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Stroll to French title may work against PSG

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

While Chelsea fought for the win that dragged them up to 12th place in the Premier League on Saturday, Laurent Blanc decided to do without the spine of his Paris Saint-Germain team for their Ligue 1 match with Lille. The game finished 0-0, one of the worst results of PSG's season, not that it mattered.

That was just the fourth draw of PSG's league campaign. They have won their other 22 games and are 24 points clear of second-placed Monaco. It is the most unbalanced league season in modern times in Europe.

It should be no real surprise, too. PSG's annual budget of £410m is more than double that of Monaco and more than three times that of anyone else. They are playing a different game financially, and that is finally being realised on the pitch.

"There are two championships in Ligue 1, one involving PSG, then the other with literally every other team," said Alex Hayes, vice-president of Lorient.

"Any of the other 19 teams can finish second, or bottom. If we won three games in a row, we would be near the Champions League spots. There is a competitive Ligue 1, just not one including PSG."

This is a unique situation for any of the sides left in the Champions League. Even Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich have lost one Bundesliga game this season, and their eight-point lead over Borussia Dortmund looks narrow by comparison.

This is the third year in succession that PSG have drawn Chelsea in the Champions League. Their marketing department is trying to sell it as "The New Classic", as PSG's traditional rivalry with Marseille, 35 points behind them, drifts into irrelevance.

The issue for PSG is what this domestic hegemony means for their European chances. It certainly entails that these Champions League knockout games count for more than any number of easy Ligue 1 wins. Nothing Blanc has done as coach will count for as much as his defeat of Chelsea at this stage last year, the first time his side had beaten one of Europe's elite over two legs.

"That was the birth of this team," Hayes added. "It was no secret that Blanc would have gone if they had lost. But since then they have grown in stature and belief." Last Thursday Blanc signed a new two-year contract.

But does this uncompetitive environment help PSG or not? The fact that they were able to rest players on Saturday, which Chelsea could not, must do. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Motta, Thiago Silva and Maxwell have not played since last Wednesday's 3-0 cup win over Lyon.

With Marco Verratti being carefully managed since picking up a groin injury, they ought to have close to full strength tonight.

There is a case that winning football is the best preparation, and PSG are certainly in a very good moment. Their level of performance in Ligue 1, both domestic cups, and the Champions League, has impressed many.

What this means is that PSG have very little direct preparation for facing Chelsea over two legs. They are a better side, with better players, but tonight they have to find a competitive level that may come easier to their opponents.

Teams that flatten their domestic leagues rarely win in Europe.

Belfast Telegraph


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