Breaking Down PSG's Champions League Group-Stage Opponents
The Group of Zlatan, well almost anyway. Paris Saint-Germain were drawn in Group F of this season’s edition of the UEFA Champions League, and the French champions’ star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic will face two of his former clubs, and what could have been a third in Malmo FF.
10 - @Ibra_official scored 10 goals in 29 Champions League games with Ajax & Barcelona. Reunion.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) August 28, 2014
Following last season’s agonising quarter-final exit at the hands of Chelsea, a second consecutive last-eight elimination, questions were asked as to whether or not Laurent Blanc’s men needed to face a sterner test during the group stage after receiving favourable draws for the past two editions. This campaign’s draw has given them that and handed PSG a reasonably balanced draw.
Here is a breakdown of the French giants’ Group F opponents.
In Barcelona, PSG get European giants. However, they are European giants PSG are familiar with after their away-goals defeat to the Spaniards in the 2012-13 quarter-finals, so they will be more comfortable with the great sense of occasion this time around.
Coming up against the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luiz Suarez in the group stage is ideal, as continental adversaries do not come bigger than the Catalans. A trip to the Camp Nou will obviously cause some problems, but overall PSG will be confident that they can earn enough points overall to progress as one of the top two in the group.
European Honours: Four-time Champions League winners (1991-92, 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2010-11), four-time UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup champions (1978-79, 1981-82, 1988-89 and 1996-97) and four-time winners of the UEFA Super Cup (1992, 1997, 2009 and 2011).
Coach: Luis Enrique.
Key Men: It is difficult to look any further than the likes of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Everywhere you look in Enrique’s side, there is quality. However, the likely absence of Suarez for at least one match is a small blessing for Les Parisiens.
Chances: Although it will be difficult to beat Barcelona home and away, it is not completely necessary that PSG top Group F and beat the Spaniards once or more. The capital outfit have an excellent record against Barca, and the fact that they did not lose in either leg of their last encounter is encouraging.
Prediction: PSG might not beat Barcelona over both matches, but Blanc’s men will be confident that they can finish above the Catalans. A good result in the second group match—when the pair meet at Parc des Princes—is imperative.
As for Ajax, the Dutch champions are the perfect opponents. On paper, PSG should win both matches against Frank de Boer’s men, but the 44-year-old has shown himself to be an excellent coach.
The Amsterdam giants’ world-renowned ability to nurture top young talent will also mean that the side from the French capital will face an extremely vibrant side home and away. Considering Ajax’s continental pedigree, they are no easy draw for PSG.
2002 - @Ibra_official's first Champions League game & goal were both in the Amsterdam Arena (September 2002). Familiar.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) August 28, 2014
European Honours: Four-time Champions League winners (1970-71, 1971-72, 1972-73 and 1994-95), one-time Cup Winners’ Cup champions (1986-87), one-time UEFA Cup winners (1991-92) and two European Super Cups (1974 and 1995).
Coach: Frank de Boer.
Key Men: De Boer’s side regularly sell their star youth-academy graduates for big fees to stay afloat, but the Dutch giants still have the likes of Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, Davy Klaassen, Daley Blind and Jasper Cillessen to call upon. Their squad may be young, but there is plenty of talent on show, and Ajax will not be easy to beat home or away.
Chances: The away clash at Amsterdam Arena on September 17 will be of vital importance to PSG. A loss in the opening group fixture would put Blanc’s men under immense pressure ahead of their first home game against Barca.
Prediction: Considering the importance of the games and the potential threat posed by Ajax for second place in the group, PSG have to be at their best from the first game and will be keen to hit the ground running.
APOEL are arguably an unknown entity to Les Parisiens at this moment, having last met them in the 1993-94 edition of the Cup Winners' Cup. However, French football fans will remember the Cypriots as the team that knocked Ligue 1 rivals Olympique Lyonnais out of the 2011-12 edition of the Champions League thanks to a 4-3 second-leg penalty shootout victory.
That win secured a famous quarter-final appearance for APOEL, where they were comprehensively dismantled by Real Madrid, but they have already shown that they possess giant-killing pedigree, and Nicosia is not an easy place to go for any side.
2 - @PSG_inside have already played and won twice against Apoel Nicosia, in CWC 1993/94 (1-0, 2-0). Repeat ?— OptaJean (@OptaJean) August 28, 2014
European Honours: N/A
Coach: Giorgos Donis.
Key Men: Although much of the APOEL squad is likely unknown to PSG, there are a few familiar faces. Defender Carlao spent six years in France with FC Sochaux-Montbeliard, while Algerian international Rafik Djebbour started his career at AJ Auxerre.
Chances: PSG will view their double-header against the Cypriots on the third and fourth matchdays as must-win clashes. If the French champions were to drop points against APOEL in such a balanced group, their chances of elimination would dramatically increase.
Prediction: On paper—and likely in reality too—the gulf in class between these two sides is too big. However, APOEL relish their perennial underdog status and will be confident of pulling off at least one shock result in Group F.