PSG to justify heavy Blanc praise by securing qualification against Olympiakos?

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Laurent Blanc Champions League presser 20131104GettyImagesLaurent Blanc has PSG top of Ligue 1 and top of their UCL group.

What a difference four months can make. When Laurent Blanc eventually took over at Paris Saint-Germain this summer following the departure of Carlo Ancelotti to Real Madrid, little was expected of him. It would be fair to say that he was seen as a stopgap solution while PSG rebuilt their hard-earned credibility that had been dramatically undone no sooner had the capital club secured a first Ligue 1 title in 19 years.

For weeks PSG flirted with almost every big-name coach imaginable and they all promptly turned the club down. Supposedly, Qatar Sports Investments were looking for an interim to keep the seat warm for a year until Arsenal's Arsene Wenger had allowed his contract at the Emirates to expire. Blanc appeared to be the only man who was prepared to say yes to the role and reportedly rejected AS Roma, now coached by compatriot Rudi Garcia, in order to take the job.

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Since his appointment in late June, Le President has enjoyed a miraculous rise from pauper to prince.

The 48-year-old has guided PSG to the top of Ligue 1, where they lead Lille OSC by four points, and to the brink of qualification for the latter stages of the Champions League with a game to spare. As a result, QSI are believed to be delighted with how the Frenchman has fared in the job and have already offered him a deserved improved contract with more respectful terms.

Victory over Olympiakos on Wednesday would not only qualify PSG for the last 16, but they would also win Group C with one match still to play, adding to Blanc's burgeoning reputation and justifying the recent praise directed at him. Ancelotti's job was under threat when his side were struggling to hold off the threat of FC Porto at this point in last season's competition and they were also enduring some domestic turbulence. Blanc has experienced none of that so far this term.

A 1-1 draw at home to RSC Anderlecht last time out blemished an otherwise pristine record this campaign, but PSG should not experience any of the same difficulties when faced by the Greek champions on Wednesday. PSG disposed of Olympiakos 4-1 at the Karaiskakis Stadium back in September and have scored 13 goals while conceding just two to lead their visitors by three points going into the Parc des Princes clash.

The French champions could have secured qualification against Anderlecht in the last round of games, but were instead made to wait and punished for their slight complacency. Blanc will be keen to avoid that this time, against a team who appeared a match for them in the earlier fixture, only coming undone by their woeful marking of set pieces. Saturday's 3-0 win over Stade de Reims, despite not being at their brilliant best, keeps a winning rhythm going and also means that the side from the capital have won both of their matches since that surprise draw with Anderlecht.

Blanc again has the option of rotating a full-strength team, as he did against Reims. But given how the team struggled against the Belgian champions last time out, he will likely go for his strongest possible lineup. Edinson Cavani is expected to return to the starting XI after not featuring against Reims because of the fatigue accumulated on World Cup playoff duty with Uruguay. Gregory van der Wiel will probably return at right-back, despite Christophe Jallet's much-improved showing against Reims, with Maxwell also coming in at the back for Lucas Digne on the left.

Blaise Matuidi will almost certainly reprise his role in the midfield with Adrien Rabiot making way, so the only question is: Who starts in attack alongside Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

In terms of rotation, Ezequiel Lavezzi has been patient and deserves his turn to impress. However, Jeremy Menez and Lucas Moura gave Blanc a headache at the weekend with excellent goal scoring performances at Reims and both have a case to start on the left with Cavani coming in on the right. Menez's scenario is particularly interesting given his contractual situation; the club are supposedly keen on the player signing a new deal, but the French international is seeking reassurances that he is an important part of the PSG plans moving forward before committing.

Menez's last few performances have been impressive, particularly considering that he is recovering from a lengthy absence through injury, and dropping him while in form will push him closer to the exit. Lavezzi, on the other hand, is proving to be something of a disappointment. While his work ethic and energy cannot be argued with, his lack of technique and clinical ability are becoming tiresome. The Argentine is particularly useful when PSG are in need of creating chances, but unreliable when it comes to taking them. Compared to Moura and Menez, he has scored and provided fewer goals than both, and his recent performances suggest that he should be considered a squad player at best.

However, with a hefty price tag, Lavezzi is another player who could look toward the exit if not featuring regularly. Blanc needs to decide which two of the three in question he needs more and then consider cutting loose the odd man out. Moura has also been linked with a move on loan to Juventus, but in current form the Brazilian and Menez must stay, meaning that Lavezzi is that third man.

Regardless of that minor selection dilemma, nothing less than a win will be acceptable on Wednesday, and confirmation of PSG's qualification is expected. Once done, Blanc will be able to address the issue of squad rotation and perhaps field an entirely changed starting XI away to Benfica in the final group match ahead of a tricky late December schedule.


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