PSG's Coupe quest for domestic dominance

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

AllsportLaurent Blanc can make PSG the most successful club in Coupe de la Ligue.

Despite winning a first Ligue 1 title in 19 years and reaching the Champions League quarterfinals after an eight-year absence from the competition, Carlo Ancelotti was criticised at Paris Saint-Germain last season for not placing enough importance on France's domestic cups. PSG crashed out of the Coupe de la Ligue in the quarterfinals on penalties against AS Saint-Etienne and at the same stage of the Coupe de France in the same manner, this time against lowly Evian Thonon Gaillard. Ancelotti's successor, Laurent Blanc, is out to show that he is taking the French champions' domestic supremacy seriously when they start their Coupe de la Ligue campaign against the holders, Saint-Etienne, at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday.

In order to be a truly dominant side domestically and the pre-eminent power in French football, PSG need to do more than just win Le Championnat. The squad certainly has enough depth to allow them to compete on multiple fronts, and in order to continue the club's rapid growth of the last few years, success is needed in both cup competitions. Blanc has the strongest squad in France and one of the strongest in Europe and there is no reason, with the capital club's European ambitions now on hold until after the winter break, that the Parisians cannot make considerable progress in both competitions before travelling to Germany.

By the time PSG face Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena in February, the Coupe de la Ligue semifinal will have already been played and both finalists will be known. The Coupe de France will also be at the round of 16 stage by then, so Blanc now has a chance to advance his side considerably on multiple fronts before having to worry about the team's European commitments once again. Placing great importance on PSG's continental exploits is understandable and arguably expected, at least in order to get to the quarterfinals once again and possibly beyond that. But not making at least one of the two domestic cups a minimum expectation this season would lack ambition.

There is no doubt PSG have the manpower to remain competitive on multiple fronts at the same time, and the current circumstances make it easier for Blanc to prioritise progress in the domestic trophies at this point. For a start, Le President is not under the same pressure that Ancelotti found himself under last year when the team faced Saint-Etienne at the end of November. The side had experienced a difficult November, which started with a home defeat to Les Verts in Ligue 1, before Stade Rennes also came to the Parc des Princes and emerged with three points. Ancelotti was struggling to get the best out of his players at that point and although PSG went into the cup clash in second place, a defeat at OGC Nice immediately followed and they dropped to fourth.

This time they are top of the league, leading AS Monaco by two points, and do not play again until Sunday night, when they host third-placed Lille OSC. Although Les Dogues are by no means easy opponents, Blanc has a chance to field his strongest squad possible, minus the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alex, and the injured duo of Maxwell and Christophe Jallet, but with substitute goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez between the posts because of the custom of fielding the reserve goalkeeper in the cup. After rotating the team heavily for the Champions League dead rubber against Benfica, Blanc's players should be capable of facing Rennes, Saint-Etienne and Lille at pretty much full strength in the space of seven days.

The Frenchman has earned plenty of plaudits for the way he has got his side playing since taking over at the club in the summer. He could continue to underline the progress made between Ancelotti's time in charge and his by taking PSG further than the Italian did in both domestic cups. If the capital club really want to assert their dominance over the domestic field and truly be considered France's strongest team, then they need to add to their collection of three Coupe de la Ligue and eight Coupe de France titles. Overall victory in the former would make PSG the most successful club in the history of the competition with four wins -- they are currently tied on three with fierce rivals Olympique de Marseille and Girondins de Bordeaux.

Considering that Monaco have already been dumped out of the competition by Stade de Reims, there is a great opportunity for Blanc and his PSG players to add to the club's domestic trophy cabinet this year. Olympique Lyonnais and Marseille, two teams with pedigree in this competition, still remain but do not pose enough of a threat to worry the Ligue 1 champions at present after beating the pair in the league already this term. Saint-Etienne are something of a bogey side though and the two have already shared a 2-2 draw at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard earlier this season. If PSG are to make progress in the Coup de la Ligue, it is going to have to come against the defending champions and a team with a knack for upsetting the capital club.


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