PSG built for Europe, just about…

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

PSG scraped through at the expense of ValenciaGettyImagesPSG scraped through at the expense of Valencia

Paris Saint-Germain may have qualified for the quarter finals of the Champions League thanks to a 1-1 draw with Valencia at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday, but they needed a helping hand from one of their 'smaller' stars to secure the 3-2 aggregate victory. Kevin Gameiro, so often overlooked since the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti, served a timely reminder of his ability by coming off the substitutes' bench to assist Ezequiel Lavezzi's bundled 66th minute equaliser.

- Ledwith: Valencia dominate but lack second goal
- Ancelotti plays down UCL hopes

The Argentine was the hero but there can be no doubt that it was Gameiro's introduction in place of the returning Thiago Motta that lifted PSG enough to rally for an equaliser after falling behind to a superb strike from Brazilian striker Jonas. Before that the hosts had looked insipid and far too unimaginative, a shadow of the team "built for Europe" as Sporting Director Leonardo had boldly claimed four days before. That they deserved the result over the two legs is arguably true, but the manner in which they secured the progress was disappointing.

Part of the reason for such an uninspiring performance was the line-up. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti were out suspended, and with the withdrawal of Jeremy Menez through injury on the eve of the match Ancelotti was forced into a re-think. With only Lavezzi and Gameiro as recognised strikers, he surprisingly opted to leave the Frenchman out once more, preferring Lavezzi as partner to Lucas Moura with Javier Pastore on the left and Clement Chantome on the right.

The selection of Chantome out wide in a starting berth was particularly surprising given his differing levels of success, poor away to Sochaux and improved when brought on against Marseille at home in the league. Motta’s inclusion from the start to partner Blaise Matuidi, whilst hardly surprising given the Italian’s return to fitness, left the midfield rich in industry, but low in creativity. The decision was designed to utilise Moura's pace through the middle instead of out wide against a makeshift centre-back pairing of Jeremy Mathieu and Victor Ruiz.

The selection of Alex over Mamadou Sakho at the back was less of a shock, more of a disappointment perhaps. Admittedly Sakho has only recently recovered from minor injury (despite the fact that he came through back-to-back games against Marseile and Reims), but his omission once more with Thiago Silva back in the side after a lengthy lay-off is concerning given how well he has played this so far this season. Alex didn't look out of place against los Che, though he did fail to close down Jonas effectively for the opener, but Sakho and Silva just seem a better pairing overall with the former a better option beyond this season.

With the defence toiling and the midfield ineffectual, Ancelotti took a risk by throwing Gameiro on, and this time it paid off. Though the 25-year-old will likely have been disappointed about missing out on a starting berth once more, he didn't show it, knuckling down and adding the direct threat that only Moura and Lavezzi looked capable of offering on occasion. The French international was brought on to replace Motta shorty after Jonas' wonder-strike and made the most of his opportunity, contributing to the build-up for Lavezzi’s fortuitous equaliser.

That move to bring Gameiro on for Motta had signalled what eventually was confirmed by the late introduction of Sakho in place of Moura. That there was no room for David Beckham in this team, in this sort of match. Whilst the Englishman has been impressive since arriving at the club, thanks largely to the low expectations many had of his acquisition; it was a stark contrast to the league game against Marseille a fortnight ago when Ancelotti brought him on at the pivotal moment. This time he ignored that temptation when the stakes were highest, and went with what his brain told him was the more sensible option. He was proved right and in doing so, illustrated that Beckham’s likely role will not be one of a first-team regular.

The display also proved one more key point that has been brushed over since the arrival of Moura. PSG still need Ibrahimovic. Despite the rumours linking them with Wayne Rooney, despite the criticisms of his on and off performances, there is no doubt that without him, PSG are a totally different side. With him, the team has a focal point, they have somebody to orchestrate the play and without him, the game does not flow and the team struggle to impose themselves. His suspension for the first leg of the quarter final could prove hugely costly if it results in another lacklustre performance like this one.

That said though, at the end of the day PSG deserved the victory on the balance of the two legs, that can't be disputed. Though Valencia were the better side on the night, Ancelotti's men did just enough to prove that they warrant this current European run, but their relative inexperience in Europe's top club competition showed against Valencia's seasoned and highly French-infused squad. A glamour tie in the next round would be superb for the club and will provide them the necessary chance to garner that experience.

ESPN Conversations