There is not a whole lot of love in the Parc des Princes at present. Paris Saint-Germain may have roared to back-to-back French titles and reached the knockout stages of the Champions League for the third season running, but the passion and excitement appears to be draining away.
A campaign that began with the inflated purchase of David Luiz for £50 million (Dh280m), a heel injury restricting Zlatan Ibrahimovic to just 24 minutes between the end of September and November, has gradually seen more stories of dressing room discontent emerge.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc confirms Serge Aurier, Lucas Moura & Yohan Cabaye absolutely out vs. Chelsea tomorrow. Marquinhos still a maybe.
— Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip) February 16, 2015
Yohan Cabaye is unhappy with a lack of football, while Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani were reportedly not getting on, fuelled by a lack of on-field chemistry crossed with huge slices of ego as both are desperate to be the focal point of the attack: a battle the Swede won, irrespective of how well Cavani played in his injury absence.
Form on the pitch only magnified such issues: no defeats but a run of seven draws from their opening 12 matches in all competitions left them playing catch-up to Marseille in Ligue 1.
Results were turned around before the winter break with 11 wins in 15, but over New Year issues resurfaced, with Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi fined for returning late back to the club from South America. Perhaps most disheartening of all were murmurs that Thiago Motta, a man of considerable influence, had asked his agent to search for a new club at the end of the season.
And while form has picked up, PSG are still third in Ligue 1, two adrift of a Lyon side with minimal investment but maximum unity.
“There is a distinct lack of energy and verve about this particular PSG team. It seems all the enjoyment has been sucked out of them”
Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Caen wasn’t the best preparation for Chelsea, surrendering a two-goal lead in the last two minutes to draw with the 15-placed side in France. To increase the impact of that collapse, Blanc lost Serge Aurier, Cabaye and Lucas Moura to injuries, to add to a growing list of player needing treatment.
Then there is the manager himself. Blanc was a safe pair of hands after Carlo Ancelotti’s departure to Real Madrid in 2013, this potential dressing room disillusionment isn’t the first, nor the most fearsome he’s encountered; at Euro 2012 he was unable to control Samir Nasri, Jeremy Menez or Hatem Ben Arfa as France bowed out of the European Championships amid chaotic scenes.
However, while Blanc’s long-term fate at the club may appear sealed, a saviour could arrive in the Champions League.
Qatar Sports Investments’ significant financial outlay was not to make PSG two-time French champions or Coupe de la Ligue winners, as nice as that looks in the trophy cabinet, the ultimate goal is success on a continental scale.
So far, they’ve fallen short: two quarter-final exits. But for 340m euros (Dh1.4bn) you’re expecting a bit more bang for your buck. September’s 3-2 victory over Barcelona is a fleeting highlight in a season, so far, of under-performance.
There is a distinct lack of energy and verve about this particular PSG team. It seems the enjoyment and expectation has been sucked out of them. To perhaps symbolise it best is the sheer number of draws this season: 10 in the league, already more than their past two seasons.
Tonight, they will need more than that. Beating and then knocking out the Premier League leaders on March 11 will make a sizeable statement. One that says: Project PSG is alive and well.
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