5 Reasons Why Paris Saint-Germain Can Win the Champions League This Season
This week the Champions League makes its much anticipated return after the two-month winter break. The round of 16 ties over the next month include some mouthwatering contests and will narrow the contenders for the trophy down to just eight.
One side in with a chance of glory is Paris Saint-Germain. The only French side left in the competition face a tough test against German side Bayer Leverkusen in the round of 16 but, after topping a difficult group in the first stage, there are signs that Laurent Blanc's side can go all the way to the final in May.
With giants such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Manchester City all desperate to lift the Champions League trophy, why should PSG be considered as a decent bet for glory in Europe's premier club competition?
Here are five reasons why Paris Saint-Germain can win the Champions League this season. Enjoy reading, and have your say in the comments below.
At this stage in the season, the top teams in world football are nearly always competing on multiple fronts. Every year, as the Champions League makes its February return, the biggest sides in the competition are usually also chasing domestic trophies.
Paris Saint-Germain are no exception. Les Parisiens are battling away on three fronts: the Champions League, Ligue 1 and the Coupe de la Ligue. A shock 2-1 defeat to Montpellier in the Coupe de France quashed any hopes of the club pursuing an unprecedented quadruple as the business end of the season draws near.
However, having said this, PSG are one of the few sides that can afford to have the Champions League as an almost complete priority in the next few months. Given their superb form and the competition they face, the Ligue 1 title is virtually within PSG's grasp. Similarly, they will go into the Coupe de la Ligue final against Lyon in April as strong favourites. Laurent Blanc's men can afford to focus on the Champions League.
Compare this with some of their key rivals for the trophy. In England, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal are locked in a fascinating tactical struggle for the Premier League title. Similarly, in Spain, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are all capable of winning La Liga. In both countries, the race for the title is so close that no side can afford to solely focus on the Champions League.
As such, PSG are in a great position. They have the luxury of being able to pour their vast resources into their Champions League games without having to worry too much about their domestic duties. Of the other contenders for the Champions League, only Bayern Munich have a similar comfort.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Paris Saint-Germain have one of the best attacks in world football. The embarrassment of riches that Laurent Blanc has at his disposal for the latter stages of the Champions League mean that PSG have to be considered as realistic challengers.
In the group stages of this season's competition, Ibrahimovic, Cavani and co plundered 16 goals, finding the net the same amount of times as Barcelona, and four more times than Jose Mourinho's Chelsea outfit.
In Ibrahimovic and Cavani, PSG have two of the world's most deadly strikers. Between them, the pair have 32 goals in 25 Ligue 1 games so far this campaign. Neither frontman has been without his injury problems, but if Cavani can recover strongly from his hamstring injury and Zlatan can shake off his niggling back pain, then PSG are a force to be reckoned with on the attack.
So much focus is placed on Zlatan and Cavani that it is easy to forget the abundance of creative flair that PSG have in support of their talismanic forwards. Lucas Moura, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Jeremy Menez and even the troubled Javier Pastore would walk into almost any side in Europe, but frequently only one of them is guaranteed a start for Laurent Blanc's side.
Such is the strength of their attacking options. Any side with such firepower could easily be vying for glory come May.
Laurent Blanc favours playing a front trio of Ibrahimovic, Cavani and one other player from his selection of attacking talent. While it is often these players that grab the goals and steal the headlines, behind them PSG have a midfield that is capable of controlling and dominating even the very best sides.
In Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti, Blanc has found a perfect balance to his midfield. They are at once experienced and energetic, robust and cultured. In possession of the ball they are a seamless rotating trio, often capable of passing the opposition into submission before releasing the devastating attacking forces ahead of them.
Without the ball they are equally impressive. The wily experienced Motta, together with the frenetic hassling and harrying of Matuidi and Verratti, rushes opposition midfielders into errors, and once PSG regain possession, it is often a while before their opponents get even close to the ball.
The acquisition of Yohan Cabaye further reinforces the capability of PSG's midfield. Before leaving for the Parc des Princes, Cabaye was at once the creative and destructive lynchpin in an impressive Newcastle side.
The fact he is not guaranteed a starting spot for Blanc's side is a testament to the quality of those in front of him in the pecking order, but the signing of Cabaye further signals both PSG's calibre and intent to progress further in the Champions League.
The Champions League is the pinnacle of club football. To win the big-eared cup marks a team as one of the best footballing sides of a generation, such is the standard of the competition they must beat on the way to victory in the final.
Of all the sides left in this season's Champions League, few have such a fervent desire to lift the trophy in May than Laurent Blanc's men. Domestically, PSG are in danger of stagnating. Without disrespecting the other top French sides, the standard of competition Les Parisiens face weekly in Ligue 1 does not sufficiently challenge such a talented group of players.
The way for this PSG side to make their mark on world football, as well as to shake off the somewhat cynical view of them as hired footballing mercenaries interested primarily in money, is to win the Champions League.
The owners of PSG, the Qatar Investment Authority, are desperate for success and have poured such vast riches into the side that their desire to lift the club to the summit of world football is unquestionable.
Such determination can be found in the players too. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won domestic league titles with top European clubs but has yet to win a Champions League winner's medal. His talismanic determination can be seen throughout Laurent Blanc's squad, and with such a passion for the Champions League trophy, PSG must be seen as serious contenders.
Much is made of PSG's array of attacking talent. The praise that Les Parisiens forward line receives is justifiable too, but to not touch on the solidity and steel of their defensive unit would do Laurent Blanc's side a disservice.
Only Atletico Madrid and Jose Mourinho's miserly Chelsea side conceded fewer goals than PSG in the group stages of this season's competition. Two of the five PSG conceded came away to Benfica in the final group matchday when their safe passage to the round of 16 was already guaranteed.
As ever with PSG, the positional strength in depth is superb. Led by Thiago Silva, PSG have one of the meanest defences in Europe with a vital mix of youth and experience present in their back line.
Brazilian players are characteristically noted for their creative genius and attacking flair, but Laurent Blanc has three South American centre-backs in Silva, Marquinhos and Alex who are more than adept at keeping goals out rather than getting on the scoresheet.
With Salvatore Sirigu an ever-present as the last line of defence in goal, Blanc has developed a solid core to his side which will stand them in good stead should they beat Bayer Leverkusen and progress to the latter rounds of the competition. To win the Champions League, a strong defence is as vital as a potent attack, and PSG are blessed with both.