Cavani on target, but under-strength PSG fall at Benfica

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty ImagesEdinson Cavani and PSG may have fallen at Benfica on Tuesday, but hopes remain high that the Ligue 1 champs can make a return to the Estadio da Luz for the Champions League final.

Paris Saint-Germain's club record 13-match unbeaten Champions League streak ended where it started, in Portugal, with a 2-1 defeat at SL Benfica on Tuesday to close out Group C. Despite the result, the French champions qualify in top spot and last season's Europa League runners-up drop down into the same competition for a second consecutive campaign. However, Laurent Blanc fielded a much-changed side in an effort to keep his players fresh ahead of an important pre-Christmas break domestic run-in.

- Report: Benfica 2-1 PSG

Edinson Cavani opened the scoring for PSG after 37 minutes, but that was as good as it would get for the side from the French capital. The hosts equalised on the stroke of halftime through a penalty conceded by 22-year-old debutant Kalifa Traore, before taking the lead 13 minutes into the second half. The Ligue 1 leaders were not at their best and Benfica's 2-1 win did not flatter them, particularly on the evidence of their second half performance.

Instead for Blanc, he sees a heavily rotated side fall to defeat for the second time inside seven days and PSG lose their invincible aura in Europe that had been built up since last season's group stage defeat to FC Porto. For him there were more questions than answers provided by a number of the team's fringe players, even though the narrow 2-1 defeat was not enough to see Benfica into the last 16 as Greek champions Olympiakos qualified instead. There were some positives at Estadio da Luz on the night though, particularly young Adrien Rabiot's performance in midfield. The 18-year-old has featured regularly so far this season and the suspension of Marco Verratti created an opportunity for him to gain more valuable playing time. He did not waste the chance afforded to him and his impressive development continued with another mature, assured display.

Brazilian defender Marquinhos was another young star who impressed, despite PSG conceding twice. The 19-year-old has looked very good generally when called upon this season, particularly in the Champions League, but his performance in the 2-0 defeat at Evian last week was disappointing. This time around, the Brazilian international put in a strong display, offsetting the ageing Zoumana Camara's lack of pace at the back and stepping in often to sweep up when Benfica got in behind Lucas Digne. For a player with such limited experience prior to this season, Marquinhos has developed exceptionally well in his first few months in France.

However, those positives were offset by some disappointing showings. Leading the list was Jeremy Menez whose attitude, for a player supposedly playing for his future and a place in the first team, was disgraceful and coupled with poor work rate it resulted in a minimal contribution overall. That may well have been his last chance to impress, with Blanc's patience no doubt wearing thin of his temperamental behaviour. Javier Pastore, although he did threaten to involve himself in the game on occasions, was once again anonymous for large parts of the encounter. Digne was also surprisingly off colour considering how well he did in Annecy last week despite the loss to Evian.

The biggest surprise of the match was Traore who, at 22 years of age, started ahead of the injured Christophe Jallet at right-back and made his senior PSG debut in the process. Although the Malian overcame conceding the penalty in the first half and put in a more solid showing in the second period, completing all of his 26 attempted passes on the evening, his appearance suggests that there is still a slight lack of depth in the PSG team. Outside of Jallet and the suspended Gregory van der Wiel, there is little adequate cover.

Traore's performance evokes memories of the less-feted PSG youth academy products of old, such as Loris Arnaud, Maxime Partouche and Jean-Eudes Maurice, all players who threatened to break into the senior setup but never managed to and have gone on to do little since. Traore's display was certainly not the worst on the pitch, but it begs the question that if he were good enough for the first team, why has it taken until he is 22 to even make a single senior appearance?

On the whole it was a disappointing result, but one that the PSG team and fans will no doubt accept if it means that the players will be in good enough shape to dispose of Coupe de la Ligue holders and surprise conquerors from last season, AS Saint-Etienne.

Will this have been the last time that PSG will be playing at the Estadio da Luz this season? The stadium is the chosen venue for this year's Champions League final and, Tuesday's result aside, the French champions have more than stated their title winning credentials already this term.

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