By Laure James.
Paris Saint-Germain managed to hold the giants of Barcelona to two draws in April last year, perhaps the most impressive performances in their new era.
Now, however, fraught with concerns at the top over Financial Fair Play, and a true malaise setting in at domestic level, there is little to applaud the Parisians over.
They welcome Barcelona to Parc des Princes tonight, although Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is struggling with a recurring injury in his left heel, will be watching from the stands. He failed a fitness test on Monday, and joins Argentine Ezequiel Lavezzi and captain Thiago Silva among those who are unavailable to manager Laurent Blanc, and, while this is obviously a concern for PSG fans, there are larger problems afoot than just feet.
This is being touted as Barca coach Luis Enrique’s ‘acid test’, for many of the same reasons why PSG ought to be riding high. Critics say their domestic opposition flatters them, so how come Barcelona can score, and do not appear to make the critical mistake of under-estimating their opponents, yet PSG fail to do it convincingly?
True enough, when PSG play to a level of sub-standard quality, they draw. They’re unbeaten this season – as are Barcelona – but have drawn six of their nine games. That’s not good enough against a side who have scored 18 this term, six alone in their last game against Grenada, and not conceded a single goal.
It gets worse. Manager Laurent Blanc, former French captain and an ex-Barcelona man himself, is supposed to be an inspiring leader at this level, surely? In yesterday’s press conference, he referred to Barcelona as PSG’s “almost masters”.
There’s showing the other team respect, and there’s announcing yourself as challengers-in-waiting. Of course, he’s said he doesn’t want Barcelona to leave with a result, and wants to “beat them at their own game”, but his comments are negatively tipped in favour of awarding credit to Barcelona, rather than publicly backing his own.
There have also been reports of unrest at Clairefontaine for sometime; accusations of players breaking off into Brazilian and Italian cliques has annoyed French native players, including Jeremy Menez who said he was overlooked in favour of foreign players perceived to be more glamorous.
That’s in the past, they tell us now. Let’s see if ‘they’ – the players, the management, sources close to the club – are right. If PSG can, against all the odds, put in a united performance, perhaps the questions will be silenced… for now.