Despite Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Lille OSC at the Parc des Princes, Paris Saint-Germain’s first half of the 2013-14 season has been very impressive.
The defending champions are three points clear at the top of Ligue 1 and were crowned autumn champions with a game to spare.
Laurent Blanc’s side, after a slow start, have powered away and arguably should find themselves further ahead of second-placed AS Monaco after a few blips since the start of the term.
However, PSG have impressed overall thanks to their new possession-based style of play that has been implemented by Blanc and the team are progressing well on three out of four possible fronts for silverware.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has rediscovered his prolific form from last year, but has added greater creativity and generosity to his repertoire, scoring 15 league goals so far to lead the competition in Le Championnat.
New signings Edinson Cavani, Marquinhos and Lucas Digne have bedded in well, particularly the Uruguayan who is keeping up his pursuit of Ibrahimovic with 12 strikes so far.
Blanc has also impressed, showing good control of the squad, excellent tactical nous and he has won over many of those who were originally critical of him when he was first appointed as coach.
Here is PSG’s half-term report.
While there are a number of candidates for this award, it is difficult to look further than Zlatan Ibrahimovic after a stellar first half of the season.
Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Edinson Cavani have all impressed, but none have made as crucial an impact as the Swede.
With 15 goals and 16 assists so far this term, Ibra is showing the same dominating form that saw him voted as Ligue 1’s best player last campaign.
50 - @Ibra_official has played 50 Ligue 1 games, scoring 43 goals and assisting 14 others. Zlatan.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) December 7, 2013
Although he does not boast the same tally that he did at this stage last season (19 goals), Ibrahimovic has arguably been in better form because of the creative streak that he has embraced further.
The 32-year-old has provided six assists to date this year, having laid on seven throughout the whole of last season, and is benefitting from focusing on his role as PSG’s playmaker.
His willingness to embrace the greater creative responsibility handed to him by Blanc’s new formation is arguably the reason that the team find themselves eight goals better off now than at the same stage last term.
Despite a number of positives from the season so far, there are still a few negative aspects that need to be addressed in January and moving forward into the second half of the campaign.
Most pressing of those is the disappointing form of a number of important players, many bought for massive transfer fees, who are not pulling their weight within the side.
Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez are three such examples. But while the Frenchman looks almost certain to be moved on next month, the Argentine duo still appear to feature heavily in the capital club’s plans moving forward.
Lavezzi, despite playing as part of a front three that boasts Ibrahimovic and Cavani, only has two league goals to his name so far and is yet to provide an assist.
Lucas Moura, who is played in a similar position and yet given fewer chances from the start in games, has scored three times and provided four goals.
Pastore’s malaise continues and, with each passing game, the enigmatic playmaker looks less like a football player.
Extremely costly at €42 million, the 24-year-old is in such dire form that any potential interested party would be mad to even offer half of that to try to sign him and it is hard to see PSG parting with him at this point.
Surprise of the Season
Thiago Motta started the season as a squad member only because of his injury problems that forced him to miss large parts of last season.
Now enjoying a rare fully fit season, the Italian international has underlined his status as one of world football’s best holding midfielders and has become pivotal to the team in their new layout under Blanc.
31 years old but in the form of his life, the club are expected to tie him down to a well-deserved new deal before the start of the second half of the campaign.
His role in the side as part of a midfield three that also comprises Blaise Matuidi and compatriot Marco Verratti has become integral to PSG’s style of play.
4 - the number of players who have completed more than 1000 passes in Ligue 1 this season: Verratti, Motta, Obbadi, Digard. Providers.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) December 23, 2013
Able to dictate the game and control possession for the French champions domestically and in Europe, Motta is one of four players who has completed over 1,000 passes in Ligue 1 so far this term.
Marquinhos' accomplished performances so far this term should also not go unmentioned.
Few arguably expected him to be ready for regular first team football at this early stage, but his European form in particular has demonstrated impressive maturity.
After winning their first Championnat title in 19 years last season, PSG have done what was asked of them at the start of the season and lead the table at the midway point, as they have done at the same stage for the last three years.
The Parisians have seen off the threat of both Monaco and Lille OSC so far and are three points clear at the top of the league.
Looking good for their title defence, the team are well-equipped to compete on multiple fronts.
Despite a few hiccups domestically this term, they are still six points better off than they were at this point last year and are vastly more prolific.
A second consecutive title should be theirs if they can continue in their current form.
After a fantastic start to their Group C campaign, PSG took their foot off the gas in a pool that contained Olympiakos, SL Benfica and RSC Anderlecht.
Despite dropping points at home to the Belgians and losing away in Portugal at the end of the group stages, Blanc’s side still qualified top of the group with 13 points.
Drawn to face German side Bayer Leverkusen in the next round, the team from the French capital will fancy themselves to at least equal last season’s quarter-final appearance.
6 - Salvatore Sirigu & Thiago Motta are the only PSG players to have started all 6 Champions League group games this season. Duo.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) December 10, 2013
Coupe de la Ligue
Victory over title holders AS Saint-Etienne after extra time last week saw PSG into the quarter-finals of the Coupe de la Ligue (French league cup).
Under Carlo Ancelotti last season, the team exited at this stage and Blanc will be well aware of the need to take the domestic competitions alongside the league seriously given the Italian’s failings.
Victory over Girondins de Bordeaux at the Stade Chaban-Delmas in January would move them a step closer to the Stade de France and silverware that is needed to justify PSG’s claims to be the most dominant team in the country.
39 - Paris SG have scored 39 goals in their first 17 Ligue 1 games this season, a record since Nice in 1977/78. Festival.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) December 14, 2013
Areas to Improve
There are few real complaints to make after such an impressive start to the season, although PSG’s 2-0 defeat at Evian Thonon-Gaillard at the start of December was an unwelcome surprise.
Ensuring that the team do not allow complacency to get the better of them is one way for Blanc to almost guarantee that his side will win a second consecutive Ligue 1 title.
In terms of personnel, a creative midfielder should be a priority given Pastore’s struggle to adequately fill that role.
Another striker and possibly another defender would ensure that the team do not get exposed in the event of an injury to either Ibrahimovic or Cavani and Thiago Silva or Alex, with precious few backup options in both areas.
Chances of Success
Assuming that PSG continue on their current trajectory, their chances of winning another French title and possibly one or both of the domestic cups are good.
Blanc has by far the strongest squad in the country and, assuming that they can deal with their European commitments as well as their domestic ones, the team should still be in good shape come the latter stages of the season.
That is where an extra player in one or two positions may become particularly useful so that Blanc can enjoy maximum rotation when prioritising certain games, but not losing sight of the importance of the bread and butter of Ligue 1.