Big money PSG not fazing Valencia

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Valencia host Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday in a first leg clash between two teams from opposite ends of soccer's money spectrum with a place in the Champions League quarter-final up for grabs.

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Short-term objectives differ greatly as nouveau-riche PSG look to kick-on and establish itself at soccer's top table while financially crippled Valencia has recently been placed in the hands of the local government while a much needed buyer is sought.

Valencia's financial problems are complex, down to years of mismanagement and the badly-timed decision to move stadiums just as Spain's property bubble burst.

After four consecutive seasons of third place finishes behind Barca and Madrid in La Liga to guarantee Champions League qualification, 'Los Che' have had an uncomfortable season so far but may be hitting form at just the right time.

Coach Ernesto Valverde's arrival in early December has coincided with an excellent run of results, with only three losses in thirteen games, which has lifted the side from twelfth to fifth in La Liga.

Previous coach Mauricio Pellegrino produced the results to qualify for this game from Group F, level on points with Bayern Munich, but a lack of form in the league was ultimately his downfall.

Two ways of improving the club's finances are now in play. Further Champions League progress will supply at least one more money-spinning round of games, while the timely gallop up the league means a crucial ticket into next season's competition is once again a reality.

Valverde is certainly sure of his team's chances of advancing: "Although they are favourites, we want to go through. We don't want to just compete and give a good account of ourselves. We are in this to win and we'll go there with the same attitude", he said on the eve of the match.

PSG moved six points clear at the top of France's Ligue 1 at the weekend and the big signings have continued after the spending spree of the last two summers on, among others, Ezequiel Lavezzi (30m), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (23m), Thiago Silva (42m) and Javier Pastore (42m).

Lucas Moura (45m) arrived from São Paulo in the winter break and David Beckham has of course signed and is due to meet his new teammates on their return from Valencia in time to bid for a place in the second leg in Paris on March 6th.

Moura has already made an impact and is yet to be on a losing side in his first six games for a club that topped Group A in qualifying, losing only once at Porto.

PSG will be content with a first Ligue 1 title in 19 years, but progress in the Champions League would lay down a marker for the seasons of success that is expected to follow.

President Nasser Al-Khelaifi and the majority shareholders at Qatar Investment Authority are ensuring the only top flight club in Paris can compete at the highest level, with Carlo Ancelotti as coach and former Brazil international Leonardo signing the best talent in the game as Sporting Director.

"We dream big, we are building a team to be one of the best in Europe. To become big, you need to sign players now and that is what we are doing," Al-Khelaifi told London newspaper The Guardian back in September last year.

Valencia has more European pedigree than the French club. Both can boast a European Cup Winners Cup, PSG's only continental title came in 1996 while Valencia won the now defunct competition in 1980.

However, the Spaniards have more recent success with a UEFA Cup (now Europa League) title in 2004 and two Champions League final appearances in 2000 and 2001.

A selling club in recent years, as moves for David Silva and Juan Mata to the Premier and Jordi Alba and David Villa to Barcelona suggest, Valencia are currently not shopping in the same market place as their Parisian opponents.

One of the few valuable assets left is local born centre-forward Roberto Soldado who, having already suffered in his early career at Real Madrid, seems prepared to see out the best of his days as a big fish in a smaller pond.

Soldado has described the arrival of PSG to the Mestalla stadium as an 'early final' in his club's season.

"In France they are top and very strong and in Champions they've been good, but we are very excited by this competition, we know it will be very tough but we're confident in our own ability," he said.

Soldado is aided in attack by Paraguayan Nelson Valdez who came off the bench on Saturday to head home a last minute winner at Celta Vigo, and the form of Argentines Tino Costa and Ever Banega and the Brazilian Jonas Goncalves in midfield will be key for them over the two games.

PSG had the luxury of resting several key players in the comfortable 3-1 win over Bastia on Friday. Ibrahimovic was joined on the bench by Lavezzi and French international Blaise Matuidi while regular centre-half Mamadou Sakho was not even named in the squad.

Carlo Ancelotti will have to make do without two injured Brazilians, midfielder Thiago Motta and defender Thiago Silva, but Qatari money ensures he will have plenty to call on in reserve in his quest for a place in the quarterfinals.

Dermot lives and works in Madrid where he watches a lot of football and does freelance work for a number of magazines and news agencies.

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