PSG prepare to battle history

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Paris Saint-Germain gear up for the resumption of their Champions League campaign against Valencia on Tuesday, but most of the talk surrounding the clash is focusing on whether or not David Beckham will make it out of snow-hit New York in time to join Carlo Ancelotti's men in Spain.

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"Playing Paris is now like playing Real Madrid," claimed los Che coach Ernesto Valverde on Monday in a press conference ahead of the clash. "They have spent a lot of money this winter and they won their group, so obviously they are the favourites. However, we believe we can eliminate them."

Valverde has a point; PSG didn't have 45 million euro signing Lucas Moura available in their last Champions League group game against Porto before Christmas. The Brazilian's impact has been huge, not just on the players but the way that the team plays and the way his teammates approach the game. When les Parisiens entertained the Portuguese side at the Parc des Princes that night, many expected that it would be Ancelotti's last game as coach if they failed to win. Two months on and the Italian is still in the hot seat and possibly in the strongest position he has known since he took over.

After a fruitful finish to 2012 and a strong start to this year, PSG have raced up the Ligue 1 table to secure a six point lead over rivals Lyon for the first time this season. As Ancelotti said they would once his side had disposed of Porto back in December, the capital club have focused on domestic matters in the absence of Europe's most prestigious club competition and have been rewarded handsomely. Progress in the league and the Coupe de France has followed and PSG are now starting to show the sort of form and togetherness that had only been seen here and there since the start of the campaign.

The challenge for Carletto and his team now is to take that improved form and unity with them into Europe. This season's Champions League campaign was expected to be a learning curve for the side, an experience of what is to come and build an appetite for the biggest games. Now it is more than that. PSG have looked like genuine contenders at times and expectations have been raised whether that is realistic or not. Valencia, then, are the perfect opponents for Ancelotti's side to continue enhancing their prospects in Europe.

Los Che have incredible experience in the competition having disputed it nine times in the past 14 years, including two consecutive runners-up spots in 2000 and 2001. Although not the force they once were, they still possess some very talented players. A number of those players are of French origin or have spent some time in Ligue 1 during their careers. So if PSG can get past the Spaniards, they will do it by defeating some familiar faces. Adil Rami, Aly Cissokho, Ricardo Costa, Tino Costa, Jeremy Mathieu and Sofiane Feghouli have all enjoyed spells in Ligue 1 and know Ancelotti's side well.

Moreover, Valencia love playing French opposition, having never lost in six encounters with Ligue 1 clubs in the Champions League since 1992 and 17 European matches overall. Their European home form is generally good anyway, unbeaten in nine Champions League games in the Mestalla, but PSG will be confident of being able to end that run. Valverde's side also boast an interesting quirk though: they have never failed to score against French opposition. Given Salvatore Sirigu's recent penchant for keeping clean sheets, les Rouges-et-Bleus will test that stat's credentials at the Mestalla and in Paris.

A challenge then, but one Ancelotti and his side will relish. It will be interesting to see if the Italian starts Moura in Spain, given the Brazilian's lack of experience on the European stage. PSG did well without the 20-year-old, but Moura is quickly becoming a vital part of the team and has not struggled to find his feet in France. Don't be surprised to see him start from the bench in this one as he continues to adapt to European football, but expect him to start come March's return leg in Paris.

It had been eight years since the capital club had experienced the Champions League before this season, and even longer since they were last in the latter stages for 1995's semifinal against AC Milan. Now PSG have a chance to go a step closer to emulating that feat if they can reach the quarterfinals by beating Valencia, but first they need to overcome a team partly made in France.

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