelona (h/t ESPN FC), and Ibrahimovic despite reports that he is unhappy in Paris (h/t ESPN FC).
Add to that the fact that the likes of Marco Verratti is one year older and more experienced than last season, and the vibrancy that Digne will provide to alternate with Maxwell who was over-worked last season, and PSG’s side is potent to say the least.
Salvatore Sirigu will remain unchallenged between the sticks, with Alphonse Aréola having gone on loan to second-tier outfit Lens after his under-20 World Cup-winning exploits.
Silva will no doubt captain the team once more and lead by example from the heart of the defence, surely partnered by unsettled French international Mamadou Sakho this time around given Alex’s age (h/t ESPN FC).
New arrival Marquinhos will challenge for a starting berth as the season progresses, but in terms of PSG's first match in the competition when the group stages start, expect it to be Sakho partnering Silva initially.
Digne and Maxwell provide very similar qualities at present, although the 20-year-old under-20 World Cup winner has the potential to far exceed the Brazilian. So depending on how kind the draw is to PSG, expect to see the former Lille man given the nod.
That leaves right back, an Achilles' heel under Ancelotti, and one that arguably needs remedying before any potential midfield reinforcements are made.
Christophe Jallet, while not possessing the speed and stamina of Gregory van der Wiel, offers far more defensive stability and consistency. The Frenchman will likely be preferred on the right.
Assuming that Blanc roughly sticks to the 4-2-2-2 that Ancelotti found favour with towards the second half of the campaign, Blaise Matuidi will retain his place at the heart of the midfield.
It would also be a surprise not to see Verratti handed a regular berth alongside the French international, but accommodating Javier Pastore further up the pitch could prove complicated.
The formation is tailor-made to suit the 20-year-old Italian sensation. But should his ill discipline cost PSG in any early season matches, Pastore will likely drop back alongside Matuidi to provide the attacking impetus from deep even though he is not comfortable there.
In doing that, Blanc will be able to flank the strike partnership of Ibrahimovic and Cavani with two speed demons in Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
While Lavezzi proved himself an admirable makeshift second striker alongside Ibrahimovic last year, he lacked the clinical edge needed to take PSG further than the quarterfinals. I say ‘he’ because it was the Argentine who enjoyed the majority of the side’s key chances over both legs against Barcelona that a prolific striker arguably would have scored.
Moura, despite not enjoying the sort of blistering start many predicted that he would, grew into his right-sided role. It is one that he is expected to reprise heading into the new campaign and, given the absence of Jeremy Menez at the start of the season (h/t ESPN FC), he will probably play the majority of the early matches.
That leaves Ibrahimovic and Cavani to lead the line in attack.
We saw last season that the Swede now prefers to drop deep, particularly in Europe, and lay the chances off for his teammates.
While that created plenty of opportunities for the likes of Lavezzi and Menez who acted as makeshift strike partners, the 31-year-old was still expected to weigh in with more than his fair share of goals.
Signing ‘El Matador’ takes that weight off of Ibra’s shoulders and will make PSG more lethal and brutally efficient both domestically and in Europe.
Assuming Ibrahimovic can maintain the same impeccable level of creativity that he enjoyed last season, Cavani will thrive alongside the towering talisman despite observations that the pair are too similar.
The similarities stop at a physical level, after that they are two entirely different but complimentary players.
Of course, should PSG sign another player either up front or in midfield, this predicted line up will change. For now it seems like this will be how Blanc’s side will be lining up, at least in their early matches.
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