Gary Lim: Blanc getting things right at PSG
Blanc's side send out strong statement with impressive victory over Chelsea
ROUND OF 16, SECOND LEG
(Diego Costa 27)
PARIS ST GERMAIN 2
(Adrien Rabiot 16, Zlatan Ibrahimovic 67)PSG win 4-2 on aggregate
As the previous generation of England players would attest to, there's no joy in being a quarter-final team.
Paris Saint Germain must be hoping to shake off that same tag once and for all.
With a 2-1 away victory over Chelsea in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 clash at Stamford Bridge yesterday morning (Singapore time), they planted their feet on last-eight territory. This is traditionally where PSG fans start to feel a familiar sinking feeling.
For three seasons in a row, the club have been halted at the quarter-final stage. However, beating Chelsea 2-1 in both legs, and with such ease, was an encouraging sign for coach Laurent Blanc, who is into his third season.
In fact, Guus Hiddink's only two losses - in 17 games - since he took over from Jose Mourinho last December, were inflicted by PSG.
Said Blanc: "It was a great challenge to come here to win.
"I thought it would be harder this year, but that's twice now we've won the tie here.
"It's a sign that we're making progress in Europe."
The 50-year-old former France international and Barcelona defender had every right to savour the moment.
PSG were playing Chelsea in the Champions League knock-out stages for the third season in a row.
The first occasion saw PSG eliminated on the away-goals rule, before the Parisian club returned the favour last season.
This time around, they breezed past their opponents with a 4-2 aggregate win.
The foundation of their victory was built on a stellar offensive cast.
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the ace up their sleeve, scoring a goal in each leg.
Forward Angel di Maria, a menace throughout the match, reminded Manchester United fans what an asset he can be when his talent is truly appreciated.
Blanc, who looks set to lead his team to their third consecutive French league title, said of di Maria: "They never knew where he was, but we always knew where to find him with the ball."
Lucas Moura on the opposite side of di Maria provided speed and directness which Chelsea struggled to cope with.
When it came time to bring on fresher legs, the significant difference in depth between the two clubs became even clearer.
Chelsea introduced Bertrand Traore and Oscar, while PSG responded with Edinson Cavani, Javier Pastore and Gregory van der Wiel.
It is PSG's defence and midfield which need to be further polished to handle Europe's higher intensity as compared with the slower-paced Ligue 1.
Chelsea, when they started to press higher up the field and play with a greater tempo after the opening goal, showed that PSG are at their most vulnerable when they are denied time and space.
PSG now stand on the edge of a breakthrough. They will find out their chances of at least emulating the class of 1994/95 when the draw for the quarter-finals is made a week from now.
That vintage team comprising the likes of David Ginola, George Weah and Rai took PSG to the semis where they were stopped by a star-studded AC Milan - the closest the club have come to winning the competition.
Blanc, who last month signed a two-year-extension to his contract which ties him till 2018, faces huge challenges ahead.
They are caught in the middle of Europe's band of super clubs and a distinctive second tier, not quite ready to tackle Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid but positioned a notch above all the other challengers bar Atletico Madrid.
It's an intimidating gap which Blanc needs to bridge to deliver the biggest prize of them all.
With the team seemingly at their peak, there is an excellent chance to be grabbed.
But first, PSG must shake off their unwanted label. And so does Blanc. His last three Champions League campaigns (2009/10 with Bordeaux, 20013/14 and 2014/15 with PSG) ended in the quarter-finals.
France's journey at Euro 2012 - Blanc's only major tournament during his stint with the national side - also ended at the same stage.
Both club and coach certainly have something to prove.
Zlatan: I'm not in talks with EPL clubs
He "doesn't do auditions", as he famously turned down Arsenal after they wanted him to undergo a trial in 2000.
Now 34 and still one of the most sought-after footballers in the world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic may finally get to play in England when his contract with Paris Saint-Germain runs out in July.
His free-agent status is set to spark a frenzied chase among the world's top clubs for his signature.
Ibrahimovic showed just what English fans are missing when he scored one goal and set up another in PSG's last-16, second-leg 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge yesterday morning (Singapore time), completing a 4-2 aggregate victory to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for a fourth successive season.
"I have another two months with PSG. I'm not in discussions with anyone," Ibrahimovic said after the match.
"Let's see what happens. I'm not closing the door for anyone. I'll put it on the table and see if it's good for me and my family."
On whether the prospect of playing in England is an enticing one, he replied: "The Premier League has always been attractive."
The Swede, who also scored a goal against Chelsea in the first leg, has had to stave off criticism throughout his career for a perceived inability to reproduce his domestic form in European competitions.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc believes that the striker has silenced his detractors with his display against the Blues.
AT HIS BEST
He said: "Zlatan played a match in keeping with what he's done this season.
"You always have doubts because it's Ligue 1. That's the truth. You ask if he can play like that in the Champions League. He gave his response tonight.
"He has important qualities for us. He moves the two centre backs around in the opposing team.
"Technically, he sees things very quickly.
"When he drops deep - which we ask him to do - he helps put our game in place.
"He played a great match like lots of PSG players tonight, like pretty much the whole team.
"It won't give him confidence as he already has huge confidence in himself. But a goal and an assist will do him well, and the coach and the club get the benefit."
Even Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink thinks that Ibrahimovic will prove to be a big hit anywhere in Europe, let alone England.
Said the 69-year-old Dutchman: "He's proving already many, many years what kind of player he is.
"He's a personality, he's the boss in this team and they use him perfectly.
"He's not the youngest, but for his age, for a footballer he's doing very well. He can adapt himself, also through his big personality, in any league in Europe."
- Wire Services.