Paris Saint-Germain have underlined their dominance of the French scene, strengthening the position of coach Laurent Blanc, but the biggest challenge for the club remains to become truly competitive in Europe.
In Ligue 1, Blanc’s side were pushed almost all the way by an exciting young Lyon team, eventually retaining the title with a game to spare on Saturday.
A third consecutive Ligue 1 crown keeps them on course to win an unprecedented clean sweep of France’s domestic trophies — with the season-opening Champions Trophy and the League Cup already in the bag, Paris are also overwhelming favourites to win the French Cup final against second-tier Auxerre on May 30.
The way in which they won the title, pulling away from Lyon thanks to a rampant run of eight straight wins, and their performances in the domestic cups, means Blanc deserves great credit.
He has shown himself capable of handling the big egos in his expensively-assembled squad, in particular for his temporary sidelining of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani for their late returns from Christmas holidays, declaring “the end of certain privileges”.
Blanc’s stance, at a time when he was under pressure with Paris third in the table, three points behind leaders Marseille at the season’s halfway stage, was risky but it paid off, ensuring that he should now stay on into the last year of his contract.
Meanwhile, the coach himself pinpointed the work done at a winter training camp in Morocco when asked why his team found such fine form in the run-in.
“I think at the start of 2015 everyone realised what was happening. The turning point was our winter training camp in Marrakech. That’s when we got back on track,” he told beIN Sports as PSG finally showed the gulf in class that exists between them and the rest of France.
“They are too strong for the French league. When they are really focused, when they have the desire, when they have a full-strength squad, they are unbeatable,” admitted Nantes coach Michel Der Zakarian recently.
In Europe, however, it was a season of mixed fortunes as, for the third year running, Paris saw theirChampions League hopes ended in the quarter-finals.
Although hindered by injuries and suspensions, a 5-1 aggregate loss to Barcelona was a reminder of just how far Paris still have to go before being genuine contenders to win that competition.
However, there is no disgrace in being outplayed by Barcelona, especially when you don’t have a full-strength team — just ask Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich.
Putting the defeat into perspective, Blanc said at the time: “We need to have patience to win theChampions League. Barca fans know that. It is a big club but it had patience to win the Champions League for the first time in 1992 after (nearly) 100 years.”
In any case, a great leap forward was made in Europe with the defeat of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea on away goals in the last 16.
– Ibrahimovic dilemma? –
Paris progressed despite playing most of the second leg at Stamford Bridge with 10 men after Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off, and indeed the club may now have a dilemma on their hands surrounding the future of the Swede.
He has reached 30 goals in all competitions again, despite missing a third of the season due to injury or suspension.
Ibrahimovic remains the big draw but he will be 34 later this year and is out of contract in 2016. And in Marquinhos, Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore, Blanc has other players whose importance is only increasing.
UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules mean PSG, like last summer, will not be able to splash unlimited amounts of cash, and president Nasser Al Khelaifi will need to decrease the wage bill and sell players before being able to make moves for the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Paul Pogba or Angel di Maria.
Therefore, letting Ibrahimovic — whose annual salary is in the region of 16 million euros ($18.3m) — go a year early could be a sensible move, although it seems more likely that Cavani or Lavezzi will depart. – Agence France-Presse