Beware a wounded Ibra as PSG travel to Reims

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Martin Rose/Getty ImagesPSG fans hope that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will turn his World Cup disappointment into club success.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will have felt a twinge of envy upon returning to Paris Saint-Germain training after the international break. Teammates Blaise Matuidi and Edinson Cavani were successful with France and Uruguay in their respective World Cup qualifying play-offs, but the mercurial Swede came up short against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.

The 32-year-old put up a good fight, netting twice over the two-legged affair, but he and the Scandinavians were eventually undone by a four-goal blitz from Ronaldo that included a treble in Solna. Even Ibra had to applaud his rival's incredible performance before kissing goodbye to what was probably his last hope of going to a World Cup and, thanks in part to the decision to extend the FIFA Ballon d'Or voting procedure, his hopes of sweeping that gong too.

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"I have spoken with Zlatan," PSG coach Laurent Blanc told the press ahead of their trip to face Stade de Reims on Saturday.

"He is disappointed, but his state of mind is good. He told me that he and Sweden lost to a very good Portugal team.

"Honestly, I wish he qualified for the World Cup because I know what it is like."

Coming off the back of his World Cup heartache, the towering striker is still in impressive form for club and country and Saturday's opponents should be wary of Ibrahimovic itching to let off some steam. While Sweden's non-qualification for Brazil next summer is a major blow for PSG's star man, it is arguably a plus in some ways for the club. Of course having one less star at next year's showcase event is disappointing and will be an inaccurate reflection of the quality of PSG's overall international representation, but the failure provides Ibra with ample motivation ahead of the remainder of the season.

He may have lost the battle against Ronaldo, but he could yet win the war. Victory against Olympiakos next Wednesday will qualify PSG for the latter stages of the Champions League. With the French champions targeting a better run that last year's foray into the quarterfinals, the Portuguese and Real Madrid are possible future opponents. It is one match-up that the talismanic striker would arguably fancy his chances in based on present form.

That is looking a little too far ahead, though. For now Ibrahimovic must pour all of his energies and focus into helping Blanc's side beat Reims at the weekend. On the face of it, the match should not pose PSG too much of a problem, but it should be remembered that the champagne side were the last team to beat the capital outfit in any competition. That 1-0 defeat back in March will resonate within the squad, not only because it is a match that they should have won, but because the result was the turning point in Carlo Ancelotti's time at the club and it arguably also marked the beginning of the end for former sporting director Leonardo.

Following the defeat, the Brazilian claimed that "this PSG side is made for Europe, not for Ligue 1," in response to criticism that the team looked complacent when faced with lesser domestic opposition. Eight months later, that claim could not look further from the truth as the defending champions sit four points clear at the top of Le Championnat and are unbeaten so far. Reims are performing well in sixth and Hubert Fournier's men have impressed this campaign: they are unbeaten against Lille OSC, AS Monaco, FC Nantes and Olympique de Marseille, the teams separating them from PSG at present.

Blanc's men, with Nantes' 32-game unbeaten run from 1994-1995 now in sight, need to heed the lessons learned from last season's defeat. Ibrahimovic will be key once again, with Cavani likely to start on the bench considering he only returned from international duty on Friday. Other changes in the team will probably include Lucas Digne coming in for Maxwell who featured in both of Brazil's international break friendlies, including 90 minutes against Chile in the second fixture.

Marco Verratti should return from injury in the midfield, but Blanc will be tempted to rest Matuidi or Thiago Motta who both played twice over the international fortnight. That gives the blossoming Adrien Rabiot the chance to continue his impressive development in the PSG starting XI.

Lucas Moura will be raring to go after his recent omission from the Selecao squad, as will Jeremy Menez who is the subject of intense speculation ahead of the January transfer window. Javier Pastore also has a point to prove and will want to build on an encouraging display against OGC Nice before the international break. For what is probably the first time since taking over as PSG coach, Blanc is able to name a full-strength 20-man squad to choose from ahead of a game.

With such strength in depth, and Blanc's success when rotating the squad so far this season, this is another game that PSG should dominate and win. However, Reims have an extremely strong midfield with last season's match winner Grzegorz Krychowiak and Antoine Devaux impressive alongside Prince Oniangue. Winning the battle for midfield domination against this trio will be crucial in order to secure a third straight Ligue 1 victory. Kossi Agassa's goal will need to be peppered with shots as well if Ibrahimovic and company are to find a way past one of Le Championnat's most underrated shot-stoppers.

Victory at the Stade Auguste Delaune would provide another good indication of just how far Blanc has brought this side on since taking over from Ancelotti.


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