Deja vu as PSG enjoy favourable European draw again

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty ImagesZlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Thiago Silva and the rest of the PSG squad should have no major problems advancing to the Champions League knockout round.

For the second consecutive season, Paris Saint-Germain received what many are calling "an easy draw" in the Champions League group stages.

In last season's Group A, Carlo Ancelotti's side were faced with the task of disposing of Porto, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb. This year Laurent Blanc's men have landed on their feet again, this time in Group C; drawing Benfica, Olympiakos and Anderlecht.

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There is no such thing as an easy draw, but favourable ones do exist. This is one such case. However, the same was said last year and PSG still needed a final match victory over Porto to secure top spot in the group, saving Ancelotti his job. The same could easily happen with Benfica.

Make no mistake though; it is a very soft draw for the French champions who arguably would benefit from more matches on the scale of last year's quarterfinal clash with Barcelona. The side gave a very good account of themselves back in April and are better-equipped this time around, and on paper at least, should equal last term's final eight appearance or better it.

The draw has thrown up some interesting match-ups though, even if the draw is starved of the glamour that a Real Madrid now under Ancelotti, Bayern Munich or Manchester City would have provided.

Benfica

Jorge Jesus' side were unlucky on all fronts last season finishing as runners-up in the Primeira Liga, losing out by one agonising point, and also coming second best in the Europa League to Chelsea and the Portuguese Cup where Vitoria Guimaraes humbled them.

As a record 32-time Portuguese champion, Benfica have a massive pedigree in European competition, more so in many ways than Porto who proved a tricky obstacle for PSG last year. Add to that, they have some very talented players who the club have managed to keep a hold of despite the disappointment of last season.

Ezequiel Garay, Lima, Rodrigo, Nicolas Gaitan and Nemanja Matic are just a few of the star names still at the Estadio da Luz, and their reputation for being able to sell on talent and bring in new unheralded players without missing a beat is on a par with fierce rivals Porto.

Crucially, the most important battle with the Aguias will be in the stands and not on the pitch when Benfica come to town. Paris hosts a massive Portuguese community who will come out in force to support one of their own against the local team. Although it will be a home match, expect the Parc des Princes to take on more of a neutral atmosphere than normal.

The same thing happened with Porto last season, but in PSG's last foray into Europe's top club competition eight years before that, the hosts won both times so Blanc will be confident.

Olympiakos

Greek champions Olympiakos will not be an unknown quantity to the side from the capital either.

Michel's side, although under compatriot Ernesto Valverde at this point, beat 2011 French champions Montpellier home and away in last season's edition. The Thrylos looked convincing home and away, winning 2-1 at the Stade de la Mosson before thumping Rene Girard's team 3-1 at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus.

The fervent home crowd, like in Lisbon, will create an intimidating atmosphere for Blanc's side. But they will be buoyed by a number of factors that also work in their favour.

First, Olympiakos boast some familiar faces in their side. Former Toulouse midfielder Paulo Machado and former Ajaccio and Monaco defender Carl Medjani have been joined by Gaetan Bong, Delvin N'Dinga and Sambou Yatabare this summer. All five have played in Ligue 1 in the past two years and PSG will know them well.

Also, PSG have not lost in their last seven games against Greek opposition. In fact, they have not even conceded a goal. The French champions will be confident that they can beat Olympiakos over two matches.

Anderlecht

Perhaps the most unknown of the three opponents in this year's draw for PSG are Belgian champions Anderlecht. The 32-time champions have won consecutive Jupiler Pro League titles and are one of the strongest teams in the country.

However, John van den Brom's side that came close to sealing a surprise latter stage berth last season has now largely disintegrated. Gone are the likes of Lucas Biglia, Dieumerci Mbokani, Milan Jovanovic and Oleksandr Yakovenka, all recognisable names. Les Mauves et Blancs have also taken their time to replace those departed, meaning that the new arrivals are still only just starting to bed in.

Anderlecht are experienced in the Champions League though and they won't be phased by the visit of PSG, having faced Italian giants AC Milan, plucky quarterfinalists Malaga and Russian heavyweights Zenit St Petersburg. This current side is also brimming with exciting young talent; the free-scoring Massimo Bruno, cultured playmaker Dennis Praet and the 16-year-old midfield sensation Youri Tielemans make Anderlecht one of the Jupiler Pro League's strongest, not to mention youngest, sides this season.

A reinvigorated Matias Suarez is also a cause for concern. The Argentine is surprisingly still at the club as he continues his recovery from a long injury lay-off and exhaustion. An ill-timed failed medical with CSKA Moscow through injury arguably the only reason that he is still at the club, he is now hitting his stride. By the time the two teams meet in Brussels on October 23, the 25-year-old, who has four goals in five games already this season, will be in full flight and is a handful for any side on his day.

Final Verdict

That said, the names of Benfica, Olympiakos and Anderlecht, with all due respect, will not strike fear into the hearts of the PSG players. It even appeared to have an equally deflating effect on the Ligue 1 champions' opponents themselves.

Algerian international Medjani told L'Equipe shortly after the draw was made that "we were hoping for a more prestigious team than PSG." I think it is safe to assume that PSG were hoping for a far more prestigious team and prestigious opponents than Olympiakos and Carl Medjani, too. The 28-year-old from Lyon is not exactly a bete noire for the side from the French capital, having drawn once and lost twice in his three previous appearances against Blanc's team.

But you can only beat what is put in front of you by the luck of the draw and that, is exactly what PSG now have to do in order to win Group C convincingly.

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