Minus Ibra, PSG has to do it the hard way

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

For 89 minutes Tuesday, Paris Saint-Germain had executed a perfect game plan at Valencia and looked as if they were going to secure a very comfortable first-leg lead. But now, at 2-1, this Champions League last 16 tie is still open.

A magnificent first half at the Mestalla had Carlo Ancelotti's side playing some exquisite football and Lucas Moura in particular running los Che ragged. The second saw PSG weathering a storm of Valencia pressure that eventually looked to have frustrated the Spaniards.

- Ledwith: Valencia barely still in tie
- Pastore, Lavezzi lead PSG to away win

A late lapse in concentration to allow French international defender Adil Rami to ghost in at the back post was bad enough, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic's reckless late red card for an over-zealous double challenge on Andres Guardado and then Dani Parejo is arguably the more damaging of the two late blows.

The capital club look capable of overcoming that in the second leg on the evidence of Tuesday's performance, though the Swede's though will be an even bigger psychological boost for Ernesto Valverde's side. Not to mention a huge dent for Ancelotti's.

Ibra wasn't pivotal in either goal as Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore inflicted serious damage in the first half. Moura too was the architect of the hosts' early downfall, bagging an impressive assist for the second goal after the Argentine duo had sublimely linked up for Lavezzi to smash home a superb finish.

It could and should have been more, too; Ancelotti's men missed a hatful of second-half chances and also had a third goal from substitute Clement Chantome contentiously ruled out for offside. But that doesn't change the fact that the towering Swede will be missed.

Ibrahimovic's importance to the team goes beyond just supplying goals and assists; his presence lifts the team and gives them a confidence that doesn’t exist when he is not there. Witness the capital club's performances against Montpellier and Rennes when he was suspended earlier in the season or against Bastia last week before he came on.

He visibly lifts his teammates and his red card puts a lot of pressure on les Parisiens in the return leg.

That said, there is a chance he won’t be needed given Moura’s form in Valencia. The Brazilian ran the show while on the pitch and provides a direct attacking threat that brings the best out of his supporting cast of Lavezzi and Pastore in particular. Another performance like that and PSG should cruise through. However, Ibra's absence puts a lot of pressure on such young shoulders.

The anticipated returns of Thiago Motta and Thiago Silva must be taken into account as well. Two vastly experienced members of the squad will help to ease the strain put on the players by Ibrahimovic’s unavailability. Silva too adds a goal threat from set pieces as well as added safety for Salvatore Sirigu. PSG did have a good defensive performance at the Mestalla, particularly from both Alex and Mamadou Sakho. Jeremy Menez will also likely be welcomed back into the fold, giving Ancelotti another direct outlet inside the attacking third.

Marco Verratti also picks up a suspension that is almost as big a blow for PSG as Ibrahimovic’s absence. The Italian's tenacity is an important part of the team’s style, particularly in Europe, and it comes on the back of an improved performance on some of his recent showings. Intriguingly, his suspension does pave the way for a possible David Beckham tour de force.

The 37-year-old was only a interested spectator in Valencia as his every move was as heavily scrutinised as the players on the pitch; he is expected to make his Ligue 1 debut on Sunday at Sochaux. Missing the big-game influence of Ibrahimovic and the work rate and creativity of Verratti, the former England captain could deliver an early box-office moment to help ensure the capital club’s safe progress.

It is only half-time though; things are going well all considered and despite Ibra's red card, Ancelotti;s side have the lead. Yes they have had their defence breached for the second time in successive games, missing out on a slice of history in the process, but Sirigu and the team can put that right in the return leg. The important thing now is that the team do not get anxious ahead of the Parc des Princes showdown.

An repeat of PSG’s first-half showing and it will be no contest. For as much as the scoreline looks relatively even on paper, it was an impressive and largely dominant showing from Ancelotti’s side.

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