PSG take on Valencia with a handy lead from their trip to the Mestalla.
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 Reims on Saturday came as a blow to Carlo Ancelotti’s squad before Wednesday’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,” said the former Barcelona full-back Maxwell.
“This competition is very important and we will be giving everything to try and win it.”
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 towards 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,” said Valencia’s French left-back Aly Cissokho.
“They will miss them, but they have players who can replace them such as Beckham or (Jeremy) Menez.”
Valencia come into the game on a run of just one defeat in their last ten 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 equaliser 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.
“We lost at home, but despite everything we have a chance of winning in Paris,” added Cissokho. “We need to score, so we cannot afford to just sit back, but nothing is impossible in football.”
The return of influential centre-back Thiago Silva after almost two months on the sidelines comes as a timely boost for Paris Saint-Germain ahead of their Champions League last 16, second leg, against Valencia at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday.
The Brazil captain suffered a thigh injury in the goalless Ligue 1 draw with Ajaccio on January 11, and has missed his team’s subsequent 10 matches.
In that time, PSG have looked shakier at the back than they do when the former AC Milan man is there, strolling through games and calmly organising those around him.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended, the French giants will look to the 28-year-old to help ease them through to the quarter-finals of Europe’s leading club competition, with PSG currently 2-1 up from the first leg.
“It is difficult to come straight back without being used to the rhythm, but all great players must be ready to play and I have prepared myself to be ready for a match of this size,” said Silva at the eve-of-game press conference at the Parc des Princes.
PSG were surprisingly beaten 1-0 at struggling Reims in their domestic league on Saturday, leading to claims by the club’s sporting director Leonardo that the side are better suited for Europe than for the weekly grind of Ligue 1.
“Perhaps we have a team designed more for Europe,” he said, in comments that were surprising from a man in Leonardo’s position.
Nevertheless, there was an element of truth to them and his compatriot Silva agrees.
“The Champions League changes everything. Our concentration increases because games like these ensure that it is at its maximum. I am prepared for this game, and I feel the team is too,” he said, before dismissing suggestions that Leonardo’s remarks have put any extra pressure on the side to perform.
“Practically all of us, players and coaches, live off results. If a player doesn’t score, or a goal is let in because of his mistake, he can be dropped, so we constantly live under pressure, but it’s good pressure, positive pressure.”
The tie is PSG’s to lose, even if a late Adil Rami goal in the first leg last month allowed Valencia to maintain some hope.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side have often been at their best this season when playing on the counterattack, with the first leg, in which PSG had less than 40 percent of the possession, a perfect example.
However, the Italian, a former winner of the European Cup as a player and coach, urged his team to forget about what happened at the Mestalla and focus on getting the job done.
“We need to forget what happened in first leg,” he said. “We need to play at our best, defend and attack well, and control the game. That’s our objective.”
As well as the absence of Ibrahimovic, Ancelotti must do without Jeremy Menez due to injury, meaning Kevin Gameiro, who is yet to appear in Europe this season, is a contender to lead the attack.
“It would be logical to play him as he’s a striker, so he could replace Ibrahimovic,” admitted Ancelotti.
“But we have other options to put out a competitive team even if it’s true he’s the only striker available to us along with (Ezequiel) Lavezzi.”
He was not giving much away, though, when it came to the possibility of David Beckham starting the game.
The Englishman performed well on his full debut in the French Cup Round of 16 defeat of Marseille last midweek, but struggled to have an influence in half an hour on the pitch at Reims on Saturday.
“He can play. I’ve already taken a decision,” Ancelotti said, without confirming what that decision was.
“Verratti is suspended, (Thiago) Motta has recovered (from injury) but hasn’t played much recently. He could come in for Verratti.”
Jallet, Alex, Sakho, Maxwell
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Parejo, T Costa
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