Paris Saint-Germain head into Tuesday’s pivotal UEFA Champions League Group F clash with Barcelona under a cloud. Currently fourth in Ligue 1, five points behind early-season leaders Olympique de Marseille after labouring to a fifth draw of the season in Toulouse on Saturday, coach Laurent Blanc is starting to feel the heat.
Reports prior to last Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Stade Malherbe Caen suggested that the PSG hierarchy were giving him until after the Barcelona clash to prove that he can still lead the French champions to this season’s ambitions, per ESPN FC’s Julien Laurens. Last weekend’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Toulouse makes Tuesday’s meeting with the Spanish giants a must-win game for Blanc, if it was not already, even though his team are still unbeaten domestically.
In reality, Le President’s future was always going to depend on European results. That is Les Parisiens’ main objective after all. Progress past the quarterfinals this campaign is a must after last term’s painful exit at the hands of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea on away goals.
PSG’s 1-1 draw with AFC Ajax in their Group F opener a fortnight ago means that Tuesday’s encounter at the Parc des Princes is now a potentially decisive one as far as topping the group is concerned. Fail to beat Luis Enrique’s men at home and the French giants are effectively fighting for second place in the table at best.
With injuries to star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic, captain Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi mounting up alongside the pressure on Blanc’s position as coach, the PSG tactician’s orders could not be much taller.
Succeed in beating Lionel Messi and company; the 48-year-old’s position will likely be made safe and all of the stress accumulated in the run-up to this game will be forgotten for the time being. Fail, and his fate could be decided swiftly, with a draw potentially having the same effect.
It sounds harsh to say that Blanc could be facing the sack if PSG do not beat Barcelona, opponents who it would be understandable if the French side lost to, but that was always going to be a possibility once they failed to take maximum points from their trip to Amsterdam. If there was a game that is likely to truly hurt the former French national team boss, it is that draw with Ajax.
Had PSG beaten the Dutch champions, they would have been level on points with Barcelona and a home draw—even a respectable defeat—would have been understandable. Now, the French champions are under pressure to redress the balance of their Champions League campaign.
Blanc has everything to gain and everything to lose at the same time.
Working in his favour is the fact that the team will be obliged to raise their game considerably from the mediocre level displayed in le Championnat so far this season. While PSG’s domestic complacency is at times understandable—though unacceptable considering the amount spent assembling such a stellar squad—under-performance on the continental stage is unexpected and will not be tolerated.
Currently, the capital club’s last two Champions League performances—Chelsea away last season and Ajax on the road this year—have fallen below the level expected by the club’s hierarchy. The players are well aware that this needs to be righted against a side they came close to eliminating from the competition the season before last.
With that added incentive in mind, the visit of Barcelona might be what PSG have needed to finally wake them up this season. They are known as a team that has been constructed for the biggest of occasions and certain players failed to prove that against both Chelsea and Ajax. Blanc’s players need to prove that they deserve the star reputations that they enjoy.
Whatever the result, PSG need to improve this season. One excellent match against Barcelona is not enough to completely erase the problems that have dogged the team’s start to the season, but it will be enough to satisfy the club’s leaders and buy Blanc some time.
Le President needs the Barcelona match to bring the very best out of his players so that they can finally get their campaign off the ground.