Paris Saint-Germain are under pressure to clinch their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League at Valencia’s expense after their latest below-par domestic performance.
The French club are top of Ligue 1 and lead Valencia 2-1 from the first leg of their last-16 tie, but a 1-0 defeat away to Stade de Reims on Saturday came as a blow to Carlo Ancelotti’s squad before today’s game at the Parc des Princes.
Furthermore, bizarre comments by sporting director Leonardo — who spent two years as a player at Valencia in the early 1990s — will come back to bite PSG if they are unable to see off their Spanish opponents.
“Maybe we are not made to play in games like these,” claimed the Brazilian after the defeat to a Reims side that had won just once in their previous 19 matches in all competitions. “Perhaps we have a team designed more for Europe than the league.”
The often tepid nature of their domestic performances this season and the contrast with their outstanding results in Europe would appear to back up Leonardo’s claims, but for a man in his position to say such a thing was still a major surprise.
The massive investment in PSG’s squad by their Qatari owners has, after all, been made with domestic as well as European success in mind.
Nevertheless, attentions are now fully fixed on the continental scene, and vital away goals from Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore mean that PSG have the edge coming into the return leg of this tie, even if a late Adil Rami goal in the first leg allowed Valencia to maintain hope.
“I don’t think the defeat to Reims will be a problem because everyone is focused on Europe,” former Barcelona fullback Maxwell said.
“This competition is very important and we will be giving everything to try and win it,” he said.
All will be well in the French capital if Ancelotti’s side can progress to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition, but they will need to cope without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who begins a two-match European ban handed down for his sending-off toward the end of the first leg.
Italian midfielder Marco Verratti is also banned, meaning a Champions League start could be in the offing for David Beckham, who failed to make an impression as a substitute at the weekend.
“They are two important players. Ibrahimovic holds the ball up well and Verratti is young, good technically and controls the way his team plays,” Valencia’s French leftback Aly Cissokho said.
“They will miss them, but they have players who can replace them such as Beckham or [Jeremy] Menez,” he said.
Valencia come into the game on a run of just one defeat in their last 10 outings in La Liga, even if that was a 5-0 home defeat at the hands of a Real Madrid side who, like PSG, are adept at tearing opponents apart on the break.
Ernesto Valverde’s men are fifth in La Liga, one point adrift of the Champions League qualifying spots for next season, although they could have been in an even better position had they not conceded a late equalizer to draw 2-2 at home against cross-town rivals Levante at the weekend.
The two-time Champions League runners-up have defensive problems with Ricardo Costa and French international Rami both missing due to injury, meaning another Frenchman, Jeremy Mathieu, will again partner Victor Ruiz in the heart of the back four, just as he did at the weekend.